Is It Safe for Cats to Chow Down on Dog Chow?


Pets are like family for many people. When it comes to feeding your furry friends, you want to make sure you are providing them with nutrition tailored to their specific needs. Dog food and cat food may look similar on the outside, but there are important differences between feline and canine nutritional requirements. Feeding cat food formulated for dogs can have negative health consequences for cats. This article will explore the key differences between cat and dog nutrition and examine the potential risks of cats eating dog food. With the right information, cat owners can make informed decisions about their pet’s diet.

Differences Between Cat and Dog Nutrition

Cats have different nutritional needs than dogs due to differences in their metabolism and activity levels. Cats require a diet higher in protein than dogs. According to Cats are not Small Dogs: Unique Nutritional Needs of Cats, kittens need more protein than most other animals and adult cats need 2-3 times more protein than dogs or herbivores like cows or horses. Cats are obligate carnivores, meaning they rely on nutrients found in animal flesh. Dogs are omnivores and can meet their nutritional needs with lower protein plant-based foods. Cats have a higher dietary requirement for protein made up of essential amino acids like taurine, arginine, methionine, and lysine which they cannot synthesize on their own.

Risks of Feeding Cats Dog Food

There are some significant risks associated with feeding dog food to cats, especially over an extended period of time. The most concerning risk is nutritional deficiencies. Cat and dog foods are formulated to meet the specific nutritional needs of each species. Cats have higher protein requirements and need more amino acids like taurine and arginine. They also need more vitamin A, B vitamins, and arachidonic acid. Dog foods do not contain adequate levels of these essential nutrients for cats.

Taurine deficiency is one of the biggest concerns. Unlike dogs, cats cannot synthesize their own taurine so they must obtain it from their food. Taurine is critical for heart and eye health in cats. Feeding a cat dog food long-term can lead to dilated cardiomyopathy, where the heart weakens and enlarges, eventually leading to congestive heart failure. Taurine deficiency can also cause eye problems like retinal degeneration.

Lack of arginine is another risk of feeding dog food. Arginine helps remove waste from a cat’s body through the urea cycle. Without enough arginine, toxins can build up over time leading to liver disease. The higher protein levels in cat food provide the arginine cats need.

Inadequate vitamin A in dog food can hurt a cat’s immune system and cause vision problems. B vitamin deficiency impairs growth and appetite. Not enough arachidonic acid can lead to skin irritation and a dull coat. Because dog foods are formulated for dogs, they simply do not contain the right quantities of these nutrients essential for cat health.

Ingredients to Avoid in Dog Food

There are certain ingredients commonly found in dog food that can be harmful to cats if consumed regularly. Three major ingredients to avoid are:

Corn – Corn is a common filler ingredient in many cheap dog foods. However, cats cannot properly digest corn and it can cause gastrointestinal upset. Corn has also been linked to obesity in pets as it is high in carbohydrates and calories. The high carbohydrate content can also contribute to diabetes. It’s best to avoid corn, especially when listed as one of the first few ingredients.

Wheat – Like corn, wheat is a cheap cereal filler that cats do not properly digest. notes that wheat can cause irritable bowel syndrome, colitis, skin allergies, and obesity in cats. Most cat experts advise avoiding any dog foods using wheat.

Soy – Soy is commonly found in lower quality dog foods as a plant-based protein. However, soy is difficult for cats to digest and can cause gas, loose stools, skin irritation, and allergies if fed regularly. As obligate carnivores, cats require meat proteins.

Some other ingredients to avoid in dog food are animal by-products, artificial colors and preservatives like BHA or BHT, and too much carbohydrate fillers like rice or potatoes. Check the ingredients carefully and avoid dog foods with corn, wheat, soy, or other red flags.

Vitamins and Minerals Cats Need

Cats have specific vitamin and mineral requirements that are different from dogs. Two of the most important nutrients for cats are taurine and arginine.

Taurine is an amino acid that cats cannot produce on their own, so it must be obtained through diet. Taurine deficiency can cause heart and eye problems in cats [1]. Dog food does not contain enough taurine for cats, while cat food is fortified with added taurine.

Arginine is another amino acid essential for cats. Insufficient arginine can lead to poor growth and even death in kittens. Adult cats also require arginine for maintenance of lean body mass. Dog foods do not supply adequate arginine levels for feline needs [2].

Other vitamins and minerals like vitamin A, niacin, vitamin B1 (thiamine), vitamin B6, vitamin B12, and vitamin E are also required in a cat’s diet in different quantities than in a dog’s diet.

