Picture this: you have just arrived home from work after a trying day. Your dog and cat greet you at the door, each eager for their respective dinner.
You check the pantry, and to your surprise, you are completely out of cat food. Not wanting to run to the store, you look from the can of dog food in your hand down to the cat rubbing against your legs and wonder, “Can cats eat dog food?”
Can Cats Eat Dog Food?
In a word, yes, but the answer is not that simple. According to Sassafras Lowrey, the occasional ingestion of dog food by cats will not hurt.
No immediate injury or life long damage will be done if, in a pinch, you opt to feed the cat part of your dog’s rations.
However, cats do require several vitamins and minerals as part of their everyday diet, and those are not found in dog food.
What Happens If a Cat Eats Dog Food Regularly?
While it is not a problem if a cat occasionally has a meal of dog food, it is not a long term feeding solution.
According to Josie Turner, cats consistently fed dog food may experience symptoms like vomiting, diarrhea, and even hair loss.
These symptoms are indicative of a lack of proper nutrition that can eventually lead to either liver or kidney failure.
What Nutrients are Necessary for a Complete Cat Diet?
Susan Paretts states that protein, amino acids, fats from animals, and select vitamins and nutrients are needed for a rounded feline nutritional profile.
Cats are obligate carnivores. They require high levels of protein from animal sources. At a minimum, cats need 26% protein per serving; manufacturers are only required to have 18% per serving in dog food.
Additionally, there is no guarantee that the protein comes entirely from animals. Many dog foods include plant protein as well.
Cats are unable to digest protein from plants. Without high levels of quality protein, cats are unable to muster the energy to run, play, and hunt.
Animal proteins include 23 amino acids. Seven of these amino acids are necessary for a cat to live. They must consume them in their diet, as they do not have the bodily capability to manufacture them on their own.
The most important of these is taurine. Dr. Cheryl Yuill indicates that an absence of taurine would lead to the decline of a cat’s vision, digestion, and immune and cardiac systems. It would also make carrying a pregnancy to term nearly impossible.
Vitamins and Nutrients
Susan Paretts lists a few vitamins and nutrients needed in a cat’s diet. Niacin and thiamin, two B vitamins, are found in small amounts in dog food, as is folic acid.
The amount of dog food is much less than the number of cats need to maintain their health. Two fatty acids, arachidonic and linoleic acids are also necessary for cats.
While dog food contains linoleic acid, it lacks arachidonic, a polysaturated omega-6 fatty acid, which is necessary for both kidney and coat health in cats.
According to Dr. Patty Khuly, Vitamin A is also essential in a feline diet. Dog food does not contain the amount of Vitamin A needed to sustain feline life.
Instead, it contains beta carotene, which dogs are able to convert to Vitamin A. Cats are unable to make this conversion and need it supplemented in their food.
Let’s Take a Closer Look at Health Complications
The most deadly health complications come from a taurine deficit. Dr. Cheryl Yiull notes that symptoms of a taurine deficit can take from five months to two years to manifest outwardly.
As they do, owners notice a decline in their cat’s vision; this is due to feline central retinal degeneration.
Veterinary exams often reveal the most fatal complication: hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. This disorder causes the weakening of the heart’s chambers, which makes the heart work harder to pump blood throughout the body.
Cats with this disorder typically have a weak pulse and are prone to collapse. However, if hypertrophic cardiomyopathy is caught early, it can be reversed with taurine supplementation.
Kittens born to mothers with a taurine deficiency typically have a low birth weight. Their immune system is compromised. Some are not fully developed and have little chance to live outside the womb. Many are stillborn.
What Should Cats Eat?
Cats should be provided with both wet and dry food, as well as a fresh supply of water, daily.
Many veterinarians and behaviorists insist that cats thrive on a diet of raw meat, as it is the closest diet to one they would acquire living in nature.
Check out this video for an explanation of a raw food diet and its implications for cats.
How Do You Keep Your Cat From Eating Dog Food?
If your cat has a snacking habit and dog food is their weakness, they run the risk of filling up on dog food, which is essentially devoid of the nutrition they need, and not having enough room to eat their own.
This can be simply solved by committing to Josie Turner’s following plan.
Cats are free feeders by nature. However, they can be trained to eat on a schedule just as dogs do. Establish one to three times per day when the cat and dog will be fed.
Stick to these times, save any species appropriate treats they may earn during the day.
Canceling free feeding for both the cat and dog not only deprives the cat the proximity to dog food; it provides them with a schedule that they crave. Cats enjoy a predictable schedule.
Additionally, eating at prescribed times throughout the day keeps the cat full and not raiding the cupboards for Fido’s food.
While the dog and cat might be used to eating with each other, assigning them each a location in different rooms removes the temptation to switch bowls.
Like feeding time itself, assigned seating might take a few days to get used to. However, your schedule craving feline will soon scamper to their spot in anticipation of dinner.
While matching bowls might be aesthetically pleasing, it makes getting the right species to eat the right food harder than necessary.
Purchase bowls that differ in size and shape for your dog and cat to eat from. Make sure to use the same bowl each day.
When purchasing new bowls, consider an inventive feeding toy for your cat. Feeding toys provide cats with enrichment while they eat, as they tap into their hunting instincts and provide brain teasers to solve in order to get to their food.
Toys like the CatIt Senses 2.0 Digger require cats to sniff out their food, then fish it out with their paw to eat it.
Slow feeder bowls are also an option. They not only provide enrichment; they cause a cat who gulps their food to slow down and pick pieces individually, allowing less air in the stomach and less discomfort or vomiting after meals.
If free feeding is veterinarian recommended, one option to consider is an electronic feeder. These feeders respond to a chip worn on the animal’s collar.
Use the electronic feeder for the dog; that way, when the cat walks by to try to steal a taste of the dog’s food, the feeder will not respond. However, the dog will have on-demand access to food at any time of the day.
In a pinch, a cat can eat dog food. However, it is not a recommended, long term diet. Dog food does not contain enough protein, taurine, or vitamins and minerals needed to sustain a cat.
While it may seem a daunting task to keep Kitty out of the dog food bowl, a regimented, separate feeding schedule can be determined. This way, there is no doubt that your cat is getting all of the nutrients it needs to survive.