Can Cats Eat Dog Food? Understanding The Differences Between Dog and Cat Food

Cats and dogs are two of the most common pets. Prehistoric humans have domesticated them for thousands of years as hunting guides, pets, and worship deities. Despite this, cats and dogs have individual needs. As a cat owner, ensuring your feline buddy gets the best nutrition is in your best interest. This poses the question to some who have cats and dogs – can cats eat dog food?

Scroll below to see the differences between cat and dog foods, the risks involved, and what to do when your cat eats dog food.

Differences Between Cats and Dogs Food

Despite similarities in nature, companionship, and behavior, cats and dogs are distinct species. One significant factor that sets them apart is their dietary and nutritional needs, which vary significantly due to differences in biological makeup.


It’s a common preconception that dogs eat meat and cats can eat anything. It’s the opposite. Cats are obligate carnivores and require more essential nutrients than dogs. This means their main diet should only consist of meat with high amounts of protein and animal fats for their bodies to function properly.

Meanwhile, dogs are omnivores, meaning they have a more flexible and tolerable diet of meat and vegetables. A dog’s diet also doesn’t have the specific nutritional needs that cats usually have. 


Cats have specific nutritional needs. They lack essential nutrients and certain vitamins that can’t be found in dog diets. Here are the nutritional differences between cat and dog foods.

  • Proteins

Due to the absence of certain enzymes, cats require specific amino acids like taurine and arginine as essential components of their diet. The lack or insufficiency of these nutrients can cause serious health issues for felines, including heart diseases, digestive problems, blindness, and brain damage. 

Conversely, dogs cannot produce taurine themselves; therefore, dog food doesn’t contain adequate protein levels suitable for cats. A deficiency in protein intake may result in several health problems, such as poor digestion leading to weight loss, muscle depletion, and lethargy. At the same time, fluid accumulation might occur within the chest or abdomen areas.

  • Vitamins

Vitamins are essential components of pet diets. While most animals can synthesize their vitamins by eating food, cats cannot generate some vitamins alone. In cats, vitamin a is vital for promoting healthy eyesight, skin, and fur coat, but they cannot produce it internally. In addition, cats must obtain niacin (B-complex) through animal tissue consumption, which is critical for growth regulation and gastrointestinal function.

These vitamins are present in commercial cat foods. In comparison, dog foods rely heavily on plant and grain-based ingredients. These offer minimal amounts of niacin since plant contains low levels of this nutrient. This may prove difficult for cats to digest, given that they’re not suited to plant-based nutrition alternatives.

  • Arachidonic Acid

Fatty acids play a vital role in the metabolism of cats and dogs, such as fat utilization and energy production. Among these fatty acids, arachidonic acid is a critical component both species require for optimal functioning. 

However, while dogs can synthesize their arachidonic acid from dietary fats, cats lack this ability and must obtain it directly from food sources or through medicinal supplements. 

Therefore, many commercial cat foods are formulated with added arachidonic acid to support feline energy needs more effectively than dog food.

  • Calories

Cats require sufficient calories to convert protein into energy. Cat foods are specifically formulated with appropriate caloric content for cats’ metabolic processes.

However, it’s crucial to note that dogs have larger bodies than cats; feeding your feline with dog food may lead to excessive calorie intake since canines need around 700-1000 calories daily. 

It’s worth noting that the required calorie intake for felines is already regulated in cat food, which usually contains around 200 calories per serving, as opposed to dogs.

  • Carbohydrates

Cats require sufficient calories to convert protein into energy, while dogs require an adequate supply of carbohydrates to convert sugar into energy. Most energy-building blocks in dog food come from sugars, which are then converted into carbohydrates. 

Consuming a diet that is high in carbohydrates can lead cats to develop health issues such as obesity and diabetes. It’s essential to keep in mind that cats do not have the ability to process sugar because they derive their energy from protein instead.

Biological Make-up

Cats and dogs have distinct biological differences. Here are some distinct differences between cats and dogs that some may not know.

  • Tastebuds

Regarding their diets, cats are known for being picky eaters. The reason behind this is that they have fewer taste buds compared to dogs. Dogs have around 1700 tastebud receptors, while felines only possess about 470. 

As a result, cat food tends to be less flavorful than dog food, which often contains added sugar to enhance the flavor profile of canines. 

Consumption of dog food in cats may result in excessive sugar intake. It may contribute towards rapid weight gain and obesity and increase their chances of developing diabetes and other health issues.

  • Size

Cats are commonly known for their smaller body size and stature than dogs. As a result, dog food production is tailored towards accommodating larger canine bodies. This can pose serious issues such as overfeeding and excessive unhealthy intake in feline’s bodies.

  • Bowels

Cats, compared to dogs, have shorter intestines and more potent stomach acids. Due to this difference, cats require less time to absorb essential nutrients in the body. 

However, as dog food contains plant material not easily digestible by cats, it becomes a challenge for them to effectively incorporate such elements into their digestive systems.

  • Water Intake

Due to the low moisture content in dog foods, cats with dog food diets may develop renal issues since their daily nutrition requires more water intake. In contrast, dogs can consume dry food without difficulties if a sufficient water supply is accessible.

