Why Won’t My Dog Eat Dog Food? The Mysterious Cat Food Addiction


It’s a common sight in many households – the family dog eagerly chowing down on the cat’s food while their own food sits untouched in the bowl. Dog owners often find themselves scratching their heads wondering why their canine friend seems to prefer the taste and texture of cat food over their specially formulated dog food.

This phenomenon where dogs gravitate towards cat food is not unusual, and there are several possible explanations behind this behavior. Understanding the differences between dog and cat food can provide insight into why your dog may prefer the feline’s meal.

Differences Between Dog and Cat Food

There are some key differences between dog and cat food in terms of ingredients and nutritional composition. One major difference is protein content. Cat food tends to have a higher protein content than dog food. Cats are obligate carnivores and require a diet with a higher proportion of proteins and meats (Difference Between Dog and Cat Food). Dogs have more flexibility as omnivores in the amount of protein they need. Many cat foods have a guaranteed analysis of at least 30% protein, while many dog foods guarantee only 18-25% protein.

Another difference is in taste enhancements. Cat food tends to be more heavily flavored and have a stronger aroma and taste than dog food. Cats have a much stronger sense of taste than dogs, with more taste buds. They prefer food with a very palatable flavor. Many cat foods contain added flavor enhancers to entice feline taste preferences. Dogs have fewer taste buds and are generally less finicky, so dog food does not require as intense flavoring (Cat Food vs Dog Food: How They’re Different and Why You).

Olfactory Preferences

Dogs have an incredibly powerful sense of smell with more than 300 million odor receptors spread across their broad, moist snoots (Hall et al., 2017). This allows them to detect scents and odors that humans cannot perceive.

Compared to dog food, cat food often has more potent aromas and flavors added during processing, such as fish, meat by-products, and liver, to stimulate a cat’s more limited sense of smell and entice them to eat (Delime et al., 2020). Many dogs find the intense smells of cat food much more appealing than the relatively bland scent of their own food.

Texture Preferences

Cats and dogs have different preferences when it comes to the texture of their food. Cats typically prefer softer, minced or pâté-style wet foods compared to dogs. As predators that hunt small prey like birds and rodents, cats are used to eating soft animal tissue in the wild Wet Cat Food Textures Decoded: How a Cat Chooses Her Favorite. The soft, minced texture is attractive to their sensitive palates.

In contrast, dogs are descended from wolves that would eat larger prey animals. As a result, dogs like some crunch and texture variation in their kibble. The right balance of crunchy kibble coated with savory gravy or a chewy, meaty interior provides dogs with a more satisfying mouthfeel Understanding texture and how to formulate pet food, treats for success. Dogs have evolved to chew and crunchy textures help clean their teeth.

When a dog eats a cat’s food, the soft texture and minced meat formulation is likely more palatable to their tastebuds than traditional dry dog kibble. However, the nutritional balance is tailored for felines and lacks key nutrients dogs require.


Cat food is specifically designed to be more palatable and appealing to a cat’s sense of taste and smell compared to dog food. Cats evolved as carnivores and have a stronger sense of smell and taste for meat-based proteins and fats. According to the AKC, cat food contains more animal protein sources, which creates an irresistible aroma and flavor for dogs.

Cat food brands market their foods as being extremely tasty and add palatability enhancers to appeal to finicky feline appetites. Some common palatability enhancers used in cat food include animal digests, fats, and proteins. There is some controversy around the use of these enhancers, as some believe they are unnecessary and used more for marketing purposes. However, cat food companies claim they help encourage picky cats to eat.

According to Difference Between Dog and Cat Food, the high palatability of cat food makes it more appealing and tasty to dogs as well. The strong smells and flavors designed to entice cats can also entice dogs to eat cat food. However, overconsumption of some additives formulated for cats can potentially be harmful to dogs, so owners need to monitor their dog’s access to cat food.

