Why Does Your Dog Always Steal Your Cat’s Food? The Inside Scoop on Canine Cravings


I’ll never forget the time I came home to find my dog Otis with his head buried in my cat Sasha’s food bowl. Sasha sat there glaring as Otis happily munched away on her special salmon-flavored kibble. This scene is all too familiar for many pet owners – you carefully portion out food for each animal, only to find the dog has decided the cat’s kibble is far more appetizing. Why does this happen? In this article, we’ll explore the possible reasons dogs try to eat cat food, including nutritional differences, taste preferences, health risks, and prevention tips.

Nutritional Differences

Cat and dog foods are formulated differently to meet the unique nutritional needs of each species. Cats are obligate carnivores, meaning they need to eat meat to acquire certain essential nutrients. As a result, cat food tends to be higher in protein and lower in carbohydrates compared to dog food [1]. On average, cat food contains about 40% protein and only 5% carbohydrates, while dog food contains about 25% protein and over 30% carbohydrates.

In addition to more protein, cat food is also higher in certain fats, fatty acids, vitamins, and minerals like taurine that cats cannot synthesize on their own [2]. Dogs, on the other hand, have lower protein requirements and can more readily utilize carbohydrates and fiber as energy sources. To provide for these different needs, cat food is more nutrient-dense and higher in calories than most dog foods.

The specialized formulations mean cats and dogs should stick to food designed specifically for their species. Feeding a cat dog food long-term may lead to protein deficiency and other problems, while feeding dogs cat food can cause digestive issues and obesity [3].

Taste Preferences

Research shows that cat food is generally more meat and fish-based compared to dog food, which often contains more grains and vegetables. Cats typically prefer meat flavors and have a limited sense of taste, detecting only sweet, sour, bitter and umami (savory) flavors. Dogs, on the other hand, have around 1,700 taste buds compared to a cat’s 470, so they perceive flavors much more strongly. As carnivores, dogs are naturally attracted to the intense meaty flavors in cat food.

As one article discusses, “Because cat food typically contains more fat than dog food, so it tastes better to the dog. It’s also more nutritionally dense, and higher in protein and fat.” (Source). The high fat and protein content of cat food simply tastes delicious to dogs.

Cats prefer more subtle flavors and have evolved to detect bitterness as a sign of toxicity, so the strong flavors in dog food are unappealing. Dogs, on the other hand, crave those bold meaty and fishy flavors they find in cat food.

Psychological Factors

Dogs have an inherent pack mentality and resource guarding instinct from their ancestral wolf origins. Since cats are more solitary hunters who consume their food alone, cat food can take on an elevated status as a ‘prize’ in the dog’s mind.

Dogs are motivated to eat the cat’s food because cats don’t share food from their bowls, unlike dogs who may share food communally. This makes the cat’s food seem more valuable and desirable, almost like a competition or game for the dog to try and access the forbidden food.

Additionally, dogs naturally have a scavenging tendency and are drawn to novel food sources they don’t normally have access to. Cat food fits this criteria, so dogs feel an instinctive urge to scavenge and eat the cat’s food when given the opportunity.

Health Risks

Although occasional consumption of cat food is unlikely to harm dogs, eating primarily cat food instead of dog food can pose some health risks. This is because cat food contains much higher amounts of fat, protein and other nutrients that dogs don’t require in such large quantities.

One of the biggest concerns is pancreatitis, which is an inflammation of the pancreas often triggered by high amounts of fat or fatty foods. Cat food contains 2-3 times more fat and protein than dog food. Eating primarily cat food can put dogs at risk of developing pancreatitis, which causes nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal pain.

The higher calorie content in cat food can also lead to obesity and weight gain when fed long-term. Additionally, some research suggests the increased protein from cat food could potentially contribute to heart disease in dogs prone to the condition.

In general, the nutritional balance and portion sizes in cat food are tailored to the different dietary requirements of cats. Consuming cat food long-term can cause nutritional deficiencies and health problems in dogs.

Prevention Tips

To prevent your dog from eating your cat’s food, there are a few strategies you can try. The most basic tip is to feed pets separately, lifting the cat’s food bowls up out of the dog’s reach when your cat is done eating. You can place cat bowls on top of counters, washing machines, tables, or invest in a cat tree or feeding station designed to keep the food at an elevated level the dog can’t access.

Another tip is to distract your dog with a toy or treat when your cat is eating so they don’t notice the cat food. You can also try buying cat food brands that have smells dogs don’t find appetizing or appealing. Look for cat foods marketed as “dog-proof” or made with fish flavors dogs tend to dislike.

When to Be Concerned

Occasional nibbling of cat food likely won’t harm your dog, as long as it does not contain any ingredients your dog is allergic or intolerant to. However, you should watch for any signs of illness after your dog eats cat food, such as vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, or other abnormal behavior. Contact your vet if the cat food consumption becomes an extreme habit.

According to the AKC, eating cat food on a regular basis can lead to nutritional deficiencies or imbalances in your dog due to the high protein and fat content. It may also result in gastrointestinal upset. Pancreatitis is also a risk if your dog eats a cat’s high-fat food regularly over an extended period. Your vet can advise you on how much cat food may be safe for your individual dog.

The key is to limit the cat food nibbling to occasional treats. If your dog seems obsessed with the cat food, contact your vet. Extreme cat food cravings may indicate an underlying health issue or deficiency in your dog’s diet that should be addressed.


One of the best ways to stop your dog from eating your cat’s food is through positive reinforcement training. This involves rewarding your dog when he leaves the cat food alone. Start by placing your dog on a leash and having him lie down near the cat food. When he resists going for the food, immediately praise him enthusiastically and give him a high-value treat like a small piece of chicken or cheese. The key is to reward him the instant he chooses not to eat the cat food. Over many training sessions, you can work up to giving the “leave it” command when he’s near the cat food and praising and treating when he obeys. With consistency, your dog will learn that leaving the cat food alone results in rewards.

Training taps into your dog’s innate desire to please you. As he learns that steering clear of the cat food makes you happy, he’ll be more motivated to avoid it. Be patient, as it may take 10-15 short training sessions before your dog reliably leaves the cat food alone. The more often you practice, the quicker your dog will learn. With positive reinforcement and clear communication, you can curb your dog’s cat food eating habit for good.[1]

Making Both Foods Less Appealing

Feeding cats and dogs together can help prevent food stealing, according to https://www.rover.com/blog/feeding-cats-dogs-together/. Feeding the dog first, followed by the cat, allows the dog to focus on its own food. The cat food aroma will also be less tempting to the dog once it has started eating.

Mixing a small amount of cat food into the dog’s kibble can make the cat food less appealing to dogs. The blended flavors result in a less enticing aroma. Take care not to regularly feed dogs cat food, however, as the nutritional balance is different. Consult your veterinarian before making major diet changes.


In this article, we explored several reasons why dogs may be attracted to cat food, including differences in taste, nutrition, and psychology between cat and dog foods. Eating a cat’s food on occasion likely won’t harm a dog, but long-term feeding can lead to nutritional imbalances and obesity. To curb food stealing, try feeding pets separately, placing food up high, monitoring mealtimes, using puzzle feeders, and making the off-limits food less appealing. If your dog becomes obsessed with cat food even after making changes, consult your vet, as it could signal an underlying medical issue. With patience and consistency, you can break the cat food habit while keeping both pets happy and healthy. This issue arose in my own home, but regularly separating our dog and cat at mealtimes finally did the trick. Understanding the roots of the behavior allowed us to resolve it. With the right prevention and training, you can reach a harmonious solution too.

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