Potential Risks of Feeding Your Cat Dog Food

In general, dog foods won’t harm healthy cats. Still, a long-term intake of this poses risks such as malnutrition, loss of weight, digestive problems, and health problems that your cat might develop depending on their deficiencies. 

Nutrients in dog food may also induce allergies such as vomiting, diarrhea, changes in behavior, and loss of fur in patches. According to AAFCO, you should only feed species-appropriate food to your pets to achieve complete and balanced diets to achieve maximum health benefits and general improvement of your pets.

What To Do If Your Cat Accidentally Eats Dog Food

 There’s no need to panic if your cat accidentally eats dog food. A one-time feeding won’t affect or cause cats to change physically. However, observing your cat for adverse reactions toward dog food is best.

They might have allergic reactions such as vomiting, weakness, loose bowels, excessive scratching or grooming, and abnormal weight increase. In that case, contact your local veterinarian to remedy your cat’s situation.

Some cats might also exhibit hyperactivity due to increased sugar levels from dog food; if it happens, your cat will calm down eventually. Just provide them with enough water for when their energy dies down.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Can cats eat dog food for a couple of days?

Yes, if it’s only for a day or two. Dog food is not a good long-term dietary substitute for cats because it lacks enough proteins and nutrition to make them healthier.

  • What should a cat’s diet consist of?

Food with high amounts of protein, such as meat-based products and cat-based pet foods.

  • Can cats and dogs share food?

No. Cats and dogs have different nutritional needs. Their respective pet foods accommodate these needs, and giving them appropriate diets is better.

Bottom Line

Feeding your cat dog food is never a good idea. The formulation alone is different, let alone meets the daily nutritional needs of a cat. Providing them with dog food can also lead to various nutritional deficiencies and health problems. Knowing these differences and what a cat’s required diet is is essential. 

As cat owners, you’re responsible for ensuring good health and healthy eating habits for our cats. If you have any other concerns, it is best to consult with your preferred veterinarian to guide you and your feline friend.


  • Burke, A. (2021, August 28). Can Dogs Eat Cat Food? Is Cat Food Bad For Dogs? Dog Eating Cat Food. American Kennel Club. Retrieved March 17, 2023, from
  • Can Cats Eat Dog Food? Read Before You Feed. (n.d.). Purina. Retrieved March 16, 2023, from
  • Cat Nutrition. (n.d.). UK Pet Food. Retrieved March 17, 2023, from
  • Dowdy, S. M. (2022, August 10). Can Cats Eat Dog Food? Know What’s Safe & What’s Not. Daily Paws. Retrieved March 17, 2023, from
  • FAQs – Frequently Asked Questions. (n.d.). AAFCO. Retrieved March 17, 2023, from
  • 5 Dangerous Foods You Should Avoid Giving Your Cat | Hill’s Pet. (2022, September 20). Hill’s Pet Nutrition. Retrieved March 17, 2023, from
  • Heinze, C. R. (2019, December 30). Pondering Pet Protein: How much protein should my pet get? Tufts Vet Nutrition. Retrieved March 16, 2023, from
  • How Much Water Should My Dog Or Cat Drink? (2021, July 23). Emancipet. Retrieved March 17, 2023, from
  • Keller, M. (2020, May 5). Is It Safe for Cats to Eat Dog Food? PetMD. Retrieved March 17, 2023, from
  • Luna, B. R. (n.d.). Can Cats Eat Dog Food? The Answer May Surprise You. Retrieved March 17, 2023, from
  • Nelson, A. (2022, August 20). Pet Nutrition: Nutrients Your Dog & Cat Need. Pet’s WebMD. Retrieved March 16, 2023, from
  • Pet MD Editorial. (2011, March 4). Cats Are Different: How a Cat’s Nutritional Needs are Different from a Dog’s. PetMD. Retrieved March 16, 2023, from
  • Selecting the Right Pet Food. (n.d.). AAFCO. Retrieved March 17, 2023, from
  • Smargiasso, C. (2021, October 10). Can Cats Eat Dog Food? They Can But Probably Shouldn’t. Petcube. Retrieved March 17, 2023, from
  • Stregowski, J. (2021, March 2). Is it Safe for Cats to Eat Dog Food? The Spruce Pets. Retrieved March 17, 2023, from
  • Tague, A. (2021, April 30). Pet Food Sharing: Can Cats Eat Dog Food? (& Vice Versa?). Hills Pet. Retrieved March 16, 2023, from
  • Tranter, S. (2020, December 17). Can cats eat dog food, because it’s cheaper? Vet Help Direct. Retrieved March 16, 2023, from
  • UK Pet Food. (n.d.). Cat Nutrition. UK Pet Food. Retrieved March 16, 2023, from
  • Uniyal, P. (2023, January 31). Can your cat eat dog food? Here’s what you need to know. Hindustan Times. Retrieved March 17, 2023, from
  • Whiskas. (n.d.). Cat diet: can cats eat dog food? | K.I.T. | WHISKAS®. WHISKAS® UK. Retrieved March 16, 2023, from
Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *