You’ve run out of cat food, but have plenty of dog food. Or, perhaps it’s cheaper/easier to feed both pets the same food. It’s fine as a one-off, but it shouldn’t become the new norm. Cats have unique nutritional needs.
If your cat ate from the dog’s bowl, it will be fine. Dog food makes an acceptable one-off meal replacement when you’ve run out of cat food. Anything more than 1-2 days of eating dog food is unhealthy. The cat will miss out on taurine, vitamin A, and Arachidonic acid. A dog’s body can produce these, but a cat has to get them from its food.
A bowl of dog food is better than not feeding your cat. Just be aware of the fundamental differences in canine and feline nutrition. Giving dogs and cats the same food is unsustainable for either animal in the long term.
Can My Cat Eat Dog Food Safely?
If you find yourself with no cat food, cats can eat dog food as a one-off. A portion of quality dog food will not contain any direct ingredients that make cats sick.
It is possible that a cat will experience a stomach upset after eating dog food. This will be a temporary concern, though.
Any sudden change in diet can upset a cat’s delicate stomach. Your cat has not consumed any toxins. Within 24 hours, your cat will be fine again.
Cats should only eat dog food in an emergency. This is because cats and dogs have fundamentally different nutritional needs.
A cat that regularly eats dog food will lack key nutrients. This will affect the cat’s health in the longer term.
Differences Between Cat Food and Dog Food
Cats and dogs eat different food because they have completely different dietary requirements. Cats are obligate carnivores and need a source of easily-digestible protein.
As Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology explains, a cat needs protein to stay healthy. Most cat food contains up to 45% protein.
Dogs need protein, but they are omnivores. This means that, in addition to meat, dogs eat grains and vegetables. Cats can consume these ingredients in small portions, but they are not a dietary requirement.
Dogs are also much larger than cats. An adult male German Shepherd weighs 80 lbs. That’s 8 times more than the average cat. This means that dogs eat more, and their meals are packed with fillers.
Despite this size discrepancy, dog food is less calorie-dense than cat food. Dog food is higher in fiber and vitamins, and lower in fat and protein.
If a dog ate cat food daily, it would quickly gain weight. A cat, meanwhile, would become sluggish and lethargic from consuming a canine diet. Eventually, it would become sick.
The other vitamins and nutrients missing from dog food that cats need are:
- Taurine (amino acid)
- Vitamin A
- Arachidonic acid
These are three essential ingredients that cats need to obtain from their food. They are absent from dog food. The canine body generates these vitamins and amino acids organically.
Of all components of cat food, taurine is arguably the most important. It is an amino acid found in animal fats. Taurine keeps a cat’s internal organs and motor functions working appropriately.
Cats do not generate taurine in their bodies. This is why it is so critical that a cat eats a carnivorous diet. Veterinary Clinics of North America: Small Animal Practice lists the following symptoms of feline taurine deficiency:
- Loss of vision
- Dilated cardiomyopathy (heart disease)
- Growth defects
- Reduced immunity
In addition, commonly reported side effects of taurine deficiency include:
- Muscular dystrophy and weakness
- Intestinal problems
- Difficulty urinating
- Loss of fur and low-quality coat
Some dog food contains taurine. It is not considered essential for dogs, though. Dogs can generate this amino acid by themselves.
In addition, fiber can slow down the absorption of taurine. Dog food is considerably higher in fiber than cat food.
One meal with limited taurine will not irreparably harm a cat. Just ensure the cat gets to eat normally again within 24 hours.
Cats do not retain taurine in the body any longer than this. If cat food is not an option for another day, provide the cat with high-quality meat cuts.
Neither cats nor dogs generate Vitamin A in their bodies. The two species approach this in different ways through food.
Dog food is high in beta-carotene. This is a plant-based pigment. When consumed by dogs, it turns into Vitamin A within the body.
This does not happen with cats. Cats need to consume their Vitamin A directly through food. This provides a boost to a cat’s muscles, eyesight, brain, and coat.
A cat that lacks Vitamin A will have dull, low-quality fur. The cat will also experience night blindness and become weak.
While an excess of Vitamin A is just as damaging, cats cannot thrive without it. Your cat needs to consume Vitamin A as part of the fats in its diet.
This is one of the reasons that dog food is not a sustainable diet choice. Beta-carotene is not enough for a cat.
Here is more info on the different vitamins that cats needs.
Arachidonic acid is a fatty acid that contributes to a healthy liver, brain, and muscles. This acid is abundant in animal fat and tissue. Cats cannot generate it organically, so it must be consumed through cat food.
Arachidonic acid is part of the Omega-6 acid family. This means that consuming arachidonic acid maintains healthy skin and fur.
The American Journal of Veterinary Research explains that arachidonic acid is an essential acid for cats. This is due to the role of arachidonic acid in reproduction and the aggregation of blood platelets.
A female cat that lacks arachidonic acid will struggle to birth a full litter. Fatty acid deficiency means that kittens will not be nourished in utero.
Additionally, a cat that lacks arachidonic acid could develop hemophilia. This acid is critical for the clotting of blood.
What Dog Food Can Cats Eat?
If your cat usually enjoys a combination of wet and dry food, canine kibble is recommended. The cat may initially be wary of the dog food. Cats are fussy eaters. Kibble will not spoil if left out and can be amended to make it more palatable.
If your cat subsists purely on wet food, try to use a flavor the cat will be familiar with. Many reputable dog food brands now stock fish-based meals. This may be more appealing to a cat’s senses. Try to offer food that offers a comfortingly recognizable sensation.
If you have options for dog food, choose a brand designed for small breeds. This is especially important with kibble. Dog food is typically larger than a cat’s equivalent. A cat’s small teeth will struggle to break down large kibble. This can become a choking hazard.
Use a food designed for senior dogs. The nutritional value will make little difference to your senior cat. In this emergency, the cat just needs to eat something. Senior-specific food will be softer and easier to chew.
Feeding Dog Food to Cats
If you must give your cat dog food, make it as familiar as possible. This means attempting to replicate the texture of your cat’s usual meal. If possible, you should also mimic the flavor.
If you have some cat food – just not enough for a meal – mix it with the dog food. This will offer some level of comfort to the cat. Dog and cat food can be combined in a one-off emergency.
Replicate the Scent of Cat Food
If you have access to tinned tuna, drizzle some juice on the dog food. This will make it more tempting for a cat.
Meat juices will also make the food more appealing. When the cat gets hungry enough, it will eat.
Add Moisture to Dog Food
Cats tend not to drink as much water as they should. If the cat eats kibble, it may drink more regularly than it does currently.
Consider pouring a meaty broth over dog food for your cat. This will add fluid to the meal, and make it smell more appealing. You will also potentially increase the protein content of the dog food.
Why Can’t You Feed Cats Dog Food?
There may come a time that you don’t have cat-appropriate food available. The store could be closed and you’ve run out, money may be tight until payday, or you want to save on food preparation time.
In such scenarios, one meal of dog food is OK for a cat. However, feeding your cat dog food is unhealthy for your cat if done on a regular basis. Cats need taurine, vitamin A, and Arachidonic acid from their food. None of these nutrients, vitamins, and minerals are found in dog food.