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Can Dogs Eat Cat Food? The Possible Side Effects and Risks

Adrienne is a certified dog trainer and former veterinarian assistant who partners with some of the best veterinarians worldwide.

Can my dog eat cat food? What could happen?

Can my dog eat cat food? What could happen?

Why Do Dogs Love Cat Food So Much?

There's no doubt that dogs love cat food. Some dogs love it so much that their owners use cat food as a high-value treat to reward them for exceptional performances. Dogs love cat food so much that many cat owners are forced to feed their cats in separate areas that are out of the dog's reach. Dogs even enjoy eating cat food after it has been digested: There's no denying that many dogs perceive kitty's "Tootsie rolls" as a pure delicacy.

So what makes cat food so appealing to dogs? Is it just the fact that it's different? Does Rover get an adrenaline rush when he steals it? Is it more appealing because it's left out longer (versus dog food, which is served at specific times)? Or does it actually taste better?

The Difference Between Dog and Cat Food

At a first glimpse, dog and cat food appear strikingly similar. They are both dry kibble that comes in similar shapes and looks. They come in bags and they may even have a similar smell. But they are quite different when it comes to ingredients.

Cats are obligate carnivores and as such, their diets are very rich in protein. Sharon Crowell-Davis, DVM, DACVB and professor in the College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Georgia, suggests that it's this high protein content that has a major impact on flavor.

The fact Rover loves Fluffy's food is a no-brainer, but the real question is: Will eating cat food harm my dog in the long term? Below, we will take a look at the health implications and side effects of eating cat food as a habit.

Can a Dog Eat Cat Food?

Cat food and dog food may look strikingly similar, but their ingredients are quite different. As obligate carnivores, felines have different nutritional needs compared to dogs, who are omnivores. Let's take a look at the difference between the two, shall we?

What Cats Need to Eat

Obligate carnivore means "meat eater by necessity." In other words, it's a biological necessity for kitty to eat meat. Without meat, cats will fail to thrive because meat contains the essentials for their survival.

For instance, cats have a biological need for taurine, an amino acid that is mainly found in animal flesh. It's also critical that cats ingest arginine, which is also abundant in meat sources, as well as arachidonic acid.

As obligate carnivores, cats also have a high need for protein. In order to live and thrive, cats therefore need meat.

What Dogs Need to Eat

Despite their classification as Carnivora, dogs are considered omnivorous. This means that even though dogs like meat, they can also eat plant material and survive with such a diet. Indeed, dogs have shown the ability to digest carbohydrate-based foods.

Dogs, unlike cats, don't have a strict need for taurine and they can create their own arachidonic acid from vegetable oils. Unlike cats, they aren't dependent on meat-specific protein and don't necessarily require to consume a very high level of protein in order to fulfill their basic dietary requirements.

Additionally, recent studies have found that dogs, unlike wolves, have adapted to digest a starch-rich diet as a part of domestication.

What Happens if a Dog Eats Cat Food, Especially Regularly?

If it happens once or twice it's nothing to worry about, but there are many reasons for making sure your dog sticks to dog food.

  • Upset stomach. For starters, the protein-dense diet of cats can cause an upset stomach in dogs with sensitive tummies.
  • Poor nutrition. Even if your dog's digestion isn't visibly affected, the long-term ingestion of cat food creates problems because it's not properly balanced for canines when it comes to fiber and protein content and certain nutrients.
  • Liver and kidney damage. Additionally, Dr. Crowell-Davis adds that a great amount of protein can be hard on the dog's liver and kidneys.
  • Obesity. Cat food will also affect a dog's waistline. The cause for blame is the cat food's heavy levels of fat. This may cause a cat-food-eating dog to become overweight. Note: Kitten food is even more harmful due to its higher levels of protein and fat.
  • Pancreatitis. Overweight dogs are at risk of developing pancreatitis, explains Dr. Patty Khuly.
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So in order to keep Rover safe and healthy, make sure that he is specifically fed a diet purposely tailored for his or her own species.

My Dog Ate Cat Food: What Should I Do?

It's unlikely that your dog will experience any negative effects from eating cat food once or twice. He'll probably love the way it tastes and want more, even if it causes mild gastrointestinal distress. Don't worry too much if your dog eats some, but do take precautions to ensure it doesn't happen again.

Cat food isn't good for dogs, and kitten food is even worse.

Cat food isn't good for dogs, and kitten food is even worse.

Tips for Keeping Dogs Away From Cat Food

  • Feed the cat on a higher surface, one that your dog can't reach.
  • Separate kitty's feeding area with a gate that the dog can't jump over or crawl under.
  • Invest in a crate that the dog cannot fit into.
  • Install a cat door that's too small for your dog to use.
  • If your dog is large, invest in a pet gate that has a smaller opening at the bottom where only your cat can fit through.

For Further Reading

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

Questions & Answers

Question: My dog recently ate cat food and now has diarrhea. Will the cat food just work its way out of him?

Answer: If your dog has diarrhea, it should resolve itself in the next 48-72 hours. You may need to feed your dog a bland diet in the meanwhile considering that his tummy is upset.

Please see your vet if your dog gets lethargic, weak, has pale gums or the diarrhea gets out of control. Diarrhea may cause dehydration.

Question: I accidentally mixed the dry dog food and dry cat food together. Is it ok for my dog to eat this combination?

Answer: If this is a one-time accident, no major harm should arise. You may expect some self-limited digestive upset from the change in diet. I would suggest monitoring his stools.

Question: My dog got into the cats hard food and soft food. Now he is vomiting. How long will this last? I called the emergency vet and they said to feed him boneless skinless chicken and rice for a few days.

Answer: It is not easy to say how long it will last because it depends on various factors such as how sensitive your dog's GI tract is. Consult with your vet if the vomiting persists despite doing a bland diet or if there is an onset of new symptoms (lethargy, dehydration, loss of appetite). Sometimes, before starting the bland diet, a fast of 12 hours can help give the tummy some rest. Allowing the dog to drink too much at once may also trigger vomiting, so it may be worthy of encouraging small sips. Offering ice cubes may be a good way to allow the dog to hydrate without vomiting.

Question: Will it hurt a puppy if he eats cat food?

Answer: The most likely scenario would be an upset tummy from the change in diet. Keep an eye for vomiting or diarrhea or both. A bland diet may help the tummy recover.

Question: My Chihuahua has been eating bacon every day for two years. Could she die? I didn't know dogs couldn't have bacon.

Answer: Dying from eating bacon sounds like a long shot. Bacon is not the healthiest food out there for sure, but I wouldn't consider eating bacon a death sentence. It's high in fat which may cause pancreatitis and often contains nitrates, but if your Chi has been fine so far, it sounds like no major harm was done. I do suggest you stop feeding her bacon and start feeding her species-appropriate dog food.

© 2014 Adrienne Farricelli


Natalie on August 05, 2020:

Why is my 8mnth old pup still eating its own poo. I know when the mother was pregnant she eating both cat an dog poo through it an still does now. I tried all the different types of wet/dry food nothings working

Kathy Darcy on May 13, 2020:

Can you tell me why my ďog smell really bad everday, she has a really bad odor coming of her skin and hair we bath her one day next day she stink again the odor is left on the lounge any where she goes and even when you pat her its on your hands. And she scratches all the time and bits herself and licks herself all the time, we have tryed creams and shampoo and tea tree stuff , and she just licks it off and keeps scratching and biting, its got that bad she has no teeth left at the front, and have had her on hayfever tables and other stuff but nothing works, she has been to the vets and they say she is allergic to something but its going to cost a fortune, they give her a cortisone injection and tables that last her for about 2 to 6 month and she comes really good no smell and stop scratches and biting and licking. What can i give her to help her stop all the above and give us a bit of peace of mind of what to do please.

Max on October 23, 2019:

I'm confused about too much protein for dogs. My dog only eats protein. He's a raw fed dog. Mainly meat, bone and liver Also I read since dogs may need taurine

Adrienne Farricelli (author) on September 03, 2019:

Nicole, give your vet a call. He may want to see your dog or if he saw your dog recently perhaps he can give you a dosage of an antihistamine such as plain Benadryl (not the type with decongestant) based on your dog's weight.

Nicole on August 19, 2019:

My dog got into the kitten food. Now she is scratching herself terribly. What can I do to help the dog?

