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Cat Food for Dogs – Safety, Nutrition & FAQ

Written by Jay
BsC (Hons) Animal Behaviour & Welfare graduate with a passion for advocating for misunderstood animals.
Published on
Monday 26 April 2021
Last updated on
Tuesday 9 May 2023
cat food for dogs
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Some pet parents might find themselves reaching for a bag of cat food in a pinch. But is cat food for dogs really safe? And what are the consequences of cat food for dogs? To answer these questions, we must first discuss how dogs’ and cats’ nutritional needs differ.

Dog cat food is not suitable for a number of reasons. It does not meet your dog’s nutritional requirements, and as such, this gives rise to a variety of health problems later on. These may include pancreatitis and obesity. To find out more about why cat food is not good for dogs, read on with us.

Nutritional Needs of Cats vs. Dogs

Dogs and cats are adapted for their diets and thus have different nutritional needs. Not only is your cat an obligate carnivore, but they also need more amino acids and fatty acids.

Amino Acids

While both dogs and cats need taurine for their bodies to function, cats have a much higher dietary requirement than dogs. In fact, cats require at least 400mg of taurine per kilogram of body weight every day. In contrast, dog food is not typically made with any taurine. This is because dogs can synthesize their own taurine, as long as they have enough of the amino acids methionine and cysteine in their diet. Both of these amino acids are found in muscle meat, which is commonly used for dog food. In contrast, if a cat does not get enough taurine in their diet and they can develop heart problems, retinal degenerations, and reproductive failure.

Similarly, cat food is higher in arginine than dog food. Cats need arginine to produce another amino acid called ornithine. In turn, ornithine binds to the ammonia that builds in the body as it breaks down protein. Without this amino acid’s help, ammonia can accumulate in the body in toxic amounts, causing death in a few hours. Similarly, dogs need arginine in their diet but have a lesser requirement. Even so, puppies fed an arginine-free diet will eat less, vomit more, and develop muscle tremors, according to research.

Fatty Acids

Both cats and dogs need fatty acids in their diet. However, much like the case for amino acids, dogs and cats have different requirements for fatty acids. Firstly, dogs must get linoleic acid from their food in order to produce arachidonic acid. The resulting arachidonic acid is essential for immune function and blood clotting. In contrast, cats cannot convert linoleic acid into arachidonic acid. This means that their diet must contain both of these fatty acids for them to be healthy. Together, these amino acids maintain immune function and heart function, making them vitally important amino acids. Luckily for our furry friends, meat contains both linoleic acid and arachidonic acid, so be sure to choose a pet food that contains real meat!


Perhaps one of the biggest dietary differences for dogs and cats is their vitamin requirements. When it comes to vitamins, cats need some, such as niacin, in higher amounts. Cats cannot synthesize their own vitamin A very well, meaning that their diet must include pre-made vitamin A. Similarly, cats cannot produce enough vitamin D on their own and need some in their diet. Interestingly, dogs can use the plant form of vitamin D, while cats cannot – so, cats need the animal form of vitamin D, as vitamin D3, in their diet. Cats also have higher B vitamin requirements than dogs and metabolize carbohydrates differently. All of these factors make cat food unsuitable for dogs, and vice versa.

Obligate Carnivores vs. Omnivores

All cats are obligate carnivores. This means that they need to consume meat to survive, and cannot meet their nutritional requirements by eating plants alone or as a majority of their diet. Cats’ digestive systems have adapted differently to dogs, and have a different liver enzyme capacity and reduced digestive tract to maximize the benefits of eating meat. These changes mean that a cat cannot process large amounts of plant material, and as such, will gain little nutrition from it. In contrast, dogs are omnivores and may eat both animal and plant material to get the nutrients they need. While researchers disagree on whether dogs are carnivores or omnivores, the fact still stands that dogs now carry genes related to starch and glucose digestion. As such, it is difficult to deny that dogs cannot benefit from eating grains and other vegetation.

Cat Food Risks for Dogs

If your pup accidentally eats some cat food, it is unlikely that they will fall seriously ill. However, long-term consumption of cat food gives rise to a variety of health problems for dogs. These might include nutritional deficiencies, weight gain, and pancreatitis.

Nutritional Deficiency in Dogs

Cats and dogs have vastly different nutritional requirements. As such, feeding one type of food to the opposite species can cause nutritional deficiencies. Your dog needs a balanced and complete diet to stay happy and healthy, and a long-term cat food diet will not provide all of the nutrition they need. In fact, cat food will not provide the correct amounts of protein and fiber for a dog. Just as a dog cannot eat cat food, cats cannot thrive on dog food for the same reasons. Dog food lacks vitamin A and taurine, which cats need in their diet to compensate for being unable to produce it themselves.

cat food for a dog
Feeding cat food to dogs can cause nutritional deficiencies.

