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Can dogs eat cat food?

German shepherd eating in his bowl advice
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If dogs and cats could eat the same food you wouldn’t be reading this now. Learn about what makes cat food bad for dogs and why regularly giving your dog cat food can lead to problems

Cats and dogs have different dietary requirements. Because cats are carnivores they need to eat meat, and their bodies are designed to process a lot of protein. Dogs on the other hand (unlike their wolf ancestors) are omnivores and their bodies are not tolerant of the same amounts of protein.

Cat food is accordingly a lot higher in protein than dog food; it is also meatier, fishier and usually smells stronger. In being so it becomes almost irresistible to the dog. If your household includes a dog and a cat then you know how interested your dog is in your cat’s dinner.

On occasion, to let the dog eat the cat's food is not the end of the world, but allowing her to do this regularly or even feeding her cat food for a prolonged period of time spells danger for your dog's health.

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Dietary requirements of dogs and cats

Calories

Small dogs need about 185 to 370 calories daily; a large dog could do with between 1,000 to 2,000 calories daily if they are active and young. In contrast a healthy cat needs just 220 to 350 calories a day. So while a small dog will get the calories she needs from a bowl of cat food the bigger dog only gets a tenth of her daily requirements.

Protein

The other deficit relates to protein. Dog foods contain enough protein to make up about 18% of your dog's diet but cat food contains about 40% protein. The animal protein in dog food is measured to provide the dog with what she needs.

Cat food contains a lot of protein, which can harm a dog. What's more, if a dog has kidney or liver ailments consuming too much protein can increase the strain on organs that are already poorly.

Fat

Between 9% and 15% of calories should come from the fat in your dog’s diet. Fats are used by the dog’s body to keep her fur, skin, muzzle, ears and paws healthy. Your dog is very keen on fatty foods (which is why she begs for you to give her some of yours), but too much fat can be a problem for a dog: eating high levels of fat makes her obese.

A cat’s food has far more fat in it than a dog’s. 30% of a cat’s calories come from fat. But the cat’s body metabolises the fat more efficiently and breaks it down into fatty acids. Cats also use their fat resources to absorb minerals. If a dog ate cat food over the course of a few weeks she would quickly gain weight.

Carbohydrates

Humans love carbohydrates but too many carbs aren’t great for us. Nor are they great for dogs. Cat food has more carbohydrate per serving than dog food which makes it a particularly unwise choice for dogs.

Again, too many carbs can lead a dog to obesity which in turn can bring on other diseases. Dogs get most of their carbohydrate from fats and protein and a well-balanced dog food is just the thing.

In addition to these macro-nutrients, the following differences are seen of the food of cats and dogs:

  • A dog needs less protein and fat than a cat.
  • Dogs gain many of their nutrients from amino acids; cat food must have these nutrients contained already.
  • A dog can convert carotene to retinol in order to retrieve vitamin A; a cat cannot do this and must eat a direct source of vitamin A

Is cat food bad for dogs?

If you are stuck for something to feed your dog and you only have cat food in the house then feeding her once or twice as an emergency measure is fine. However, the high levels of protein in the cat food are, in the long run, dangerous for dogs and can cause obesity and pancreatitis.

Your dog may also suffer with more acute problems associated with eating cat food such as vomiting, diarrhoea.

Although acute pancreatitis is relatively easy to identify the condition can sometimes cause symptoms that make a positive diagnosis difficult to come by.

Systemic manifestations such as shaking, vomiting, anorexia, pain, diarrhoea and high temperatures are all associated with other gastrointestinal diseases and conditions and do not necessarily confirm a bout of pancreatitis.

Acute pancreatitis leads to an influx of fluid to the dog’s abdomen and chest. The result of this build-up can include renal failure and injury of veins and arteries.

Should your dog exhibit over a period of days some or all of the symptoms associated with pancreatitis you should contact your local vet for advice on how best to proceed.

Don't let your dog eat cat food. Make sure the cupboards of the house are fully stocked with a good high-quality dog food © Shutterstock
 

Generally speaking, it is not advisable for a dog to eat cat food (nor is it advisable for a cat to eat dog food). As her owner you should make sure the cupboards of the house are fully stocked with a good high-quality dog food. Owners of dogs and cats should take care not to leave cat food somewhere a dog can reach it. A good dog food contains all the minerals and nutrients your dog needs in order to live a healthy and active life.

By Nick Whittle Published on 8 Jan 2019

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