Michelle on July 08, 2019:

My mini pinscher mix has been getting sick off and on for 4 months now. I hadn't realized it until now. That my daughter brought over her cats because she lost her home. So now there's cat food laying around and my little dog has been eating it. Every time she eats it she shakes and all her muscles are tense and stiff and she won't move for hours and her eyes get glassy. What can i so for her

Adrienne Farricelli (author) on June 02, 2019:

Joey Marie, just a little bit may not be a big issue. At most perhaps some diarrhea from a diet change. At 16, you can ask your vet for some appetite stimulants such as Entyce.

JoeyMarie on May 28, 2019:

My Chihuahua, Bella, is 16 this year and very recently has become almost a non eater. Today, I probably shouldn't have, but I gave her some of my cat's dry food. That was the first time I weeks that she has eaten a meal that filled her. I almost cried because I was so scared of her not eating. Now I'm scared that I gave it to her.

Elaine on May 26, 2019:

I only give my dogs a bit of cat food now and then if my cats have left same, i am so pleased that i have read all the different comments on this, i think i will think again on giveing my dogs a bit of cat food

Anna H. on March 23, 2019:

My dog got a hold of some cat food and. She had dieareha and vomiting and was cotipated for a week. She wouldnt eat or ply all she wnatedd was to sleep. But i was told to give her some raw pumpkin pie feeling. I had to mfeed it to her. After 3 days she started comming arround. Now she is fine and back to herself. I thought at first she was dying. But kept on feeding her that pie filling at least 3 times aday.

Anna on December 15, 2018:

My dog wants canned cat food . When I feed the strays I give her a can every morning. I did not know they could get ill like what I've been reading. Is a can a day ok ? They are small cans.

laura mccracken on September 03, 2018:

we have a dackson she has been eating cat food all her life. at the time we got her we had a cat, got her puppy food would not eat it but she would eat cat food I have been told that is bad for her, she is 5 years old and is healthy

Teresa on July 01, 2018:

Why can't dogs eat bacon?

Blanca on October 06, 2017:

Our dog has stopped eating dry and canned food straight up. If we sprinkle a spoon or two per bowl of dry or canned cat food & mix it in, he eats it and licks the bowl clean. We do not do this daily, but 2-3 times a week. He is a 13 year old blue heeler/retriever mix weighing 68 pounds. His vet just saw him & said he was very healthy. Can we continue to feed him that small amount of cat food to entice him to eat?

Adrienne Farricelli (author) on July 09, 2017:

Sounds like a good plan, Mrs Mark Fines!

Mrs Mike Fines on July 06, 2017:

Thank you for such a descriptive writing. My HIMS loves cat food and I will now put it in an area that he cannot get to

Gerry on July 06, 2017:

My dog is a pup and and I need to know what happens if he eats cat food

Sharon S. Burnette on May 19, 2017:

Our dog loves cat food ....he is three and i have tried over and over but he will not eat dog food of any kind! So i have bout 8 cats out side he loves to eat cat food with them! He will eat regular bacon& cheese & chicken doggie treats! Loves bones ! But his favor is cat food! He is very healthy& happy! So i just let him eat with his cats!

Carole Lott on February 26, 2017:

Our cat is on a special food to ward off kidney stones ,our dog has ate half a bowl of his first food ,She is a chocolate lab the food did make her throw up and she is drinking lots of water.Thhe food I'd hills science Cd .Im concerned it might hurt her kidneys .please respond as I'm really concerned .Thank You

adrian lopez on January 21, 2017:

thanks for letting me know i was worried cause my brother gave my dog cat food and i was nervous that it would give her an infection or something. now i know what happens if they do great hub.

Patrician Pittman on October 20, 2016:

My small terrier likes to eat my new 3 month old kittens can cat food when I'm not looking! They have different eating rooms but she sneaks in sometimes can it hurt her she's 8 years old but in good health!

Eiddwen from Wales on February 19, 2014:

So interesting and very useful to many dog owners.


Adrienne Farricelli (author) on February 18, 2014:

My cats used to eat their own cat food very fast which often meant they regurgitated it back up. My dogs were always running as soon as they heard them retching, in hopes of getting a warmed up meal, yuck! Luckily, the "leave it command" came on handy at those times!

Victoria Lynn from Arkansas, USA on February 18, 2014:

I've always heard that cat food is bad for dogs. They sure do love it, though! It's nice to have more details as to why it's bad for them. Great hub!

Brenda Thornlow from New York on February 18, 2014:

Thank you for posting. I didn't realize the affect cat food can have on them. Voted useful & interesting.

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