Can cats eat dog food?

A cat walks into a bar. The bartender says, “what’ll you have?” The cat says, “A bowl of dog food.” The bartender pours his kibble. The cat slowly pushes the bowl off the table.

“Another.”

Okay, so we’re not going to quit our day jobs in search of a new career in comedy, but we wanted to start things off with a giggle, as well as introduce today’s topic. It’s one that our customer service team gets on the reg – “can cats eat dog food” or vice versa “can dogs eat cat food”. The short answer is that if your fur baby manages to get their teethies don’t panic! A small portion of their siblings food shouldn’t be a problem nor cause any long-lasting effects. However, if fed regularly, over a longer period, issues can and will arise. Here are some of the reasons why you should never feed your cat the dog’s food or your dog the cat’s food. Plus how you can pick the pawfect diet to help your kitty thrive.

Cats are obligate carnivores, dogs are omnivores

The first and most fundamental reason why cats can’t eat dog food long term is down to their differing nutritional needs. Cats are true obligate carnivores, whilst their barking buddies are omnivorous in their feeding behaviour. Here’s the low down on what each of these terms actually mean:

An obligate carnivore must eat a diet primarily consisting of animal meat. Primarily but not exclusively. This is due to an inability to synthesise certain essential amino acids from plant matter. These amino acids are essential so they must be acquired from animal protein. One example for cats is taurine.

An omnivore can gain nutrition from both animal and plant origin indiscriminately.

These differences mean that our kitties have stricter dietary needs, and must eat a diet higher in animal meat in order to thrive. As mentioned taurine is a key amino acid that cats can only acquire from eating meat. Taurine is needed for many of your kitty’s bodily processes, and without sufficient quantities, can result in a number of problems from eye-sight loss to an inability to reproduce. Other ingredients, as well as the quality of the protein, also affect how well your cat can digest taurine. It’s sadly not as simple as ‘increased quantity of taurine’ = ‘increased digestion of taurine’. This is why it’s so essential to feed a good diet that’s carefully tailored to your cat’s needs.

Other amino acids and vitamins that cats specifically need in their diet, unlike dogs, are arginine, vitamin A, arachidonic acid, and vitamin B12. We’ll discuss these further in a mo.

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Lifestage plays a role too

As we’ve just found out cats in general have very different nutritional needs from doggies. What’s more, is that these nutritional needs are further accentuated at certain points in your kitties life. Kittens for example need heaps more energy in order to grow into healthy adults, so a kitten’s diet is typically higher in calories. Equally pregnant cats are having to provide all the energy for their icky babies, so again during this stage require more from their diet.

Due to these differing nutritional needs, cat and dog food recipes are formulated in different ways.

Differences between cat and dog food

There are a number of ways cat and dog food recipes differ, we’ve broken them up into the following categories:

Protein

As cats are obligate carnivores they require a diet higher in dietary protein than dogs. FEDIAF recommends 25g of protein per 100kcal of dry food for cats, vs just under 10g for dogs. Any decent cat food should therefore have more protein than dog food. However, because they should, doesn’t mean they do though. Always check the back of the pack for the ingredients and protein content, and don’t fall for marketing tricks like ‘high protein’ labels.

Top tips: Make sure to look at both the animal meat % in the ingredients and the overall analytical protein %, as well as whether the recipe includes added plant proteins. Some foods sneakily include ingredients like pea protein, which will make the analytical protein % look high, but won’t contribute to your cat’s needs.

Taurine

We’ve already covered the reasons why taurine is so important, but the result is that all commercially sold cat food must legally have taurine added. This isn’t the case for dog food.

Arginine

Arginine is another amino acid that’s integral in a cat’s diet, given its role in metabolizing nitrogen. White meats tend to be highest in arginine, so it’s no wonder chicken is the number one flavour loved by cats (cats always know best after all). If even one of your cat’s meals is totally free from arginine, issues can occur, and if missing over a long period, death by ammonia intoxication could happen. Dogs are far less sensitive to a diet free from arginine, as they can partially use another amino acid instead.

