Can Dogs Really Eat Cat Food? The Truth About This Common Question


It’s common for cats and dogs to live in the same household and potentially have access to each other’s food. Pet owners may wonder if there are any health risks or consequences of a dog eating cat food. This article will examine the key differences between cat and dog food and provide a verdict on whether dogs can eat cat food and remain healthy.

The main questions explored are:

  • What are the nutritional differences between cat and dog food?
  • Are the ingredients safe for dogs?
  • Can a dog eat cat food without health issues?
  • What are the potential consequences?

By the end, readers will understand the effects cat food can have on dogs so they can make an informed decision about allowing their dog access to cat food.

Nutritional Differences Between Dog and Cat Food

Dogs and cats have different nutritional needs due to differences in their biology and metabolism. As obligate carnivores, cats require a high amount of protein and fat in their diet, while dogs are more omnivorous and can digest carbohydrates and plant matter more easily (MeowMix). Cats also need more dietary protein than dogs – typically around 26-40% of their diet should consist of protein, while adult dogs only require around 18% protein (Paw CBD).

In addition, cats require higher amounts of certain amino acids like taurine, arginine, methionine, and cysteine compared to dogs. Taurine deficiency in cats can lead to eye and heart problems, so it is an essential amino acid for them. Cat foods are supplemented with higher amounts of taurine to meet cats’ needs (Avoderm Natural).

Vitamins like Vitamin A and B complex are also required in larger quantities for cats. Minerals like calcium and phosphorus need to be balanced properly in cat food to support bone health and prevent urinary tract problems (MeowMix).

Due to their smaller size, cats also require more calories per pound than dogs. Cat foods are more energy dense and higher in fat to meet their energy needs (Paw CBD).

In terms of ingredients, cat foods tend to contain more animal-based proteins like chicken, turkey, and fish. Dog foods often incorporate plant proteins like soy as well as grain fillers. The smaller kibble size of cat food reflects cats’ small mouths and teeth (Avoderm Natural).

Protein Content

Cat food tends to have a higher protein content compared to dog food. Most cat foods contain at least 30% protein, while many dog foods contain 20-25% protein.

The reason for the higher protein content in cat food is because cats are obligate carnivores and require a diet high in animal-based proteins. Dogs, on the other hand, are omnivores and do not require as much dietary protein from meat sources.

Excessively high protein levels can be problematic for dogs, especially those with kidney disease. Canine kidneys already work harder than feline kidneys, even when healthy. Higher protein intakes place additional strain on dog kidneys and can accelerate kidney damage.1 Veterinarians often recommend reduced protein diets for dogs with compromised kidney function, usually around 18% protein or less.

Therefore, the higher protein content in cat food is not ideal for dogs. While small amounts may not cause issues in healthy dogs, regular long-term feeding of cat food can potentially harm kidney health.

Fat Content

Cat food tends to be higher in fat compared to dog food. Many cat food formulas contain >10% fat on a dry matter basis, while most dog foods are <10% fat (1). The higher fat content in cat food is added to meet the higher energy requirements of cats. However, too much dietary fat can be problematic for dogs, especially those prone to pancreatitis.

Pancreatitis is an inflammatory condition of the pancreas that can occur in dogs. One of the main recommended treatments for dogs with pancreatitis is feeding a low fat diet, usually <10% fat on a dry matter basis (2). The high fat content in cat food can therefore exacerbate pancreatitis in susceptible dogs.

Feeding high fat cat food to dogs prone to pancreatitis can increase the risk of an acute flare-up. It’s crucial to feed dogs with a history of pancreatitis or other fat sensitivities specialized low fat dog food under veterinary supervision.

Vitamins and Minerals

Dogs and cats have slightly different vitamin and mineral requirements. Cats require higher levels of taurine, an amino acid that supports heart and eye health. Taurine deficiency in cats can lead to blindness and heart disease. Dog food does not contain enough taurine to meet a cat’s needs. On the other hand, dogs require more calcium for strong bones and teeth. Cat food is too low in calcium for dogs.


There are some key differences in the ingredients commonly found in dog and cat food. Dog food tends to contain more plant-based ingredients like corn, wheat, soy, and rice, while cat food has higher amounts of animal-based proteins.

