Can Dogs Eat Cat Food? Is Cat Food Bad for Dogs?

by Richard Walther, DVM
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Can Dogs Eat Cat Food?
Wondering if it's okay if your dog eats cat food? Learn more about the difference in dog and cat nutrition and whether it’s safe for your dog to eat from your cat’s bowl.

If you have a dog, you’ve probably noticed that they’re crazy about cat food. But is eating cat food safe for dogs? While a little cat food occasionally is unlikely to cause your pup any harm, it should definitely not be offered on a regular basis. After all, there’s a reason why dogs eat dog food and cats eat food specifically crafted for them.

Here’s everything you need to know about the difference between dog and cat nutrition and whether it is safe for your canine companion to indulge in cat food.

Table of Contents

Pro Tip: If your pup eats something they shouldn’t, pet insurance helps ensure they get the professional help they need along with financial support for vet bills.

The difference between cat and dog nutrition

Dogs and cats have different nutrition needs. Dogs are omnivores, meaning they consume meat and vegetables, whereas cats are obligate carnivores, which means that they need to eat a diet that is mainly meat. In other words, dogs need a more varied diet than cats.

In addition, canines require ten amino acids, while felines require eleven. The additional amino acid they need is taurine, which is vital for normal vision, heart function, digestion, and a healthy immune system.

In order to satisfy feline dietary requirements, cat food is higher in meat-based protein, taurine, calories, and fat than dog food. This may be one of the reasons why dogs find cat food so irresistible. The higher fat and protein levels in cat food make it more fragrant and tasty.

Can dogs eat wet cat food?

For some pups, such as those experiencing weight loss, decreased appetite, or battling cancer, cat food might be a great alternative to dog foods. This is because in these cases, cat food is tastier, higher in calories, and more nutrient-balanced than some home-prepared diets.

Small amounts of cat food from time to time are also unlikely to cause any harm to healthy adult dogs. However, giving cat food for a prolonged period of time can cause gastrointestinal issues such as diarrhea and flatulence, or even allergic reactions as wet cat food isn’t tested on canines.

Dog and cat sharing food bowl

Can dogs eat dry cat food?

Cat kibble and cat biscuits can be a much healthier alternative to treats or rewards compared to commonly used human foods, such as chicken, peanut butter, and cheese.

But again, dry cat food will be designed to satisfy a cat’s nutritional requirements rather than a dog’s. This type of food is quite high in carbohydrates from meat sources and doesn’t contain many plant-based ingredients. In addition, dry cat food is meant to be chewed up by cats, whose teeth are sharper and thinner, and will not succeed in cleaning a dog’s teeth as well as dry dog food.

When is cat food bad for dogs?

If a dog switches to a cat-based diet over time, they might start suffering from a number of medical conditions. Some of the most common issues that can arise in dogs eating cat food on a regular basis include:

  • Gastrointestinal upset. An abrupt change to a diet designed for a completely different species is almost certain to cause diarrhea in dogs.
  • Pancreatitis. High-fat diets, such as cat food, can contribute to the development of this serious condition that requires immediate medical attention.
  • Dental problems. Cat kibble and biscuits are too small to allow proper chewing, especially in medium and large-breed pups.

For dogs suffering from certain health conditions, eating cat food even in small amounts and on occasion can be problematic. For instance, if your dog has a sensitive GI tract, rich cat food can easily cause diarrhea or vomiting.

Dogs with liver or kidney disease need to consume moderate quantities of protein, which means they should steer clear of cat food. The same counts for overweight dogs, as well as those prone to developing pancreatitis (such as Schnauzers), who need to consume low-fat diets in order to prevent pancreatic inflammation or promote weight loss.

Can puppies eat cat food?

If your puppy sneaks some cat food from time to time, it shouldn’t be a problem. However, feeding them cat food regularly and as a replacement for proper puppy food is a different story. Puppies that are still developing need a nutritionally balanced diet suitable for their fast growth rate. Feeding your puppy cat food can quickly make them overweight and result in musculoskeletal problems.

Dog eating cat food

What if my dog accidentally eats cat food?

If your dog accidentally eats cat food, there’s no need to be concerned right away. Cat food is not toxic to dogs and might cause a GI upset (diarrhea or vomiting), which should quickly resolve on its own. However, if diarrhea or vomiting persists for more than 24 hours, you should get in touch with your vet.

If your canine companion eats a very big amount of cat food, they might become bloated. If your dog’s abdomen is hard and they’re retching without vomit, contact your vet right away.

Pro Tip: Stay on the safe side by signing your furry friend up for a pet insurance plan. If something unexpected happens, you can rest assured that your doggy is protected.

How to keep dogs from eating cat food

The best way to prevent your pup from eating cat food is to separate your pets when food is out. Start by moving your cat’s bowl to another room your dog can’t get to. If you have a big dog, install a tall baby gate in the doorway with a small opening for your kitty or a small cat-flap in the door. If your dog is small, set up a sturdy baby gate they can’t jump over.

Alternatively, you can feed your cat on a higher surface your dog can’t reach, like a counter, washing machine, cat tree, or even a fridge.

You should also consider teaching your dog the “Leave It” command. Once they know this command, introduce cat food and repeat until they can successfully ignore the food.


Key Takeaways

  • Cat food is high in protein, fat, and calories which means that it is not ideal for dogs. Dogs with sensitive stomachs might suffer from GI upset, diarrhea, and vomiting after eating cat food.
  • Small amounts of cat food given on occasion should not cause any harm to healthy adult dogs, but if fed regularly, it can cause pancreatitis, obesity, and other health issues.
  • Always keep cat food out of your dog’s reach and, if you suspect your pup has eaten a large quantity of cat food, call your vet.

Ricky Walther, DVM

About the author

Richard Walther, DVM

Associate Veterinarian - Petco

Ricky Walther, DVM, is a small animal general practitioner in the greater Sacramento, California area. Realizing the positive financial and medical impact that pet insurance can provide for pet parents and the profession, he lends support and advice to companies like Pawlicy Advisor that simplify the process of connecting with veterinary financing resources.

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