While some cats are extremely picky when it comes to the food they consume, others can eat almost anything if it tastes good. Cats usually dream of a delicious can of tuna or a tasty turkey treat, but there are also cats that like watermelon, and they devour it like a delicious piece of meat. When it comes to dog food, I know that many people shelter at least a dog and a cat under their roof, and it often happens that the cat eats the dog’s food and vice versa.
In my career as a veterinarian, I have often heard the question – Can I feed my cat dog food?
Cats can eat a lot of things, but is dog food safe for them? I bet this is a question many dogs and cats owners have asked themselves at least once.
In an emergency or for a very short amount of time, an exception can be made. The difference is that cats are exclusively carnivores and have different nutritional requirements than dogs.
A little tasting from the dog’s food bowl is not a tragedy, but it is not recommended to make it a habit.
If you run out of food for your cat , all the pet stores are closed and you only have some dog food lying around, there is no problem in giving your cat Spike’s food for the evening. But if you think that you could save money by just buying food for both your pets, you are wrong. Even though dog food looks and smells similar to cat food, making you think is harmless, it is actually extremely dangerous because its long-term consumption can lead to various diseases in cats. A cat’s diet should contain ingredients that meet its nutritious requirements.
If cats are fed diets that are formulated to meet the nutritional needs of dogs for a long time, they may develop nutritional deficiencies because they have different dietary requirements.
Unlike dogs, cats need vitamin A, arachidonic acid, taurine, arginine, vitamin B6, and higher amounts of fat and protein in their daily diet (1).
For example, cats need a higher percentage of protein daily than dogs. Cat food contains at least 25% protein, while dog food contains at least 18%. Over time, if the cat receives dog food, it will receive less protein, then bone and muscle development will be compromised, the coat will lose its shine, and, eventually, hair loss will occur also.
As most of you already know, felines, including cats, are exclusively carnivorous, meaning that their digestive system (starting from the mouth – teeth) is built to tear, chew, and digest meat. Meat is the primary ingredient that gives them energy and meets all their nutritional requirements. It has in its composition taurine, arginine, vitamin B12 and A, iron, and arachidonic acid. All these nutrients are what a cat needs to stay healthy and active.
- Vitamin A is found in the liver or meat and have benefits for a healthy vision, growth, and development. Iron is found, especially in the liver, and is necessary for the formation of hemoglobin. Iron deficiency can lead to anemia and other changes in the body.
- The usual food sources for B-complex vitamins, especially vitamin B12 (cobalamin), are meat, eggs, fish, and shellfish (2). These vitamins support and protect the liver and the nervous system and help with the formation and division of erythrocytes (red blood cells).
- Taurine is an essential sulfur amino acid found in meat, fish, seafood, and is especially abundant in the brain tissue, heart, and kidney (3). This amino acid is an ingredient that cats cannot synthesize on their own, unlike dogs.
Studies show that cats, and especially kittens, are unable to synthesize enough taurine to meet the requirements for maintaining retinal function and structure .
If a diet is lacking in taurine it will lead to taurine deficiency, which is a medical condition (usually seen in vegan cats that do not receive enough added taurine to their diet) that can lead to several health issues in cats, such as blindness, cardiomyopathy, and even death.
- Another essential nutrient is arginine, which is an amino acid found in different meats, such as poultry, fish, and others, and in some legumes and seaweed. This ingredient helps to remove waste from the body – ammonia. If cats are incapable of removing ammonia from their bodies, medical problems such as weight loss, vomiting, neurological signs, and sometimes death can occur.
- Arachidonic acid is a polyunsaturated fatty acid that is found in red meat, fish, eggs, and chicken and is involved in cell regulation . This acid is abundant in the brain, liver, and muscles.
So, what happens if a cat eats dog food? In short run, nothing, in the long run, various medical conditions may occur, such as severe amino acid and vitamin deficiencies, dysfunction of internal organs, digestive problems (vomiting, diarrhea), and skin and fur problems (hair loss, red and itchy skin, etc.).
– Taurine deficiency. Taurine deficiency is one of the most serious amino acid deficiency in cats. It manifests through degenerative lesions in the retina that are expressed by mydriasis (pupil dilation) and reduced visual capacity (it eventually leads to blindness) and through dilation or congestive cardiomyopathy.
– Arginine is no less important for cats than taurine. Cats that eat a diet that does not contain arginine can develop characteristic symptoms of ammonia poisoning – bleeding, nausea, lethargy, seizures, etc. This is due to proteins that break down into by-products, including ammonia. Arginine is essential for cats to form the enzymes necessary for the liver to eliminate these by-products. If they are not eliminated, they accumulate gradually, leading to signs of intoxication.
