A german shepherd puppy eating cat food while tabby cat stares on.

What Happens If A Dog Eats Cat Food? Everything You Need To Know

Do you have a variety of furry friends living in your home? If so, then congratulations on being an animal lover. As much fun as pets can be, there are plenty of complications that come with owning various animals as well. One of the most common problems pet owners face is pets cross-eating each other’s food. If your loving canine can’t seem to keep its nose out of your cat’s food bowl, you may be wondering if anything will happen.

Today we will cover what happens to dogs when they eat cat food on a regular basis.

Pet food is generally safe for animals, so if your dog nibbles on your cat's food every once in a while there is nothing to worry about. However, cat food is formulated specifically for cats which means it has a higher fat concentration and usually added cat supplements like taurine.

Regular consumption can cause serious health complications in canines so it is important to curb the habit if you notice your dog eating your cat's food often.

In most cases, your dog will be just fine if it has eaten a small amount of cat food. Sometimes it may cause gas, vomiting, or a bit of a stomach ache if your pet has a sensitive stomach. In the rare instance that your pet has an allergic reaction to one or more of the ingredients in your cat’s food, they may develop a rash or suffer a bought of itching until it has cleared their system.

To find out more about dogs and what will happen if they eat cat food, keep on reading.

Can Dogs Eat Cat Food Safely?

Dogs and cats are have some key anatomical and biological differences.

Felines are obligate carnivores who survive on a diet made up of mostly meat. Canines on the other hand are opportunistic omnivores who need a variety of food types to thrive.

A dog is able to eat small amounts of cat food on occasion, however, long-term or regular consumption of cat food will actually cause them lasting harm. If you notice that your dog snacking on your cat’s food, it is important to take steps to prevent it from happening again. More on that later. 

What is The Difference Between Dog and Cat Food?

Dog food is not that much different in formulation from human food. In fact, it is made from vegetables, carbohydrates, proteins, supplements, and fruit. 

Many DIY dog foods are almost the same as the homemade dishes that you eat yourself.

Though cat food is also made of regular ingredients, it is more on par with an Atkins style of eating. There are more fats and proteins but fewer vegetables and fruit than usually found in dog food.

Why Is Cat Food Bad for Dogs To Eat?

Why Is Cat Food Bad for Dogs To Eat?

According to the AAFCO, adult dogs need to have around 18% crude proteins in their food while cats need a higher percentage, at least 26%. The majority of dog food brands on the market have around 25%, while most cat food has 45% or more. 

In addition to the fat differences, cat food is heavily fortified. It contains high levels of vitamin A, beta-carotene, and taurine among other nutrients.

Cats are unable to generate or process many of these from their food which is why cat food is specially formulated. Dogs gather most of their vitamins and minerals from their diet or through their own natural production. Eating cat food will boost these levels to the point of being toxic when consumed regularly.

Side Effects Of Dogs Eating Cat Food

There are many differences between your pet's diets and their nutritional needs, but as we mentioned a bit of food sharing won't present a problem.

In the long term, however, regular consumption by canines of feline food will trigger long-term health problems that may be hard or impossible to reverse.

1. Difficulty in Feeding Own Food

Dogs who make a habit of eating cat food may start to refuse their own food eventually. High-fat meals are generally more appealing to the palette and it can be hard to retrain your dog to consume healthy meals later down the line.

2. Pancreatitis From High Fat Levels

Too much fat in a dog's diet can lead to inflammation of the pancreas in canines. Cat food is naturally higher in fat and protein because that is what felines need to thrive.

Dogs who develop pancreatitis from eating cat food or even those who simply maintain a high-fat diet tend to have a shorter life span.

3. Nutritional Deficiencies From Cat Food Consumption

A dog's diet is very close to that of a human. Just like humans, they need a variety of nutrients in order to be healthy.

Cat food has added arachidonic acid and taurine, but dogs do not need these particular supplements added to their food. Being that cats are carnivores, their food will not have the right nutritional balance that a diet full of vegetables and fruit will have.

Dogs who eat cat food on a regular basis will end up being deprived of essential vitamins and minerals as a result.

4. Canine Weight Gain From Cat Food

Cat food is higher in fat and protein than dog food. This can lead to weight gain even if you have a very active dog breed. The higher fat content generally means more calories which can be hard to burn off.

Overweight dogs may seem cute in a picture, but just like humans obesity in animals can lead to heart problems, joint problems, and other health complications.

Why Does My Dog Eat My Cat's Food?

Jack Russell dog sharing food with cat from same bowl

Dogs are opportunistic eaters. Anytime they are presented with food that is edible, they will take a bite, even when it is food for cats. 

Another reason dogs love to nibble on cat food is because it is almost pure meat with bits of fat mixed in. All dogs love meat which is one of the main reasons they tend to follow their owners around when they have a juicy burger or hot dog in their hand.

How To Stop Your Dog From Eating Cat Food

There are a few ways you can help keep your dog healthy and out of your cat’s meal dish.

  • Start by feeding your cat in another room or at a different time of the day. Separating their meal times and locations can cut down on cross-eating efficiently. 
  • You can also place your cat’s meal dish on an elevated perch. Cats love to climb and dogs are naturally limited, so keeping it out of reach is a simple way to prevent cross-eating.

Will Changing Cat Food Stop My Dog From Eating It?

Sometimes changing the brand or the flavor of food that you feed your cat will deter your dog from eating it.

However, cats are also known to be very picky eaters. Changing the flavor or the brand may stop your dog from eating the food, but you may end up with a cat that also refuses to consume its new meal offerings. Consider experimenting with brands or flavors in small batches to see which one your cat prefers but your dog will avoid.

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