Many dogs, no matter the breed or age, seem to find cat food irresistible. Those of us who have both cats and dogs may face this feeding scenario – the dog will finish their own meal, then move onto whatever the cat has left in the cat bowl! How bad is this for your dog, and what should you do about it?

Why do cats and dogs have different food?

It is obvious why dogs shouldn’t eat a rabbit diet; they would probably give you a long, hard stare if you put hay in their bowl for dinner. What may not be as obvious however, is why cats and dogs should have different diets. After all, many meats such as chicken, beef, and fish come under the favourites category for both species.

But the picture is not as simple as that (is anything ever?). A major difference is that cats are obligate carnivores, meaning their diet must consist of meat primarily, as they have a higher demand for fat and quality proteins. Dogs, on the other hand, are omnivores (just like you and me), so their diet will be slightly lower in meat content compared to cats, but higher in carbohydrates and vegetables, which help provide the right nutrients.  

There are also a number of nutrients and supplements which appear in cat food but not dogs’, and vice versa. For example, cats will need arginine (an amino acid), arachidonic acid (an important fatty acid), and vitamin A in their diets, as they are unable to make this in their own bodies.

Is it dangerous for my dog to eat cat food occasionally?

To answer in short: no. If your dog has scoffed a bowl of cat food, it most probably isn’t going to cause any serious problems. It’s also unlikely to turn into an emergency. Dogs are known to have an affinity for consuming a wide range of food substances (corn cobs, peanut butter, cheese), and sometimes even non-food items (ever wonder where that stray sock went?), so in most cases snacking on cat food won’t give them any trouble.

Some dogs however, may experience some mild signs afterwards. Those with sensitive stomachs might end up with diarrhoea or vomiting, for example. Others may show signs of itchiness, if they are allergic to any of the ingredients in the cat food. There could be a wide range of reactions to cat food, depending on the individual animal.

Make sure you keep an eye on your dog if you know they’ve consumed cat food – if they develop any serious symptoms (such as continuous diarrhoea or vomiting, facial swelling and itchiness or difficulty breathing), then bring them to the vet immediately.

Can I feed my dog cat food?

While it is not necessarily harmful for your dog to occasionally sneak a bite out of the cat bowl, this does not mean you should encourage this behaviour, or feed cat food to your dog. Dogs and cats have different diets for good reason, and eating cat food long term may affect your dog’s health.

As described above, dogs require a more diverse diet than cats do, and will benefit from nutrients which cannot be found in cat food. A dog eating cat food is not receiving the right balance of minerals, vitamins and fibre that they need, which could turn into a nutritional deficiency in the long run.

Cat food is also rich in fat and protein (which is probably what makes it so enticing for most dogs). This becomes a problem if your dog consumes it on a regular basis. The fat content in cat food is often higher than what the average dog needs, leading to problems such as obesity. In severe cases, this may also develop into pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas which is associated with a high-fat diet).

How do I stop my dog eating cat food?

It can be challenging to make sure each of your pets eats their food and their food alone, but here are a few tricks to try and reinforce this. The aim of the game is to keep the cat bowl out of the dog’s reach. So, try feeding them in separate closed rooms, or using an automated cat feeder. Another simple solution is to place the cat bowl at an elevated location where the dog can’t reach, such as the countertop, or on a shelf. 

Further Reading