Can Dogs Eat Limited Ingredient Cat Food?


Have you ever run out of your dog’s regular food and wondered if you could just feed them your cat’s food instead? With the rising popularity of limited ingredient diets for cats, this situation may be becoming more common. However, there are some important considerations before feeding your dog cat food, even limited ingredient formulations.

In this article, we’ll take an in-depth look at limited ingredient cat foods, including their pros and cons for dogs. We’ll compare the nutritional requirements of dogs versus cats and outline the key differences you need to know. By the end, you’ll understand the risks of long-term cat food consumption for dogs and when it may be ok to do so sparingly.

Let’s start by understanding exactly what limited ingredient cat foods are designed for.

What is Limited Ingredient Cat Food?

Limited ingredient cat food refers to cat food formulations that contain fewer ingredients than typical cat food recipes. The goal is to limit the number of protein sources, carbohydrates, and other ingredients in order to identify and avoid potential allergens or sensitivities a cat may have.

Unlike regular cat food that contains many different ingredients, limited ingredient cat foods usually contain one novel protein source such as duck, salmon, or venison along with a single carbohydrate source like brown rice or sweet potatoes. This helps reduce the chances that a cat will have an adverse reaction to an ingredient.

Some of the most common ingredients found in limited ingredient cat foods include:

  • Proteins: Duck, lamb, venison, rabbit, kangaroo, bison
  • Carbohydrates: Brown rice, oatmeal, barley, sweet potatoes
  • Fruits and Vegetables: Pumpkin, blueberries, cranberries

By reducing the ingredient list substantially compared to regular cat food, limited ingredient diets make it easier to identify triggers if a cat has sensitivities or allergies to certain ingredients.

Pros of Feeding Dogs Limited Ingredient Cat Food

There are a few potential benefits to feeding dogs limited ingredient cat food:

For dogs with food sensitivities or allergies, a limited ingredient diet can help identify problematic ingredients and reduce exposure to potential allergens (1). The limited ingredients make it easier to pinpoint the source of the sensitivity or allergy.

Limited ingredient cat foods often have a novel protein source not typically found in dog food, like rabbit or duck, which dogs may tolerate better (2). This introduces new non-chicken protein options.

Some limited ingredient cat foods have high protein and fat content to meet cats’ higher nutritional needs. This can benefit dogs needing higher calorie or protein diets (3). However, the overall nutritional profile may not be balanced long-term.

Limited ingredient cat foods are available in wet and dry formulas. The moisture content of wet food can benefit dogs needing more hydration.

Due to the specialized nature of limited ingredient diets, these cat foods are sometimes free of common allergens like corn, wheat, soy, and artificial additives. This benefits dogs with grain sensitivities.

Overall, limited ingredient cat food offers dogs potential benefits related to food sensitivities, novel proteins, and hydration. But the complete nutritional profile may not be optimal for long-term canine health. It’s best used selectively based on a dog’s specific needs.




Cons of Feeding Dogs Limited Ingredient Cat Food

There are some potential downsides and nutritional inadequacies to be aware of when feeding dogs limited ingredient cat food:

Cat food is high in protein and fats, and generally contains more calories per cup than dog food. While the higher protein content may not pose a problem for healthy dogs, dogs with kidney or liver disease can be negatively impacted by excessive protein intake over time. High fat diets can also lead to pancreatitis in some dogs.

Dog foods are specifically formulated to meet the nutritional needs of dogs, while cat foods are formulated for cats. Cats require higher levels of protein and fat than dogs do. Cat foods also tend to be deficient in certain nutrients dogs need, like calcium, fiber, and specific amino acids. Feeding cat food long-term could lead to nutritional deficiencies in dogs.

According to veterinarians, dry cat food poses a potential choking hazard for dogs due to the smaller kibble size and shape. The dense, high-calorie nuggets can lead to rapid weight gain or obesity in dogs when fed in quantity.

Some dogs may develop an allergy or intolerance over time to the unique protein sources found in cat food but not typical dog food, like rabbit or duck. This could cause gastrointestinal upset.

Quality cat food brands use more digestible protein sources than many dog foods. The highly processed proteins and fats may be harder for some dogs to digest compared to dog kibble.

While occasional treats of cat food are unlikely to harm healthy dogs, veterinarians warn against making cat food a regular part of a dog’s diet. Instead, dogs should primarily eat balanced dog food formulated for their specific nutritional requirements.

Nutritional Requirements for Dogs

Dogs have specific nutritional needs in order to stay healthy. When it comes to the macronutrients protein, fat, and carbohydrates, dogs require adequate amounts of protein and fat, with a lesser emphasis on carbohydrates.

For protein, puppies require a minimum of 22% protein while adult dogs require at least 18% protein in their diets (YOUR DOG’S NUTRITIONAL NEEDS). Higher protein levels may be required for very active dogs. Protein provides amino acids that help build and maintain muscle mass and is important for growth and development. Quality animal-based proteins are ideal.

The minimum dietary fat requirement is 5% for puppies and 8% for adult dogs (YOUR DOG’S NUTRITIONAL NEEDS). Fat provides energy and essential fatty acids that help support skin, coat, immune and cognitive health. The ideal fat profile contains omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.

When it comes to vitamins and minerals, dogs require all the essential vitamins and minerals but in smaller quantities than humans. Some key vitamins dogs need include vitamins A, B complex, C, D, E and K. Essential minerals include calcium, phosphorus, sodium, potassium, magnesium, iron, zinc, copper, manganese, iodine and selenium (Dog Nutrition: Guide to Dog Food Nutrients). These vitamins and minerals support overall health.