Increase in Weight

Cat food typically contains more protein and fat than dog food. In fact, adult cat food must contain at least 26% protein, with this amount growing to 30% for growth and reproduction diets. In contrast, a dog only needs 18 to 25% protein in their diet. This means that the excess protein may be stored as fat. So, adding to this, cats need 20 to 24% fat in their food, while dogs only need 5.5%. This massive difference means that cat food for dogs leads to weight gain. For a dog, excessive weight gain leads to obesity. This gives rise to more health problems later on if not addressed early.


Due to the high amount of protein and fat in cat food, dogs may develop pancreatitis if fed cat food long-term. In short, pancreatitis is inflammation or swelling in the dog’s pancreas. The signs of pancreatitis can be mistaken for other problems as they may be nonspecific. Symptoms of pancreatitis include a hunched back, repetitive vomiting, bloating, diarrhea, lack of appetite, weakness, and a fever. Unfortunately, pancreatitis can be fatal for dogs, so it is important to prevent it wherever possible.

Safety Tips

As a responsible owner, you only want your pooch to get the best diet they can have. This means preventing them from snacking on cat food, even if it tastes good! First and foremost, make sure to feed your cat in a place that your dog cannot reach. This might be a counter, table, or another elevated surface. In line with this, it helps to separate your cat’s feeding area from your dog’s feeding area. You may also consider adding a gate between the two. Lastly, always keep your cat’s food hidden from your dog. This might mean keeping it in a difficult to access cupboard, or in a different room altogether to stop your dog from finding it so easily.

Cat Food for Dogs – FAQ

Have any more questions or concerns about cat food for dogs? Feel free to consult our Frequently Asked Questions section for more information. If in doubt about your pet’s diet, you can always call your vet for tips and advice!

What should I do if my dog accidentally eats cat food?

If your dog accidentally eats cat food, you just need to monitor them for the next few days. The vast majority of dogs do not experience major problems after eating cat food, and it is more common for dogs to have a mild bout of diarrhea or vomiting if they ate too much.

However, if your dog regularly eats cat food or you previously fed them cat food, you must monitor them more closely. Eating cat food long-term can cause a range of health issues in dogs. Be sure to check in with your vet right away if your pooch shows signs of being unwell after eating a lot of cat food.

In case of emergency, can I feed my cat some dog food?

Because small amounts of cat food will not cause significant harm to your dog, it can be given in an emergency. Such emergencies might include feeding a stray dog or if your dog will eat nothing else due to illness. However, be sure to get your pet to a vet right away if they are unable to eat dog food long-term. Feeding cat food to a dog long-term is not recommended because it cannot provide each of the essential nutrients that your dog needs.

What foods can harm my dog?

Unfortunately, many of our favorite foods are toxic to or are unsuitable for dogs. Such foods include onions, garlic, chives, chocolate, macadamia nuts, avocado, grapes, raisins, and corn on the cob.

As well as this, your dog cannot eat moldy foods or drink alcohol or caffeinated drinks. As much as humans might enjoy some of these foods, many of them are toxic enough to cause death in dogs when eaten in excess. If your pooch gets their paws on any of the listed foods, call your vet right away for advice.

Which is cheaper, homemade or store-bought dog food?

Feeding homemade dog food can be cheaper in the long run, but is not necessarily better for your pet in some cases. Many vets, while acknowledging that poor quality dog foods are big problems for pet owners, state that homemade dog food can cause nutritional imbalances.

So, if you intend to feed your dog a cheaper homemade diet, you must have a good understanding of what your dog needs in their diet. A veterinary nutritionist can assist with your homemade dog food recipe to ensure that it is suitable for your pooch. Do not simply feed homemade for the reduced cost, but rather provide it with the intention of meeting each and every one of your dog’s needs.

What ingredients can I use to make homemade dog food for weight loss?

Before changing your dog’s diet to encourage weight loss, we recommend consulting with a veterinary nutritionist. If your veterinary nutritionist recommends it, then you may use fresh and healthy vegetables to help your dog to lose weight. Vegetables like kale, carrots, squash, and spinach are excellent sources of fiber. This means that your dog will feel full quicker while gaining fewer calories.

While this may seem like an easy fix, it is important to note that you should not switch your dog to a solely plant-based diet, especially not right away. Talk to your vet about your options before making the transition so that you may be as well-informed as possible.

Cats and dogs are different in more ways than one, especially when it comes to diet. While both species are predators, only one is an obligate carnivore, and the other can synthesize some of its own vitamins. For all of these reasons, you should not intentionally give cat food to your dog unless it is a true emergency.

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