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Optimeal® Blog

Optimeal® Blog

Can Cats Eat Dog Food? Learning Pet Safety

By Bridget Reed


If you’re lucky enough to have both feline and canine friends at home, chances are you’ve caught someone stealing from someone else’s bowl. Either that or you were about to feed your cat dinner, and you just realized you’re out of food. 

Regardless of what has you wondering if dog food is safe for cats, it’s a good question to know the answer to, especially if you’re living in a multi-pet home. This article will look at what cats can safely eat, the differences between a healthy cat and dog diet, and what to do if you find your kitty eating from your dog’s bowl. 

Is Dog Food Safe for Cats?

The short answer is yes; dog food is safe for cats and will not cause any harm if they eat it for a short period or in very small amounts. However, dog food is not healthy for cats long term because dogs and cats have very different dietary requirements. 

For this reason, dog food won’t make your cat sick but will deprive them of the essential nutrients they need to live a healthy, long life. 

What Foods Are Poisonous to Cats?

Although dog food is not toxic for cats, some foods are poisonous to cats and should be avoided at all costs. Both chocolate and onions have toxins that are poisons to cats and dogs. 

Even though cats drink their mother’s milk when they are young, they have a hard time digesting cow’s milk. Even though they will naturally be inclined to drink any milk they can get their paws on, try to keep your cat away from milk to avoid them having an upset stomach and other digestive issues. 

What Is the Difference Between a Healthy Cat and Dog Diet?

As previously mentioned, dog food is not healthy for cats long term because cats and dogs have different nutritional needs. You might be wondering, what exactly are those different requirements? 

This section will closely examine the different components of a healthy cat and dog diet. 

Carnivores vs. Omnivores

Cats are considered obligate carnivores, meaning they need ample animal protein and fat to survive. On the other hand, dogs are omnivores, meaning they need a mixed diet of meat, vegetables, and other carbohydrates. 

Due to this important difference, cats need far more protein in their diet than dogs. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, canned cat food must contain at least 26 to 30 percent protein and nine percent fat to meet the minimum nutritional requirements. Dog food, however, only needs to contain 18 to 22 percent protein and five to eight percent fat to meet FDA standards. 

Your cat must eat a high-protein diet when they are a kitten and rapidly growing, and when they are a senior cat and may be more prone to losing muscle and muscle mass. For this reason, it is important to ensure that your little kitten and senior cats get enough protein

If you are worried that your kitten is not getting enough protein, you can always bring them to the vet to discuss their diet. 

Essential Amino Acids and Fatty Acids

Dog’s bodies naturally synthesize two essential amino acids: taurine and arginine. However, cats need to ingest both taurine and arginine through their food. 

If cats do not ingest enough taurine, they can develop a heart disease called cardiomyopathy that may lead to heart failure. When cats develop cardiomyopathy, their heart wall stretches and therefore cannot pump efficiently. 

Taurine deficiency may also lead to absorption difficulty in the digestive system and a loss of vision. Arginine deficiency can also be potentially dangerous, lead to brain damage, and, in some cases, may be fatal. 

Vitamin Requirements

Both dogs and cats rely on vitamin A in their diet to support their eye, tissue, and skin health. However, while dogs can convert vitamin A from plant-based beta carotene, cats cannot. 

Cats need to ingest preformed vitamin A from organ meats. Cats also need roughly five times more B-vitamin thiamine than dogs. 

If cats do not get enough thiamine in their diet, they can experience seizures, neurological problems, appetite loss, and death in the most severe cases. 

What's the Difference Between Cat Food and Dog Food?

The primary difference between cat food and dog food is protein. Cat food contains high protein levels because cats are obligate carnivores and need far more protein than dogs to maintain a healthy diet. 

Dog food usually contains a mixture of proteins, grains, and vegetables because dogs are omnivores; therefore, their food needs a wider variety of ingredients to provide them with a balanced diet. 

Although cats can safely ingest small amounts of carbohydrates such as corn, they are not necessary for a healthy cat diet. Cat food also contains taurine derived from meat-cased proteins as well as arginine, preformed vitamin A, and thiamine. 

Luckily, there is an easy way to determine if cat food has all of the requirements it needs. The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) established guidelines with the FDA to help cat owners determine which cat foods are considered healthy and balanced for cats, so look closely for the AAFCO seal on your pet food packaging.