Nutritional Requirements for Cats

Cats have specific nutritional requirements that are different from other animals. Their dietary needs are driven by their unique physiology and metabolism as obligate carnivores.

Some key nutritional requirements for cats include:


Cats require high levels of protein in their diet. According to the National Research Council (NRC), adult cats require a minimum of 25% of their diet to come from protein (1). Moreover, protein quality is important – cat food should contain high quality animal-based proteins from sources like chicken, turkey, lamb or fish.


Cats also need higher fat levels since they utilize fat efficiently for energy. The NRC recommends 9% minimum fat for kittens and 5% minimum for adult cats (1). Dietary fats should come from animal sources like chicken fat, fish oil and egg yolks.

Vitamins and Minerals

Cats require dietary sources of essential vitamins like Vitamins A, D, E, K, B vitamins and choline. They also need major minerals like calcium, phosphorus, potassium, sodium, chloride and magnesium as well as trace minerals like iron, zinc, copper, manganese and iodine (2). Most commercial cat foods are fortified with a vitamin and mineral premix to meet these needs.

Overall, it’s important to feed cats a balanced diet formulated specifically to meet their unique nutritional requirements.

(1) Your Cat’s Nutritional Needs

(2) Nutrition – General Feeding Guidelines for Cats

Key Differences Between Dog and Cat Nutrition

There are several key differences between the nutritional requirements of dogs and cats that are important to understand when considering feeding cat food to dogs.

Protein – Cats require a higher protein percentage in their food than dogs. Cats are obligate carnivores and require a diet rich in animal-based proteins. Dogs have more flexible protein needs. Most cat foods contain at least 30% protein, while many dog foods contain around 18-25% protein.

Fats – Cats also require higher levels of fat, around 15-20% of their diet. They have a higher energy requirement and use fat as their main energy source. Dogs have lower fat requirements, usually around 5-15% fat depending on activity level.

Vitamins – Cats require higher levels of certain vitamins like vitamin A and taurine. Taurine is an essential amino acid for cats that supports heart and eye health. Dogs can synthesize their own taurine so don’t require it in the diet.

Minerals – Levels of minerals like calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, and potassium differ between cat and dog foods. Their needs vary based on factors like growth rate and kidney function.

Overall, the higher protein and fat content in cat food, along with differences in vitamin and mineral content, make it generally unsuitable as a long-term diet for dogs. While occasional treats may be ok, dogs have different nutritional needs.


Risks of Feeding Dogs Cat Food Long-Term

There are significant nutritional risks and potential health issues associated with feeding dogs cat food long-term. Cat food is much higher in protein and fat than dog food. While cats require higher protein levels to support their metabolisms, the same does not apply to dogs. The Association of American Feed Control Officials recommends that adult dog food contains a minimum of 18% protein compared to 26% for adult cats.

According to the American Kennel Club, the high protein and fat content in cat food puts dogs at risk for obesity and pancreatitis. Pancreatitis is a potentially life-threatening inflammation of the pancreas often triggered by a high-fat diet. Feeding a dog cat food long-term can also lead to excessive calcium buildup from the higher mineral content, which may result in joint issues or impaired kidney function.

In addition to higher protein and fat, cat food is deficient in certain vitamins and minerals that dogs need for optimal health and development. Dog food contains more balanced omega fatty acids, as well as higher levels of nutrients like vitamin A, B vitamins, vitamin D, and calcium. Feeding cat food can lead to nutritional deficiencies over time.

According to pet nutrition experts, dogs should only eat cat food for a short time in an emergency situation. Feeding cats dog food long-term risks obesity, pancreatitis, nutritional deficiencies, and other health problems in dogs. It’s important to feed pets species-appropriate diets to meet their unique nutritional needs.

When Can Dogs Eat Cat Food Safely?

While cats and dogs have different nutritional requirements, dogs can eat cat food occasionally and in emergencies without adverse health effects. According to PetMD1, dogs can eat cat food as an infrequent snack or meal replacement if they need to.

Giving your dog a few pieces of cat food as a treat now and then won’t harm them. Just don’t make a regular habit out of it. Long-term, the nutritional imbalance in cat food can cause health issues for dogs.

In an emergency situation where you run out of dog food, it’s also fine to give your dog cat food for a day or two until you can get more dog food. While not ideal, eating cat food for a short time beats going hungry.

The key is moderation and not making cat food a dietary staple. As an occasional snack or emergency fallback, cat food can tide dogs over without problems. But it shouldn’t replace properly balanced and formulated dog food as the primary food source.


The key takeaways are that while dogs can eat limited ingredient cat food occasionally and in small amounts, cats have some different nutritional needs than dogs so cat food should not make up a substantial part of a dog’s diet. Cats require more protein and fat than dogs, and cat food is very dense in nutrients which could lead to obesity if a dog eats too much cat food.

Overall, it’s best to feed dogs dog food formulated for their nutritional needs. Limited ingredient cat food should only be fed to dogs sparingly and temporarily. Dog owners should read labels carefully on any cat food to ensure it will not cause issues for their dog. If in doubt, consult with your veterinarian before feeding cat food to a dog in anything more than very small amounts.

The recommended guidelines are to limit cat food to 10% or less of a dog’s total diet, only feed it temporarily, and monitor the dog closely for any adverse effects. Feeding cat food long-term or in large quantities can potentially result in nutritional deficiencies or imbalances in dogs. While the occasional bite of cat food is unlikely to harm a healthy dog, dogs’ nutritional needs are best met through dog food specifically formulated with their health in mind.

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