Food, whether intended for humans or their pets, can appear too tempting to resist for even the most obedient pup.
And while this should not prove too much of a problem in a household with only canines, some people live in multi-animal homes.
This can lead owners to become concerned about how strictly they should curb dogs thieving food intended for cats.
Can dogs eat cat food occasionally? What’s the best way to prevent this? Newsweek asked the experts.
Should Dogs Eat Cat Food?
Dr. Jerry Klein, the American Kennel Club’s (AKC) Chief Veterinary Officer, notes dogs and cats have different dietary requirements.
He told Newsweek: “Cats need meat in their diet, while dogs need meat and vegetables to meet their nutritional needs.
“Your dog most likely won’t be harmed by eating cat food now and then, but there’s a reason dog and cat food is formulated differently.
“If you share your home with both dogs and cats, it’s best to discourage either from eating the other’s food.”
Can Cats Eat Dog Food?
Dogs and cats are often characterized as not getting along, but a more significant danger can relate to the incompatibility of their food, suggests The International Cat Association President (TICA) Vicki Jo Harrison.
She told Newsweek: “People living with both dogs and cats often ask if there is any harm in dogs and cats sharing the same food.
“While a small amount of stolen dog food will not harm your cat, continually feeding the other’s food can be dangerous to their health and is not advised long term. Dogs, however, love the delicious, high-protein content in cat food.
“While dog and cat food ingredients are remarkably similar, they are not equal.
“Dog and cat food formulas have different nutritional components to meet the different dietary needs of these two species. A dog’s food diet does not meet the specific nutritional needs cats require.”
She noted as an example, how cats are obligate carnivores, “which means they require a diet of meat-based proteins and animal fats to remain healthy and for all their body systems to function properly,”
Harrison added dogs should be fed different food because the animals are omnivores.
She said: “Their diet is more flexible, and they can easily eat both meat and vegetables.
“Typically, cats find dog food unappetizing. Dogs, however, tend to love the high-protein content in cat food.”
The AKC’s Dr. Klein added: “Cat food is much higher in meat-based protein than dog food, so while it may be appealing to your dog, eating too much of it can lead to gastrointestinal upset, obesity and pancreatitis.
“Even if your dog eats cat food and is outwardly fine, the high protein levels can be hard on the liver and kidney.”
The Difference Between Cat and Dog Food
There are several key distinctions between the food types that owners of both popular pets should be aware of.
Lisa Guiney, Head of Operations at animal charity Mayhew, adds while using shop-bought pet food is always advised for a balanced diet, people should be aware of faddy fodder.
She told Newsweek: “The pet food industry is big business and there’s lots of expensive boutique foods on the market right now which might not necessarily be the healthiest of diets.
“We’d advise owners to check with their vet for recommendations on which brands and food types which would best suit their pet.”
“Cats, unlike dogs, lack of the ability to sense sweetness and perceive taste differently than dogs,” said Harrison.
She added: “As a matter of fact, felines have only 470 taste buds, while dogs have 1,700, and humans have more than nine thousand.
“That said, cat foods are created with extra flavor to entice tastebud lacking cats.”
A cat requires taurine, which, TICA’s Harrison said, “dog food lacks in the required amounts for cats.
She added: “Insufficient dietary taurine could result in a weakened heart (dilatated cardiomyopathy), loss of vision, or digestive problems in felines.
“Taurine is an essential amino acid in cats. Felines and humans are among the few mammals that can not produce taurine and must get it from the foods they eat.
“All commercially available cat food today has taurine added. However, it is rarely included in dog foods.”
Because domesticated felines are strict carnivores by nature, Harrison believes “cats need food that has a much higher protein content than dog food.”
She said: “Most dog foods have an “As-Fed” protein amount of 18-26 percent while the “As-Fed” protein percentage for cats should be 30-34 percent, with an optional supplement of canned cat food with 40-50 percent protein.”
Arachidonic acid is a fatty acid that, like taurine, can’t be created by cats and must be ingested, wish Harrison notes can cause serious problems for kitties.
She said: “Cats suffering from low arachidonic-acid levels result in abnormal liver/kidney values, and an enhanced risk of skin issues.
“Dog food seldom includes this supplement since dogs can create this fatty acid on their own.”
While both dog and cat foods typically contain vitamin A supplements, Harrison, said, “cats require more of it than dogs since their bodies can not create it on their own.”
She added: “Without enough vitamin A, cats can suffer from weakened muscles, dull coats and potential night blindness.”
Niacin, also known as nicotinic acid, is an organic compound and a form of vitamin B.
Harrison said: “Cats are also unable to produce niacin independently and require food that supplements their needs.”
Multi-Animal Household Feeding Tips
The following are suggestions from the TICA President for owners who are having trouble with their dogs and cats eating each other’s food.
- Put your dog and cat on different feeding schedules.
- Try and avoid keeping a cat’s food out all day or until they finish all their food.
TICA’s President said: “Cats tend to nibble a mouthful at a time and come and go from their bowl throughout the day.
“When you leave food out for kitty all day munching, your dog sees the opportunity to empty the bowl.”
- Feed your dog and cat on opposite sides of the kitchen or in different rooms.
- Place cat bowls on elevated spots like the counter, so they’re out of reach of hungry dogs.
- Designate a special place for your dog and cat that they can identify as their own territory.
Lisa Guiney adds there are high-tech solutions available for people lacking the time or inclination to keep pets under supervision to prevent food theft.
She said: “Owners could also consider microchip feeders—food bowls which only allow access to the registered pet using microchip technology.”