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Can My Cat Eat This?

Can Cats Eat Dog Food?

Dog food is safe for cats in small amounts, but it shouldn’t be their main course.

by Jodi Helmer
June 5, 2022
Two grey cats eating dog food from a plate while a brown dog looks on with jealousy
chendongshan / Adobe Stock

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You have a hungry cat and an empty container of dry food; can you fill the bowl with dog food instead? In a pinch, yes. According to Dr. Maryanne Murphy, clinical assistant professor of nutrition at the University of Tennessee, “There is nothing in dog food that’s not safe for cats to eat.”

Is It Safe for Cats to Eat Dog Food?

Cats are obligate carnivores that need meat-based proteins and animal fats in their diet for optimal health. So, even though dog and cat foods might have several of the same ingredients listed on the label, cat foods also contain added protein, vitamins, and minerals that aren’t used in dog food. “The issue is that cats have different nutrient requirements than dogs…and those levels won’t be achieved if you’re feeding your cat a dog diet long-term, but [one meal] isn’t cause for concern,” says Dr. Murphy.

Additionally, an abrupt switch in food, including a bowl of unfamiliar dog kibble, could cause some gastrointestinal distress, so watch for symptoms like diarrhea and vomiting. Dr. Murphy warns that feeding your cat dog food for a long period could have even more serious side effects, noting, “Cats could actually die from something like a taurine deficiency, which could lead to heart disease.”

What Are the Differences Between Cat Food and Dog Food?

Protein

Cat food is much higher in protein than dog food. Unlike dogs, who produce an amino acid called taurine (one of the building blocks of protein) on their own, cats need taurine added to their food. Without it, cats can develop deficiencies that are linked to blindness and enlarged heart.

Vitamins

Cats are also unable to produce vitamin A, so it’s added to their food to maintain good vision, skin and coat health; vitamin A isn’t added to dog food as dogs produce it on their own.

Calories

The added protein in cat food also adds calories, making cat food more calorie-dense than dog food. Your cat will need to eat larger amounts of dog food to meet their calorie requirements (but still won’t be getting the ideal nutrient balance).

Will Cats Eat Dog Food?

Don’t be surprised if your cat turns their nose up at a bowl full of dog food. Cat food has a stronger flavor and aroma to make it appetizing to finicky felines, and dog food lacks the appeal. If you discover that your cat has helped themself to the dog food bowl, don’t panic. Dog food isn’t toxic — just make sure that it’s not their main source of food: Cats need a complete and balanced diet formulated for their specific nutritional needs.

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Jodi Helmer

Jodi Helmer is a North Carolina-based freelance writer who shares her home with an embarrassing number of rescue dogs and relies on four feral cats to patrol the barn. When she isn’t refilling food and water dishes, Jodi writes about animals for Scientific American, Sierra, WebMD, AKC Family Dog, Living the Country Life, and Out Here.