Nutritional Needs

Dogs and cats have some differences in their nutritional needs. According to the Pet Food Institute, cats require more protein than dogs – about 26% of their diet compared to 18% for dogs. Cats also need the amino acid taurine, which dogs can produce on their own. However, dogs have higher caloric needs than cats. According to WebMD, a 10 pound cat needs about 200 calories per day, while a 50 pound dog requires 700-900.

This means that while cat food may seem more appealing to some dogs due to its higher protein and fat content, it does not provide complete and balanced long-term nutrition for dogs. Eating cat food occasionally as a treat is unlikely to cause harm, but dogs fed cat food as a significant portion of their diet may develop nutritional deficiencies over time. It’s best to feed pets diets tailored specifically to their species’ needs.

Underlying Health Issues

Dogs that are selective about eating one type of food over another may have underlying health issues causing their picky eating habits. One major issue is food allergies, especially to proteins commonly found in dog food like beef, chicken, lamb, and fish (The Kennel Club). Allergic reactions to ingredients in dog food can cause gastrointestinal issues like vomiting and diarrhea, making a dog unwilling to eat that food.

Other health problems like gum disease, tooth decay, oral infections, or gastrointestinal disease can also cause a dog to avoid hard, crunchy kibble and favor softer cat food instead (WebMD). Certain diseases like kidney disease, liver disease, and cancer can negatively impact appetite and may cause your dog to turn down dog food but still show interest in other tempting foods like cat food.

Finally, aging dogs undergoing cognitive decline may forget their regular eating habits and become disinterested in dog food. Consulting a veterinarian to diagnose and manage any underlying health issues can help identify ways to get your dog eating species-appropriate food again.


One reason a dog may prefer cat food over dog food is simply due to boredom. Dogs can become bored with the smell, flavor, and texture of the same dog food if fed day after day for months or years (AKC). The monotony of the same dry kibble or canned food means your dog is not getting any new or novel stimulation from their meals.

In contrast, cat food provides a totally new set of smells, flavors, and textures for your dog. The different composition of cat food compared to dog food means your dog’s olfactory senses and taste buds get excited by this new experience. The novelty is mentally stimulating and makes cat food seem more appealing than the usual dog food.

To combat boredom with dog food, try switching up flavors, brands, or formats (dry vs. wet) more frequently. You can also mix in small amounts of wet food, broths, or healthy human foods to provide more variety at mealtimes. Just be sure any dietary changes are nutritionally balanced and introduced gradually.

Owner Behavior

One of the most common reasons dogs eat cat food is because their owners inadvertently reward the behavior. As explained on Reddit (Dog keeps eating cat’s food), dogs love the taste of cat food since it tends to be higher in protein. When an owner catches their dog eating the cat’s food, they often react strongly by yelling at the dog or pulling them away. To a dog, any attention from the owner is rewarding, even if it’s negative attention. This teaches the dog that eating the cat’s food results in getting attention from their owner.

To stop rewarding unwanted behavior, owners should ignore their dog when catching them eating cat food. It’s better to quietly lead them away and distract with a toy or command. Owners should also pick up any leftover cat food instead of leaving it out for the dog to get later. With time and consistency, the dog will learn that eating cat food no longer results in rewarding attention.


To recap, there are several main reasons why a dog may prefer cat food over dog food:

  • Cat food is higher in protein and fat than most dog foods, which provides a more appealing taste and texture.
  • Some dogs prefer the smaller kibble size of cat food or the minced, gravy-like consistency of canned cat food.
  • If the dog food lacks certain nutrients or flavors, the cat food’s ingredients may be more enticing.
  • Underlying health issues like diabetes or thyroid problems could lead a dog to seek different foods.
  • Lack of stimulation may cause a dog to view cat food as a novelty.

For owners in this situation, be sure to monitor your dog closely if they frequently eat cat food. Consult your veterinarian to rule out any medical conditions causing unusual food preferences. Consider transitioning to a dog food with higher quality protein sources, or add wet food to dry kibble to increase palatability. Crate training or separating the cat’s food may help deter the dog. Overall, occasional cat food consumption is not detrimental, but long term nutritional imbalances could develop, so take steps to curtail excessive cat food eating.

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