Dog Ate Cat Food. Should You Panic?

Is It Dangerous for Dogs to Eat Cat Food?

Occasionally feeding your dog cat food likely won’t cause any immediate health issues. According to the AKC, dogs can survive on cat food in a pinch without incurring major harm ( However, the nutritional balance in cat food is not ideal for dogs, especially when fed long-term.

Cat and dog foods are formulated to meet different nutritional requirements. Cats are obligate carnivores, meaning they need high amounts of protein from meat sources. Dogs are omnivores and require a more balanced diet with greater carbohydrate content. Cat foods also have higher fat percentages to meet cats’ higher energy needs (

While occasional cat food won’t cause immediate issues, the long-term nutritional imbalance can potentially lead to obesity, pancreatitis, and other health problems in dogs. So it’s best to avoid making cat food a regular part of your dog’s diet.

Differences Between Dog and Cat Nutritional Needs

There are some key differences between the nutritional needs of dogs and cats that are important to understand ( Cats require more protein in their diet than dogs. Cat food has a minimum crude protein content of 26%, whereas dog food only needs a minimum of 18% crude protein. Cats also have higher amino acid requirements, needing more arginine and taurine in their diets. Taurine deficiency can cause major health issues in cats. Dogs’ nutritional requirements allow them to utilize plant proteins more efficiently than cats.

Cats also require more fat and calories in their diet than dogs. Cat food has a minimum crude fat content of 9%, while dog food only requires a minimum of 5% crude fat. The higher fat and calorie content allows for cats’ unique metabolic needs ( Cats are obligate carnivores and have a higher metabolic rate than dogs. They use protein and fat as their main energy sources, while dogs can utilize carbohydrates more efficiently. Dogs have a greater ability to digest and metabolize plant material.

Risks of Dogs Eating Cat Food Long-Term

There are some potential health risks for dogs if they eat cat food regularly over an extended period of time. This is mainly due to nutritional imbalances between what cats require in their diet compared to the needs of dogs.

Cat food is much higher in protein than dog food. While dogs do need a good amount of protein in their diet, too much can put strain on their kidneys over time and lead to kidney disease according to the AKC (

Cat food also tends to be higher in fat. If a dog eats cat food long-term, the extra fat and calories could lead to obesity. Excess weight puts dogs at risk for joint problems, heart disease, and diabetes.

Additionally, cat food lacks some nutrients dogs need to thrive. Cat food is low in calcium, folic acid, niacin, vitamin E and other important vitamins and minerals specific to a dog’s health. The nutritional imbalances could lead to various deficiency symptoms over time.

Finally, the higher fat and protein content in cat food often causes more digestive upset like vomiting and diarrhea in dogs compared to dog-formulated foods. The gastrointestinal distress can become chronic if dogs continue eating cat food.

While a bowl of cat food here or there won’t harm an otherwise healthy dog, owners should avoid regularly feeding cat food long-term to prevent nutritional and digestive issues.

Signs Your Dog May Have Eaten Too Much Cat Food

If your dog has accidentally consumed a large amount of cat food, there are some signs to watch out for. One of the most common is digestive upset. The high protein and fat content in cat food can lead to vomiting or diarrhea in dogs. The rich ingredients are hard for a dog’s digestive system to process, and may cause irritation or inflammation leading them to vomit the food back up. Diarrhea containing undigested pieces of cat food may also occur as the food rapidly moves through the intestines.

Increased thirst and urination can be another sign of too much cat food consumption. The high protein taxes the kidneys of dogs and may cause mild dehydration. You may notice your dog drinking more water and needing to urinate more frequently.

Weight gain can occur if a dog has been eating cat food for an extended period. Cat foods have more calories per cup compared to most dog foods. The increased calorie intake coupled with less activity from digestive upset can lead to weight gain in dogs.

Finally, lethargy is common after a dog has overindulged in cat food. Their digestive upset coupled with feeling poorly may cause them to act very low energy and want to sleep instead of play or go for walks.

When to Seek Veterinary Care

In most cases, dogs will recover on their own after eating cat food, but it’s important to monitor them closely and contact your vet if certain symptoms arise or persist. According to the AKC, you should seek veterinary care if your dog’s symptoms last more than 24 hours after eating cat food. Signs to watch for include vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, loss of appetite, and dehydration.

Prolonged gastrointestinal upset can lead to dangerous dehydration, electrolyte imbalances, and other complications in dogs. According to Bottletree Animal Hospital, contact your vet immediately if your dog seems very ill after eating cat food. They advise bringing a sample of the cat food your dog ingested.

