If you live in a household with both cats and dogs, you may be wondering if it is okay if your cat eats the dog’s food. Cats are curious creatures and usually love to eat.
They probably love to munch on your dog’s food from time to time. But can you feed them your dog’s food as their sole source of nutrition?
The short answer to this question is no. It is fine for your cat to eat the dog’s food every now and then, but they also need to have food specifically formulated for cats as their primary source of nutrition. In this article, we will discuss why that is.
Nutritional Requirements for Cats
Cats have very specific nutrition requirements that are unique to cats. Cat food is specially formulated to meet these requirements, whereas dog food is not. The main reasons why cats must be fed cat food are because cats are true carnivores, cats’ bodies cannot make certain amino acids necessary for their health, and cats' bodies cannot make certain vitamins vital to their health.
Cats are Obligate Carnivores
Dogs are considered omnivores. This means that their diet consists of a combination of plants and meat from animals. Cats, on the other hand, are true carnivores. They are a hunting species.
This means that they must ingest their nutrients from other animals. Their meals should be high in protein, have a moderate amount of fat, and have a small amount of carbohydrates.
Dog food is formulated with a different balance of protein, fat, and carbohydrates. If cats are only fed dog food, their nutrient profile will be off-balance and this could lead to significant nutritional deficiencies. In fact, cats require up to three times more protein than dogs do in their diet!
Cats Can’t Make Certain Amino Acids
Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. Unlike dogs, cats cannot metabolize certain necessary amino acids on their own. They must consume the amino acids in their diet. Because dogs do not have this requirement, these amino acids are not formulated into commercial dog foods in the quantities needed by cats.
Arginine is one such amino acid. Cats do not have the enzyme to make arginine on their own. Therefore, they need it in higher amounts in the food they eat. Arginine helps to remove waste products, such as ammonia, from the body.
If cats do not have sufficient amounts of arginine, they can develop significant health problems. These include nausea, vomiting, and neurologic problems. If the arginine deficiency becomes severe, they could even die.
Another important amino acid for cats is called taurine. Just like arginine, cats cannot make taurine in their own bodies. Taurine is very important for the health of the heart and the retina of the eyes. Thus, taurine deficiency in cats can lead to blindness and heart problems.
In fact, it was discovered in the 1980s that taurine deficiency was linked to dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) in cats. This is a condition where the heart becomes enlarged and it is unable to efficiently pump blood throughout the body.
Pet food companies began adding taurine in the feline formulations. Ever since then, the cases of DCM in cats has significantly decreased.
It is important to note that having the correct amount of taurine in the food is not the only thing that matters. Other ingredients in your cat’s diet have the potential to affect how taurine is broken down absorbed into your cat’s bloodstream.
This is why it is so important to feed food that has been specifically formulated for cats.
Cats’ bodies also need certain vitamins in higher amounts than dogs’ bodies do. For instance, cats need more niacin, Vitamin A, and a special form of Vitamin D in their food.
Just like with arginine and taurine, cats’ bodies are not able to make sufficient amounts of niacin and vitamin A. So they must get these vitamins directly from their food source.
Both cats and dogs require pre-made vitamin D in their diets. However, cats are not able to use the plant-based form of vitamin D as effectively as the one from animal protein. For this reason, cat food must include the animal form of vitamin D. Additionally, cats have higher requirements of B vitamins.
Choosing the Right Cat Food
For all of the reasons mentioned above, you should not feed dog food to your cat as their sole source of nutrition. But, how do you know the cat food you buy has all of the individual ingredients your cat needs, in the correct quantities, and in the mix of other ingredients that will not inhibit your cat’s ability to metabolize and absorb them?
When you are buying a bag of cat food, look for the AAFCO statement. AAFCO stands for Association of American Feed Control Officials. They are the governing body that has set the minimum standards for what is required in formulated foods for our pets.
The AAFCO statement will usually be on the side panel. It will either say that this particular food is formulated to meet AAFCO nutrient profiles or that it has passed animal feeding trials for cats. That way you know for sure that the food has all of the things your cat needs to be healthy.
The best statement is one that mentions the company has done feeding trials on their food. Here is an example of an AAFCO statement indicating the company has done research on their food to prove it ensures the health of cats:
Animal feeding tests using AAFCO procedures substantiate that [name of pet food] provides complete and balanced nutrition for [life stage] cats.
It is even better if you can confirm that the cat food manufacturer has good quality control and a veterinarian or a nutritionist on their staff. You should be able to find out this information by going to their website. If it is not listed on their website, you can call the manufacturer and ask them directly.
Reading pet food labels can be overwhelming. Check out this webpage that describes what is required on a pet food label and what each item means for more information:
Can I Cook for My Cat?
Absolutely! If your cat is a picky eater or only likes the dog food, there are a few things you can try to make sure they are getting adequate nutrition.
First, try to separate your cat and dog at feeding time or only feed your dog in an area your cat cannot have access to.
Second, pick up any dog food your pup leaves behind after meals.
Third, offer your cat canned, moist cat food with a strong odor to encourage them to eat their own food. You may have to separate your cat from your dog while doing this since dogs usually love wet cat food. Or you could feed your cat up on the counter or on their perch so your dog cannot reach it.
Fourth, you can try cooking home-cooked meals for your cat. If you choose to do this, it is imperative that you work with your veterinarian or a veterinary nutritionist. Doing this will make sure your cat is getting all of their required nutrients in the proper quantities and combinations.
You can find a veterinary nutritionist by visiting the American College of Veterinary Nutrition website.
My cat likes my dog’s food. Do I still need to buy cat food for my cat?
Yes! The majority of food your cat eats must come from food formulated specifically for cats. If your cat eats only dog food they will develop nutritional deficiencies and get very sick.
Why should cats not eat dog food?
Cats have very specific nutrient requirements that dogs do not have. Dog food is formulated only to meet the requirements of dogs. Cat food is formulated to meet the nutritional requirements of cats.
Is it okay for my cat to eat my dog’s food every now and then?
Yes. As long as your cat’s primary source of nutrition is cat food, it is perfectly fine if they munch on your dog’s food occasionally.
My cat does not like eating cat food but will eat my dog’s food. How can I make sure they are getting the nutrients they need?
Pick up any remaining dog food right after your dog finishes eating. Offer your cat canned or wet cat food with a strong odor to encourage eating their own food. Feed your cat in places your dog does not have access to so your dog does not eat your cat’s food. Work with a veterinary nutritionist to design a homemade recipe you can cook for your cat.
In conclusion, cats must be fed food that is formulated especially for cats. If cats are fed dog food as their primary source of nutrition, they will develop nutritional deficiencies that can lead to significant health problems. And, in severe cases, even death. Make sure you are feeding your cat food that is formulated for cats and meets the requirements specified by the Association of American Feed Control Officials by looking for the AAFCO statement on the side panel of your cat’s bag of food.
Clinical Nutrition Service, Cummings Veterinary Medical Center at Tufts University.
Article by Dr. Leslie Brooks 👩⚕️