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Can cats eat dog food? – The difference between dog and cat food

Last Updated on August 12, 2022 by Dogs Vets

Can cats eat dog food?


We presume that there are only two reasons why you came across this article.

One, you caught your cat stealing a snack from your dog’s bowl and wonder if you’ll have a sick kitty on your hands later. Or two, your day has slipped away, you’re out of cat food and wondering if you’re out of luck too.

Can cats eat dog food?

Is dog food good for cats?

The short answer to whether or not cats can eat dog food is yes, but only in an emergency or for a short period of time. This is because cats and dogs have different nutritional needs.

Dog food are most-likely going to lacks the vital nutrition that cats need for a long, healthy life. Cats are carnivores, which means they eat only meat.

Dogs are omnivores, which means they eat meat, grains and vegetables. Therefore, they need a more varied diet than meat alone to meet their nutritional needs.

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Before we get into the details of why your cat can’t eat dog food forever, it’s important to start with the basics of cat nutrition and the difference between the nutritional needs of cats and dogs.

can cat eat dog food - difference between dog food and cat food?


What do cats need to eat?

As carnivores, cats need food that is rich in protein, fats and taurine. According to the Cornell Feline Health Center, cats need:

  • Protein from meat or fish
  • Amino acids such as taurine and arginine (from meat or fish).
  • Fatty acids
  • Vitamins
  • Minerals
  • Water
  • Many veterinarians believe that about 35 to 45 percent of a cat’s diet should be protein.

What is cat food made of?

According a certified doctor,  Dr. Sara Ochoa, DVM, a small animal and exotic veterinarian in East of Texas and veterinary consultant for, cats absolutely need food with taurine. Taurine is a well-known amino acid that is very important for normal heart function, vision and reproduction.

Since taurine is only found in animal protein, all cats need a meat-based diet to meet their nutritional needs.

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Cat food is very high in protein, calories and fat and contains high level of the required amount of taurine. Specifically, Patrick Mahaney, DVM on PetSafe, explains that healthy cat food looks like this:

  • Natural whole-food ingredients
  • High-quality animal proteins (at least 30%)
  • Healthy animal fats (about 15% to 20%)
  • Digestible carbohydrates and fiber
  • Essential vitamins, minerals, enzymes and fatty acids
  • No by-products, fillers or artificial additives


What is the difference between dog food and cat food?

Dog food contains protein, and also grains and health vegetables for omnivorous diets.

Cat food contains only protein (no grains or vegetables) because they are carnivores.

Carbohydrates such as rice and corn in small amounts are also fine for cats, but not necessary for a cat’s diet. However, they usually play an important role in dog foods.


What if my cat accidentally eats dog food?

If your cat accidentally eats your dog’s dinner, you don’t need be afraid.

Dog food is known not to be dangerous for cats, but it should not be eaten regularly in replacement for cat food. A cat can eat dog food without illness, although it is not the best diet for them.

can cats eat dog food in an emergency

If you  find yourself in an emergency situation where you forgot to stop by the store to pick up more cat food for your pet, and you only have dog food left in the house, it is okay to let your cat to eat the dog food, Dr. Ochoa says. And if your cat in some-way takes a few pieces of food from your dog’s bowl, there’s no need to worry, she adds.

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But cats can’t survive on dog food alone for their long-term nutrition. Without the right amount of protein, cats lose muscle mass and become lethargic

. When it comes to taurine, VCA Animal Hospitals explains that the amino acid is critical for vision, digestion, heart function, fetal development and a healthy immune system in cats.


What if my dog eats my cat’s food?

Mealtimes in households with multiple animals can be intense. Cats hover around bowls, dogs drool over literally everything. It’s pretty common for the whole family to take food from each other’s bowls when they can, but is it okay?

Although a dog could also potentially live on cat food alone, this is always not advisable, according to the American Kennel Club. The calorie density in cat food, high protein content and high fat doses are not ideal for dogs’ gastrointestinal tracts and can lead to obesity or even pancreatitis for the dog.

difference between dog food and cat food?