Arachidonic Acid

Arachidonic Acid is an essential fatty acid that cats can’t synthesize from plant-based products, as our kitties lack the necessary enzyme. This means they must ingest it via animal meat. If cats don’t get enough of this acid they can suffer from kidney failure, weight loss, and dermatological issues.

Vitamin A

Cats don’t have the enzyme responsible for breaking down carotenoids into Vitamin A, so need to consume the vitamin performed in their food. Dogs do have these enzymes, so can convert carotenoids into Vitamin A.

Palatability

Cats and doggies have very different tastes, think squirrels vs mice or socks vs laser pointers, and literally speaking too. Unlike dogs, cats can’t taste sweetness at all. They also have way fewer taste receptors, a measly 470 vs dogs who have 1700. This is one of the reasons why cats can be fussier, so recipes need to be engineered specifically to their taste (ie more tasty meat!). We spent over two years testing all our pet food recipes to ensure even the fussiest felines and discerning dogs are delighted.

As cat food (should) have a higher meat content, it’s more common for dogs to be interested in the cat’s food. However, as all of us pet parents know, cats do strange things…

Kibble Shape, scent and texture 

This one’s rather straightforward, but cats and dogs have different needs and preferences over the size, shape and, texture of their foods. Did you know your cat’s food choice hierarchy starts with scent, then texture and then finally taste.

Generally speaking our feline friends are smaller than our pooches and so you’ll find a whole range of kibble size in dry food. It will often vary between lifestages and breeds for dogs, as they differ in size moreso than cats. On the wet side of things, cats tend to have a stronger preference for a specific texture, be it smooth pâté or shred. Hence there’s a larger number of textural variations for wet cat food, compared to for wet dog food.

So, can cats eat dog food?

No! Cats have very different nutritional needs from dogs, so must be fed a species-specific, complete, and balanced diet to meet all their needs.

How to stop your cat from eating your dog’s food (or vice versa)

Whether cats should or shouldn’t eat dog food, cats are cats, and if they want to eat it that’s what’s going to happen. Therefore if you’ve noticed your cat committing daylight food robbery from your dog’s bowl, action is needed. Here are a couple of things you can try:

  • Try an automatic feeder, like smart feeding bowls
  • Feed at different times
  • Feed at different levels – this one’s to prevent dogs from eating cat food, unless your dog can jump up onto your countertop
  • Try a new food/flavour – if your cat continues to eat your dog’s food, it could be a sign they’re not too interested in their own food, time to try something new?
  • Physically separate them at mealtimes – sorry pals!

Photo Credits: thesprucepets.com

However, the number one long-term solution will be training both you floofs to stick to their own darn bowl!

How to choose the right cat or dog food

We all want our floofs to live long and adventurous lives, and a good diet is key! There are many different foods out there, so do lots of research and talk to your vet to find the best option. Avoid looking out for marketing terms like grain free or hypoallergenic, and instead, look at the ingredients and analytical constituents. For cats look for a high % of animal protein that’s nutritious and delicious, and don’t forget to say no to pea protein. Then for dogs, make sure the food is labelled as complete to provide all the nutritents they need.

We offer a range of dry food, wet food, and treats for cats and dogs, that are all designed to support gut health with added probiotics and prebiotics. Our cat food recipes are packed with meat. You’ll find a minimum of 70% responsibly sourced animal meat, and never any pea protein.

For our doggies we offer recipes to suit all breeds, lifestages and a whole range of dietary requirements too. All our dog food recipes are free from gluten, soy and dairy for extra sensitive tummies. We’re proud to serve our recipes in eco packaging and make everything in the UK to give your pet a lighter pawprint. Plus 1% of every sale is donated to environmental causes. If you’re interested in giving us a go or want to learn more about Scrumbles, drop us a line at hello@scrumbles.co.uk

Whilst you’re here why not read:

  1. The truth about high protein cat food
  2. Birman Cat Breed Guide
  3. 6 benefits of Slippery Elm for cats