Perhaps you’re a dog lover merely tolerating your partner’s cat, or perhaps you’re one of the special animal lovers who enjoy cats and dogs equally.
Either way, somehow you’ve found yourself living with a member of each suborder in the taxonomic order of Carnivora! Well, it’s only a matter of time until the canine love kicks in for feline foods, and the cat is not happy about it.
You’re probably wondering if that occasional mischief (or treat!) is bad for your dog. To sum it up: Cat food isn’t dangerous to your dog’s health but can cause health concerns if eaten regularly.
Why Do Dogs Eat Cat Food?
While cats are obligate carnivores, meaning they’re “obligated” to eat meat and would in fact die without it, dogs are opportunistic omnivores (fun terms, right?) meaning they can make use of many nutrient types found in their environment. Being relatives of wolves, people think of dogs as keen hunters, but ancient dogs began to rely on foraging scraps off nearby humans as they developed the bond we cherish today.
Being opportunistic, dogs will eat practically anything, which can certainly pose a problem at times. It’s like their ancestral instincts have come up against a human-centered world. On par with sniffing something to see what it could be, dogs often try eating things simply out of curiosity. If you own a dog, you probably have more than one story of pet shenanigans.
Not only does cat food smell novel to the pet kibble they’re accustomed to, a dog’s strong senses draw them to its high protein and fat content.
Can Dogs Eat Cat Food? What Happens If A Dog Eats Too Much?
Their kibble may look similar, but there are differences between dog food and cat food. That’s because dogs and cats differ wildly. Sure, both animals are mammals and both eat meat, but that’s about where their similarities stop.
Dogs evolved to take advantage of a variety of nutrients, including the fiber found in plants. They’re scrappier; they make do with what they come across. For this reason, dogs can fast for longer, too. This ability means they require less protein and fats, and more plant content than found in cat food.
Cat food not only lacks crucial nutrients dogs require, it’s also overabundant in nutrients they do need. You could think of cat food as a cheat meal — or junk food — for dogs. But while some turn to cat food as a treat in a pinch, dog specific treats are better for their health in the long run.
So, what’s the worst that could happen if your dog gets into some cat chow? While many dogs can tolerate the occasional sneak meal, some dogs may overeat the already rich food and vomit or suffer diarrhea. If that’s the case, the pooch will probably stabilize on its own, but be prepared for a visit to the vet if symptoms worsen.
In the long term, the high protein content of cat food can tax a dog’s liver and kidneys. And the high fat content can lead to pancreatitis, which gives them digestion issues, among other dreadful symptoms like diarrhea.
Veterinary technician Amy Puzerewski said, “Over a period of time you’re going to have vitamin deficiencies. If you’re feeding your dog the wrong things you’re basically shortening its life span.”
Is Canned Cat Food Bad for Dogs?
As with dry food, canned food comes in a variety of qualities. Both are required to be nutritionally complete, but some are healthier for your pet than others. There’s no stark difference between canned and dry cat food as a whole, except for the water content. For that reason, our advice is the same: avoid feeding it to your dog.
Low-quality dry cat food often contains more carbs that can fatten your dog over time, and cheap canned cat food often contains more fats. High-quality canned cat food often contains too much of a good thing for your dog: proteins and fats.
Can You Mix Dog Food With Cat Food?
So let’s say you’re scraping the bottom of the dog food bag. Should you mix in some cat food? At the risk of sounding like a broken record, the answer is no. The proportions between nutrients are important when it comes to pet food formulations, and this mixture would disrupt the balance.
According to veterinarian Megan Keller, dog foods should contain 8-26% protein. For cats she recommended a protein percentage of 30-34% and even more for canned food. Will you be able to strike the perfect ratio yourself? Don’t take that chance!
Can Cats Eat Dog Food?
Cats aren’t exactly licking their whiskers for giant dog kibbles, but some may wonder if cats can eat dog food. It’s basically the same answer in reverse. Cats need their food rich in protein and fats. And going further, cats actually need specific nutrients only found in meat.
Even their vitamin A needs to be broken down from plants by, say, the rabbit they eat. Cats also require other unique nutrients with cool names like arginine, taurine and felinine.
How to Keep Your Dog From Getting Into Cat Food
If you want to avoid animal mishaps, it’s best to create separate feeding areas for your feline and canine pets and times as much as possible. Dog-proof your cat food in a sturdy, airtight container, or secure the cupboard with a lock or homemade contraption (think rubber bands).
And it’s time to stop leaving your cat’s food out 24/7. According to Puzerewski, free-feeding your cat is generally not a good idea. YouTube’s cat whisperer, Jackson Galaxy, strongly agrees, saying it discourages a healthy cycle of play, anticipation and reward.
Instead, have someone take the dog out for a walk or keep her in another room while you feed your cat during specific mealtimes, preferably as a reward after playtime.
Finally, wean your dog away from cat food by stocking up on healthy dog treats and using proper pet training techniques.
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