To the untrained eye, cat and dog food can look pretty similar when they’re served up side-by-side.
What’s more, if you’re lucky enough to share a home with both cats and dogs, you’ll have likely witnessed the latter quite happily chowing down on food intended for the former when given even half a chance.
These observations naturally raise the question: can dogs eat cat food?
Is it safe for dogs to eat cat food?
The good news is cat food isn’t poisonous for dogs.
“Generally speaking, it’s not dangerous for dogs to eat cat food, but it is dangerous for cats to eat dog food,” says Laura Ward, DFA’s in-house animal nutritionist. Therefore, parents needn’t worry if dogs finish off a whole portion of feline food.
That being said, it can do no harm to keep an eye on your dog if it happens and call the vet if you notice any worrying symptoms, such as facial swelling, itchiness or labored breathing. If they’re especially unlucky, your dog might have ingested an ingredient to which they’re allergic.
Should dogs ever eat cat food?
The answer to this is no, not really. It might be stating the obvious, but cat food is uniquely formulated for a cat’s specific needs.
“Cats are obligate carnivores,” says Ward. “This means they require meat in their diet and have a higher requirement for protein and fat, as well as other nutrients — including taurine.”
Given that it’s richer and full of tasty meat, you can’t really blame your dog for having their head turned by cat food, but you shouldn’t let them indulge themselves. If you’ve ever overdone it at the breakfast buffet, you’ll know why.
What can happen to dogs that eat too much cat food?
“A dog’s nutritional requirements tend to be oversupplied by feeding cat food,” says Ward. “If an adult dog eats cat food occasionally, this isn’t usually an issue, but the oversupply of nutrients is likely to cause gastrointestinal upset in dogs with sensitive digestion.”
If these digestive woes continue for longer than 24 hours, you should give the vet a call.
Unfortunately, the problems don’t stop there.
“The oversupply of nutrients in cat food could cause weight gain and obesity in some dogs, while the higher fat would also be an issue for dogs predisposed to pancreatitis.”
Any dog can be diagnosed with pancreatitis, but breeds with a higher risk of developing the condition tend to lean on the smaller side, such as Miniature Schnauzers and English Cocker Spaniels.
What’s so different about dog food?
Just as cat food caters to the nutritional needs of cats, the same can be said for dog food and dogs.
“In contrast to cats, dogs are carnivorous omnivores, which means that their diet is more flexible,” says Ward.
Sure, this means dog food will have its fair share of meat, but there’ll usually be some carbohydrates and vegetables in the mix, too. It also tends to be less heavy in calories and fat than cat foods.
How can I stop my dog from eating cat food?
As many parents will know all too well, dogs can be greedy creatures and strangers to self-restraint, so cat food needs to be kept as far from intrepid snouts as possible.
Parents looking after both cats and dogs are recommended to feed them in separate rooms to avoid your dog being tempted by what’s in a cat’s bowl. If that’s not possible, you could also consider putting cats’ bowls on surfaces off the floor.