Cat owners commonly wonder about the toxicity and safety of various human foods and even dog foods. Clients often ask many questions including can cats eat dog food?
The question about the safety of foods increased after learning that certain foods were toxic. The most important toxic foods to cats are onions, garlic, chocolate, alcohol, and excessive amounts of fish. Learn more about what cats can and can’t eat in this article: The Ultimate Guide to What Cats Can’t Eat.
Below, we will review the safety of dog food for cats.
Can Cats Eat Dog Food?
The answer to the question, “can cats eat dog food”… the answer is yes. Cats can eat dog food but only in moderation. Although most cats don’t care for it some cats do enjoy eating it.
The Dangers of Dog Food to Cats
Some cat owners, especially those with multiple cats or those that feed outdoor cats may be tempted to buy dog food. The costs of dog food can be half of cat food for the same size bag depending on the brand and quality of food.
The answer is pretty simple. You should not feed cats dog food for the majority of their calories. This is because cats have different nutritional requirements than dogs. Dog food does not fulfill the nutritional needs of cats.
Differences Between Dog and Cat Foods
There are several differences between cat and dog food. The primary differences include:
- Protein — Total protein levels in dog foods tend to be lower than for cat foods. This represents another significant reason not to feed our felines food that’s meant for dogs. Though some dog foods do offer very high levels of protein, most don’t offer the percentage of protein our carnivorous cats require.
- Taurine — Taurine is considered an essential amino acid for cats. Therefore, all cats require it. Dogs, on the other hand, can make their own taurine, which is why many dog foods are deficient in this nutrient. If a cat is fed a canine diet lacking sufficient levels of taurine, blindness and a heart disease called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy are the most common outcomes.
- Note: Taurine deficiency also happens when cats eat a fish-only diet since fish meat is largely deficient in this amino acid. Which is why you might’ve heard that tuna is “bad” for cats (but isn’t unless you’re not feeding an otherwise balanced diet).
- Vitamin A — Dogs have the ability to turn beta carotene into Vitamin A, a feat cats’ bodies can’t manage. That’s why Vitamin A must be supplied in cat food. While plenty of dog foods may contain additional vitamin A, they aren’t necessarily formulated to offer the amounts a cat requires for a lifetime of optimum health. A variety of non-specific symptoms and disease states can result when cats don’t receive sufficient levels of Vitamin A in their food.
- Arachidonic acid — Arachidonic acid is a fatty acid that dogs can build themselves. Cats, on the other hand, require the real thing. Cats who eat dog foods low in arachidonic acid levels will suffer a variety of nonspecific symptoms.
- Palatability — Dogs and cats perceive food differently. For example, among other differences, cats don’t have the ability to taste anything sweet. Their reduced range for what they consider palatable helps explain why dog food doesn’t tend to attract cats as much as cat food does dogs. However, there are some cats that actually like dog food and will steal kibble from the dog bowl.
Do Cats Need Dog Food?
There is nothing in dog food that cats require on a regular basis. In fact, feeding dog food to a cat on a regular basis will cause nutritional deficiencies.
Cats require a high-quality AAFCO approved cat food. Learn more about Nutrition in Cats.
The Safest Way to Give Dog Food to Cats
It is not recommended to feed dog food to cats. The best thing to do is to feed a high-quality cat food.
How Much Dog Food Can You Give a Cat?
Many cats sneak and eat some dog food. It is not toxic and a few kibbles will not cause harm. As long as they also have access to eat high-quality cat food for the majority of his or her calories, there should not be a problem.
Can Cats Be Allergic to Dog Food?
While it is possible for a cat to be allergic to any food, cats are not allergic to dog food in general. However, cats can have food allergies and if they ingest an ingredient they are allergic to that is in the dog food, it is possible for them to be allergic to that food.
Who Can You Call About Suspected Toxicity in Cats?
- Pet Poison Helpline, 855-764-7661 (http://www.petpoisonhelpline.com). A $49 per incident fee applies.
- ASPCA Pet Poison Hotline, (888) 426-4435 (https://www.aspca.org/pet-care/animal-poison-control). A $65 consultation fee applies.