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Your dog can certainly try some of your cat’s food, but a diet consisting solely of cat food will not give your dog the balanced nutrition he needs.

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How do I feed my household with multiple pets?

Cats and dogs can live together harmoniously, but their food dishes just don’t match. The simplest solution for feeding your cats and dogs: separate feeding areas.

Mikel Delgado, a cat behavior expert at Rover, suggests having separate food dishes for each animal in your home and placing them in separate areas.

“Remember that cats naturally hunt small animals that they don’t share,” she explains. “Although it’s a ritual for us to eat together, that’s not true for cats!”

Delgado also raises an excellent point about cats’ natural instincts: “They prefer their space and privacy when eating and don’t always want to take turns in a shared bowl.”


What foods are toxic to cats?

Cats should not eat chocolate or onions, which contain toxins that are dangerous to cats. Although kittens will drink breast milk at a very young age, cow’s milk is generally unsuitable for cats and will cause stomach upset if your cat cannot digest it properly.

Can cats eat dog food for a few days?

Dog food is not a long-term diet solution for cats because it does not contain enough nutrition, which is mainly protein and some healthy fats in the meat. They need to stay strong and healthy.

Dog food contains other nutrients, including more carbohydrates that dogs need but don’t, and can actually be harmful to cats in large amounts or over a long period of time. Bottom line: cats can eat dog food for a short time, but not forever.

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The truth is, there are no real concerns with your pets swapping food for short periods of time. That said, while an occasional nibble of your dog’s food won’t harm your cat, long-term feeding of dog food can cause your cat to become malnourished.

Feed your kitty a proper diet that is specifically labeled for cats.


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Can I feed my cat regular human food?

No, cats cannot eat dog food. Cats have unique nutritional needs and unlike dogs, cats are obligate carnivores. This means they must eat meat to survive.

Taurine and arginine are essential nutrients that a cat must consume daily and are only found in meat.

Cats cannot taste sugar and have fewer taste buds than humans. Cats have small stomachs designed to receive many small meals each day. In the wild, cats would eat 5-7 small meals per day.

Their stomach acid is more acidic than humans, facilitating digestion and helping to kill harmful bacteria. Transit time through a cat’s intestines is between 12 and 24 hours (30 hours to 5 days for humans).

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Cats need to eat more protein each day than dogs or humans. They are less able to regulate the activity of liver enzymes involved in the metabolism of amino acids. Cat enzymes are constantly adjusted to high protein levels.


When can kittens eat adult food?

Kittens need rapid growth and development supported by specially tailored nutrition in kitten food until they are 12 months old.

At 1 year of age, a kitten is considered an adult cat and can gradually transition to a complete and balanced adult cat food.

Adult food is also available for domestic cats. Nutrients are tailored to meet different energy needs than a cat that has access to the outdoors.

eating pet

Here’s how to transition your kitten to adult cat food:


When your kitten is 12-months old, it is advisable to gradually transition him from kitten food to adult food. This should be done over a 7-day period to introduce the new food only to avoid digestive upset due to dietary changes.

See also: Eating Pet Foods – Can Cats Eat Dog Food?

How to switch: start on the first day by replacing about one-sixth of the current kitten food with new adult food. Gradually increase this over the next 5 days so that by day 7, the entire portion of kitten food has been replaced with adult food.

Feed a mixture of wet and dry foods:

Did you know? Wet food contains about a quarter of the calories of dry food, allowing owners to give their cats larger meals while reducing the risk of overfeeding.

Wet food offers urinary tract health benefits for cats because of its high moisture content.

Owners typically like to feed their cat wet food because it seems like a richer meal. Dry food can help mechanically remove plaque as the cat chews the crunchy munchies.

There are a growing number of cats that are overweight. Replacing dry food with wet food as part of their meal mix is one way to reduce the calories consumed per meal.


What human foods are toxic to cats?

Some human foods that are perfectly safe for us can be highly toxic and dangerous to cats. Therefore, never let your cat eat the following:

  • Chocolate
  • Grapes
  • Raisins
  • Caffeine
  • Onions
  • Garlic

If your cat consumes any of these things, please see a veterinarian immediately.





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