Can cats eat dog food? Cats aren’t dogs, and their nutritional needs are different, too. So while a bite of dog food is generally considered to be safe for cats, it can’t give your feline friend all of the nutrients she needs.

By Sarah Mouton Dowdy
August 24, 2020
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Have you run out of cat food and are now wondering if Fido’s food can work as a substitute for Fluffy? Or did you catch your cat snagging some kibble from the dog’s bowl and are now concerned her digestive system will pay a price? The good news is dog food isn’t toxic to cats. But while dog food is generally considered to be safe for cats, there are other questions to consider before pouring your purring pet a bowl:

  • Are there any nutritional benefits to feeding cats dog food?
  • Are there any risks with feeding cats dog food? Will my cat get sick from eating dog food?
  • How much dog food can cats safely eat?

We paired up with the University of Missouri Small Animal Clinical Nutrition Service in Columbia, Mo., to better understand the risks. 

Are There Any Nutritional Benefits to Feeding Cats Dog Food?

Dogs and cats don’t just differ with regards to behavior—they’re unique in their nutritional needs, too. Cats are obligate carnivores, meaning they rely on nutrients found only in animal products. Dogs, on the other hand, are omnivores. Their nutrient needs include both animal and plant (i.e. grains, vegetables) products. 

This means a commercial food that’s complete and balanced for a dog won’t be complete and balanced for a cat. For example, taurine is an amino acid cats must get in their diet to survive. Dogs, on the other hand, are able to produce their own taurine. 

Is It Safe for Cats to Eat Dog Food? 

Dog food isn’t toxic to cats, so if your pet eats a small amount here and there, it shouldn’t make your cat sick. However, The Clinical Nutrition Service says there are several important caveats to keep in mind:

  1. Dog food is considered to be safe for healthy cats. So if your cat has a health condition, this general rule doesn’t apply. 
  2. Every cat is unique and can vary a great deal when it comes to tolerating certain foods. “Cats must be considered individually,” the Clinical Nutrition Service explains, “as some cats may consume a particular food item with no issue and another cat may consume the same item and develop vomiting, diarrhea, or other adverse signs.”
  3. Portion size and frequency matter. If eating dog food becomes a long-term habit for your cat and starts replacing cat food, your pet won’t be able to get the nutrients her body needs, and her health will begin to suffer. 

Should Cats Eat Dog Food?

Bottom line: dog food can’t replace cat food. And it’s not a matter of marketing magic aimed at getting you to spend more money and lug more bags around—the two products really are different and are not interchangeable. 

“Cats have specific nutrient requirements that must be met by their diet,” the Clinical Nutrition Service explains. “The simplest and most convenient way to meet the nutrient requirements of a cat is to provide them with a complete and balanced commercial diet formulated by a board-certified veterinary nutritionist or an individual with a PhD in animal nutrition.” 

If you’re unsure whether your cat is getting the nutrients she needs from the food she eats every day, bring up your concerns with your veterinarian. They can help you find good options for your pet based on her nutritional needs.