Underlying health conditions may also warrant more prompt veterinary attention if your dog eats cat food. For example, dogs with kidney disease, diabetes, or pancreatitis may experience more severe reactions. Older dogs or puppies may also be at higher risk for complications. Discuss any pre-existing conditions with your vet so you can monitor your dog appropriately after eating cat food.

Preventing Dogs From Eating Cat Food

One of the best ways to stop dogs from eating cat food is to prevent access in the first place. Here are some tips for keeping cat food securely away from dogs:

– Feed cats and dogs in separate areas of the home. Place the cat dishes up high where your dog can’t reach, like on a counter or cat tree. You can also use baby gates to block off areas.[]

– Supervise cats and dogs during meal times so you can monitor the dog’s behavior and correct them if they try to eat the cat food.

– Invest in puzzle feeders, electronic feeders, or containers with lids that only the cat can access to securely contain the cat food.

– Consider feeding cats scheduled meals rather than free-feeding so there is no food sitting out to tempt the dog.

Taking preventative measures is key to breaking the habit of dogs eating cat food. Keep an eye on the pet areas of your home and restrict access to the cat bowls and you’ll curb this behavior.

Transitioning From Cat Food to Dog Food

If your dog has been eating cat food for an extended period, it is important to slowly transition them to dog food over the course of 5-7 days. Abruptly changing your dog’s diet can lead to gastrointestinal upset, diarrhea, vomiting, and poor nutrient absorption.

Start by gradually shifting the portions from mostly cat food to mostly dog food. On the first day, do a 75% cat food, 25% dog food mix. On the second day, shift to 50% cat food, 50% dog food. On days 3-4, do a 25% cat food, 75% dog food mix. By days 5-7, you should have fully transitioned to 100% dog food.

Monitor your dog closely during this transition period for signs of digestive upset like soft stools, vomiting, or lack of appetite. If these occur, you may need to slow the transition down and move to the new food over 10-14 days instead (cite: Consulting with your veterinarian can also help ensure the transition goes smoothly.

Choosing a Nutritionally Balanced Dog Food

When selecting a nutritionally balanced dog food, it’s important to read the label and understand what makes for a high-quality diet. According to the World Small Animal Veterinary Association, some things to look for include:

  • Meat, poultry, or fish listed as the first ingredient
  • Whole, natural ingredients rather than by-products or meal
  • No artificial preservatives, colors, or flavors
  • Lower calorie count per cup (under 350 calories)
  • Balanced omega fatty acids
  • Grain-free or limited grain options

It’s also wise to consult your veterinarian on the best dog food for your pet’s age, size, activity level, and any health conditions. They can provide tailored recommendations to ensure your dog’s unique nutritional requirements are met through their diet.

Homemade Food Options

Some owners enjoy preparing homemade meals for their dogs using whole food ingredients. There are potential benefits to homemade dog food, such as having control over all the ingredients. However, homemade diets also carry risks if not properly formulated.

According to the AKC, there are no scientifically-supported benefits to homemade diets over high-quality commercial dog foods that meet AAFCO standards (source). The key is ensuring the homemade diet is nutritionally balanced over the long-term.

It’s crucial to consult with a board-certified veterinary nutritionist to formulate homemade dog food recipes. They can ensure the proper balance of protein, fat, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals for your dog based on factors like age, breed, and health status (source).

Some risks of homemade diets without expert guidance include nutritional deficiencies or excesses over time. It’s also vital to follow food safety practices when storing and handling raw meat (source).

While homemade dog food has some benefits, it requires effort to balance recipes and consult experts. With careful formulation and handling, homemade diets can potentially meet a dog’s nutritional needs.

When Cat Food Might Be OK for Dogs

In some specific situations, feeding your dog cat food may be acceptable for a short period of time:

In an emergency survival situation where you have no other food available, cat food can provide essential calories and nutrients to keep your dog alive until you can get proper dog food. However, this should only be a very short-term solution.

Under the guidance of your veterinarian, cat food may be recommended for dogs with certain medical conditions or special dietary needs that require nutrients found in higher amounts in cat food. For example, dogs with kidney disease may benefit from the increased protein and lower phosphorus in some cat foods.[1]

In both cases, transition your dog slowly from cat food back to dog food over 5-7 days once the emergency has passed or under your vet’s advice. An abrupt change in diet can upset your dog’s stomach.

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