According to the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), some of the most common ingredients in dog food are: corn, beef, chicken by-product meal, ground whole wheat, and brewers rice. Cat foods more commonly contain: chicken, chicken meal, turkey, turkey meal, and fish.

Cats are obligate carnivores, meaning they need to consume animal-based proteins to get certain essential amino acids not found in plants. Dogs have more flexibility as omnivores. While dogs can get nutrients from plant proteins like corn and wheat, cats require a diet higher in meat-based ingredients to thrive.

So when comparing dog and cat foods, cat foods will have a higher percentage of calories from protein and animal-based fats. Most cat foods contain at least 25-30% protein, while many dog foods are around 18-25%. The ingredients will reflect this difference.

Texture and Size

Cat kibble is usually smaller in size and texture compared to dog kibble. Cat food kibbles are designed to be bite-sized and easy for cats to chew with their smaller jaws. According to TheCatSite, cat kibble ranges from 3-6mm in diameter. Meanwhile, dog kibble comes in a variety of sizes but tends to be larger overall, typically 8-15mm in diameter depending on the breed’s size.

The smaller kibble size of cat food can pose a choking hazard for dogs if they gulp it down too quickly. As PetCareRx notes, some dogs eat very rapidly and may not properly chew cat kibble before swallowing. This is especially risky for small and medium breed dogs with smaller throats. Owners should monitor their dog closely if feeding cat food and consider choosing a cat food with slightly larger kibbles to reduce choking risk.


It’s well known that many dogs seem to love the taste of cat food and prefer it over their own dog food. The primary reason behind this is palatability – cat food tends to be very palatable to dogs due to its flavor profile. Cat foods often contain higher amounts of animal protein and fat, with ingredients like chicken, beef, turkey, and fish commonly found near the top of the ingredients list. These meaty, protein-rich ingredients smell and taste delicious from a dog’s perspective.

As obligate carnivores, cats evolved to derive nutrition from animal flesh and protein sources1. This leads cat foods to contain high protein levels and lots of savory animal ingredients that dogs find irresistible. Additionally, many cat foods contain flavor enhancers like liver, fish oils, and “cat gravy” that makes them extra tempting to dogs. So while cat food meets feline nutritional needs, it’s often even more palatable to a dog’s preferences and taste buds.

The downside is that the high fat content in cat food can quickly lead to obesity if a dog eats cat food regularly2. So while dogs may love the enticing flavors of cat food, it’s best to avoid making it a regular part of their diet.

Health Consequences

Eating cat food can potentially lead to some health issues in dogs. The high protein and fat content in cat food puts dogs at risk for gastrointestinal upset like vomiting and diarrhea (American Kennel Club). The amino acid composition of cat food can also negatively impact canine health. Cats require more protein than dogs thanks to differences in their metabolism, so the high protein in cat food can overwork a dog’s organs (petMD).

Specifically, the high protein and mineral content of cat food increases the dog’s risk of developing pancreatitis, an inflammatory condition where digestive enzymes attack the pancreas (MasterClass). The high protein can also put strain on the kidneys leading to kidney disease over time. Additionally, some ingredients commonly found in cat food like onions, garlic, and raisins can be toxic for dogs (American Kennel Club).

The Verdict

Although a dog eating cat food on occasion as a treat is generally safe, regular feeding of cat food to dogs is not recommended. Cats have different nutritional requirements than dogs, and cat food does not contain the right balance of nutrients to sustain a dog’s health over time. While the higher protein in cat food won’t likely harm them short-term, the lower fat content provides inadequate caloric intake for your pup. Feeding a dog cat food regularly can potentially lead to malnutrition, digestive issues, or deficiencies in key nutrients like folic acid. Ultimately, dogs should eat food formulated for canines to meet their unique nutritional needs. Cat food can be fed sparingly as an occasional snack or in emergency situations when dog food is unavailable, but is not suitable as the foundation of your dog’s diet.

For a healthy diet, feed your dog quality kibble, canned food, or raw diet made specifically for dogs. Check labels to ensure nutritional adequacy based on dog feeding guidelines. Consult your veterinarian if ever considering transitioning your dog long-term to a non-traditional diet. While the occasional cat food snack won’t harm your pup, steer clear of making cat food a dietary staple to keep your dog happy and healthy.


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