Many of us know what hypovitaminosis is. We have often heard that our health problems are the result of prolonged malnutrition, in which there are no vitamins. It seems that cats, like humans, are prone to avitaminosis or hypovitaminosis. This condition in cats, as well as in humans, involves the deterioration of the cat’s health.
- Vitamin A deficiency. Although the signs of hypovitaminosis A in cats are similar to those in other species, they do not develop (or are rarely observed) retinal degeneration, follicular hyperkeratosis, and classical xerophthalmia. The most common clinical signs observed in cats with hypovitaminosis A are conjunctivitis, xerosis (abnormal dryness) with keratitis and corneal vascularization, photophobia, and slow pupillary response to light. (1)
Cat versus dog essential nutrients
If your cat loves dogs’ food, there are a few tricks to stop it from eating dog food. It is usually pretty hard to do, but not impossible. And it is hard because pet owners usually do not have the time to feed their pets separately, in different rooms, at different hours, or the patience to learn some tricks to ease their life.
What should you do if your cat loves dog food:
- The dog should be fed separately, in a different room or space. For example, if you are feeding your dog on the porch outside, feed your cat inside in the kitchen.
- Hide the dog’s food somewhere where the cat cannot reach.
- Watch your cat when the dog is having its meal, and never leave dog food in the bowl if the dog has finished eating.
- Get your cat used to having a fixed feeding schedule and watch it while eating, if you feed them at the same time.
- Feed them at different hours – feed your cat before the dog, this way your cat won’t be as hungry when it sees the dog food.
FAQ’S to the Veterinarian:
For some cats one or more ingredients found in dog food might cause them allergies or food intolerances. Usually the symptoms are vomiting, diarrhea, flatulence, red and inflamed skin, ear problems, sneezing, coughing, etc.
There are enough nutrients in the dog’s food to keep your cat from starving, but in the long run, it will start to show signs of lacking essential nutrients in its body.
If you feed your cat (in an emergency) a low-quality dog food or your cat might be sensitive to some of the ingredients (food intolerance), symptoms like vomiting, bloating, flatulence, and/or diarrhea may occur up to half hour after ingestion.
If your cat is not sensitive to dog food or you feed your dog a quality diet, nothing should happen but is best not to make this a habit. One or two exceptions in major cases would not hurt.
As a veterinarian, I wouldn’t recommend that. Even if I’m almost sure nothing will happen, I would never encourage people to feed their cats with dog food for a couple of days. A much much better replacement for feeding your cat with dog food would be, for example, cooked fish (no oil, no spices, not even salt). It will provide your cat with the nutrients she needs; it’s a healthy meal, all-natural. But don’t feed your cat only fish because, in the long run, deficiencies may occur. Anything can become harmful if used excessively!
As I said earlier, dog food should not be given to cats for several reasons, including lack of moisture. Cats usually do not consume as much water like dogs. Their daily intake is around 50 mL of water per kg of bodyweight. Cats take the required amount of water from their food (if they eat wet food) or drink water in addition to dry food. Canned food for dogs does not contain as much water as wet food for cats (which is specially created to meet their needs). Dehydration, in general, can lead to many health problems, especially kidney disease.
A kibble or two today might become a meal or two next week, and in months you will find yourself feeding your cat with dog food every day. And when your cat would get sick, you will wonder why.
However, cats can eat dog treats, but only if they are 100% meat.
Take it to the veterinarian. He/she will know better how to treat your cat. It depends on the symptoms your cat has and how badly is her organism affected.
If you are giving your cat dog food as an emergency measure, probably nothing will happen. Some cats have a sensitive digestive system and can vomit or have diarrhea. If you think about changing your cat’s diet with dog food, think twice! Cats are obligate carnivores and need meat to survive and stay healthy. Dog food lacks certain key ingredients like taurine, arginine, arachidonic acid, and some vitamins – these ingredients keep a cat healthy. The lack of these substances will lead to nutritional deficiencies that can even cause death. Also, dog food has a low protein percentage or lacks moisture, which will lead to dehydration and, in the long run, to kidney problems.
If your cat ate from the dog’s bowl once, there is no problem. If you don’t have anything else on hand (for example, a fish), dog food is an acceptable meal replacement when you have run out of cat food. More than 1-2 days of dog food is unhealthy. The cat will lose taurine, vitamin A, and arachidonic acid. A dog’s body can produce them, but a cat must get them from its food to stay healthy.
Cats are exclusively carnivores and have different nutritional requirements than dogs, and should not eat each other’s food. Cat food has more calories than dog food, and its consumption by dogs can lead to obesity.
Cats that feed on dog food have serious health problems. Cats need more protein than dogs need. Eating one meal is not a tragedy, but it is not recommended to become a habit.
Do you live in a house with several dogs and cats? How do you manage to feed everyone?
I am waiting for your stories in the Comment Section. Share your experiences with us!
Happy Cat Care!