Why Are Cats Attracted to Dog Food?

So why are cats attracted to dog food in the first place? Several reasons you might find your feline friend nibble from the canine bowl at feeding time. First, the smell of dog food is alluring to cats. 

Since dog food contains some meat proteins and cats are carnivores, it’s enough to entice them to take a bite when they smell something meaty. If you feed your dog wet food, they might be even more attracted to it because wet food tends to be more fragrant. 

There’s also the simple explanation that cats, like us humans, are curious eaters. If they are familiar and maybe bored with their food, the excitement of a new smell and a new type of food might be enough to lure them in. 

The texture of dog food can also entice cats. It is likely that if you notice your cat routinely taking bites from the dog food bowl, they prefer the feel of the dog food more than their own. 

Short-nosed cats are especially prone to stealing dog kibble because they may have trouble reaching individual bites of their own kibble due to the shape of their face. 

What Should I Do if My Cat Accidentally Eats Dog Food?

If your cat accidentally swipes dinner from your dog, don’t worry. Your cat will be fine because there is nothing in dog food that is dangerous or harmful to cats. Although it’s certainly not the best option for cat nutrition, there is no need to take your cat to the vet or seek immediate medical attention if they eat dog food. 

Can I Feed My Cat Dog Food in a Pinch?

Although dog food isn’t a healthy food option for cats to eat regularly, you can feed your cat dog food in a pinch. Just remember that dog food doesn’t contain enough protein to keep your cat healthy, and it’s missing some key nutrients your cat needs. 

Also, dog food may contain carbohydrates that can harm your cat in the long run. However, if your cat accidentally eats dog food or is completely out of cat food, you can swap dog food for cat food for a short period. 

If you do have to give your cat a few dog food meals, you might notice that they become lethargic and lose muscle mass if you routinely feed them dog food. This may occur because there is far too little protein in dog food for cats to sustain their lifestyle. 

Without enough protein, your cat may not have the same energy they usually have with their cat food diet. 

What Should I Do if My Dog Accidentally Eats Cat Food?

We’ve talked a lot about why your cat shouldn’t eat dog food, but what if your dog goes poking around in the feline bowl? Again, there’s nothing to worry about if your dogs eat cat food. Chances are the smell of wet cat food will likely entice your dog to take a sniff or a bite.

Unlike cats, dogs could theoretically live on cat food alone. However, given that cat food has high protein content, caloric density, and fat content to optimize cat health, it is not the most nutritious choice for your dogs. If your dog eats only a cat food diet, they may be at higher risk for obesity or pancreatitis. 

How Can I Safely Feed My Dog and Cat at Home?

If all this information makes you nervous about feeding your cat and dog at home, we’re here to help! You can feed your dog and cat safely with a few simple tips. 

The most obvious and important trick for ensuring your dog and cat stay out of each other's bowls is to separate their feeding areas. Because cats are natural climbers, you may want to consider elevating their bowl or putting it somewhere your dog cannot reach.

Additionally, you can try to get your animals, especially your dog, on routine feeding schedules so that you can put their bowl down for meal times and take it away once they are done. If your dog and cat know to eat all of their meal at breakfast and dinner, you won’t have to worry about leaving dishes with food out while you are away and cannot supervise 

When feeding your cat at home, cats instinctually like to eat alone and privately. Therefore, even if you have multiple cats, consider giving them all their own bowl and space to eat. This will help reinforce the idea that they should only eat from their bowl at mealtime. 


So, the short answer to the question of whether or not cats can eat dog food is yes, in moderation. Cats are carnivores, whereas dogs are omnivores. 

They need different types of food to maintain a healthy, balanced diet. Cats need a diet with lots of protein, fat, and added nutrients that their body cannot naturally produce. On the other hand, dogs need a more balanced diet full of meats, vegetables, and carbohydrates.

Although both species require different types of food, if they have a few bites of each other’s food or you need to give your cat one meal of dog food when you run low on cat food, there’s nothing to be worried about. 

If, for the most part, your cat is eating cat food and your dog is eating dog food, you’re sure to have healthy, happy furry friends.


Some food toxic for pets | NIH

Taurine deficiency syndrome in cats | NIH

The Role of Thiamine and Effects of Deficiency in Dogs and Cats | NIH

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