Overall, the vitamin and mineral content in dog food is not formulated to meet a cat’s nutritional requirements. Feeding dog food long-term can lead to nutritional deficiencies in cats.

Meat Quality Differences

One key nutritional difference between cat and dog food is the quality and type of meat used. According to research from Meow Mix, cat food tends to contain higher quality meat ingredients compared to most dog foods.

Whereas cat foods primarily use muscle meats like chicken, beef, tuna, and salmon, many dog foods may contain meat by-products instead. By-products consist of non-muscle parts like organs, bones, and cartilage. While these ingredients aren’t necessarily unsafe or low-quality, muscle meat is typically more nutritious and digestible for cats.

Cats are obligate carnivores and require a high amount of quality animal protein in their diet. Feeding a cat dog food long-term can lead to protein deficiency and other health issues over time. Check the ingredients list and look for a named meat or fish as the first ingredient when choosing food for a cat.


Allergies and Intolerances

Cats may experience allergic reactions or intolerances to ingredients commonly found in dog food[1]. This is because dog food contains different protein sources, additives, and preservatives than cat food. The most common allergens for cats in dog food are beef, chicken, fish, corn, wheat, and soy[2].

When cats eat dog food, they may exhibit symptoms like itchy skin, ear infections, vomiting, and diarrhea. Food allergies or intolerances can develop at any age. If a cat has been eating dog food long-term, they may start reacting later in life as allergies can develop over time with continued exposure[3].

Some dog foods are specifically formulated to reduce allergens. For example, Purina Pro Plan LiveClear uses hydrolyzed protein and limits allergenic ingredients to minimize reactions in cats sensitive to certain foods[4]. Checking the ingredients list and feeding limited ingredient dog food can help prevent allergic reactions in cats.

When Dog Food May be Okay

In moderation, dog food can be safe for cats to eat. According to Holistapet, eating some dog food here and there (like snacking from your dog’s bowl) is unlikely to cause long-term issues. However, dog food should not make up the main part of a cat’s diet.

Some cat owners use dog food as an occasional treat for their cats. In small amounts, this can be fine as long as the ingredients are safe for cats. Just be cautious with high calorie dog foods, as cats require much fewer calories than dogs.

In an emergency situation, if you run out of cat food, it may be necessary to feed your cat dog food for a short period of time until you can get more cat food. According to Daily Paws, dog food can be fed temporarily for a couple days until proper cat food can be obtained again. However, it’s best transition back to cat food as quickly as possible.

Overall, dog food should not replace cat food long-term, but the occasional snack or emergency meal is unlikely to do serious harm. Monitor your cat closely when feeding any dog food and switch back to cat-appropriate nutrition as soon as you can.

Signs of Illness

If your cat eats dog food, especially in large quantities or over an extended period, they may start to show concerning symptoms and signs of illness. The most common symptoms to watch for include:

  • Vomiting – Cats may vomit if their digestive system is irritated by ingredients in dog food that they cannot properly process.
  • Diarrhea – Eating dog food can cause loose stools or diarrhea since it has higher fiber content and different protein sources than cat food.
  • Lethargy – Lack of appropriate nutrients in dog food can cause lethargy, weakness, and fatigue in cats.

Vomiting and diarrhea are the most noticeable symptoms, and likely occur because dog food is not formulated to meet a cat’s specific dietary needs. The gastrointestinal upset can cause dehydration and rob their body of important nutrients. Lethargy and weakness may follow after a nutrient deficiency sets in.

If your cat exhibits persistent vomiting, diarrhea, or lethargy after eating dog food, stop feeding it to them and contact your veterinarian. Treatment may include medications or IV fluids to control vomiting and diarrhea and restore hydration. In most cases, switching back to cat food and ensuring proper nutrition will allow your cat to recover fully.


In conclusion, dogs and cats have very different nutritional requirements, and cats should not regularly eat dog food. Dog food does not provide the high levels of protein and fat that cats need, and it lacks essential vitamins and minerals like taurine. Feeding a cat dog food can lead to serious health issues over time like heart disease and vision problems. It’s best to stick to a high-quality cat food formulated specifically for felines, or seek veterinary advice if needing to feed a cat dog food temporarily. While not toxic, dog food simply does not meet all the dietary needs of cats. It’s important to be aware of the risks and feed cats a complete and balanced food made just for them.

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