Pet food is a multi-billion dollar business, with brands marketing their products as the most nutritious and tasty meals.
Often, when you go to the store, you’ll find cat and dog foods in the same aisle. Even the packaging looks the same, which may lead you to the question, can cats eat dog food?
Some pet owners may have both cats and dogs in the house, and getting one bag of food is just easier than getting two. You may also be in a tough spot where you only have dog food in the house. So let’s get some facts straight.
Can Cats Eat Dog Food?
Yes, in emergency situations, you can feed your cat small quantities of dog food. However, if you intend to make this its primary diet, then you have a problem.
Processed cat and dog dry foods use many of the same ingredients. However, the nutritional needs of the two animals are very different. For one, dogs are omnivores, while cats are carnivores.
Cats require more protein, vitamins, and fatty acids than dogs do. While they can stomach some greens, the quantities and acceptable vegetables vary from the wide range found in dog food.
So while you can feed your feline dog food, if that’s all you have on hand, a complete shift will leave your cat malnourished. If you’re not satisfied with that answer and want to gain a more detailed understanding of the nutritional requirements for cats and dogs, read on.
What Nutrients Do Cats Need?
Cats are obligate carnivores, which means they have some specific dietary requirements that are:
- High-quality protein sourced from meat and fish (35 to 45 percent)
- Amino acids such as taurine and arginine
- Animal-based fats (15 to 20 percent)
- Suitable carbohydrates and fiber
- Essential vitamins, minerals, and fatty acids
- A good amount of water
Differences Between Cat Food and Dog Food
There’s more to pet food formulation than just nutrition, though. The packaged food also has to appeal to your cat, and while it may not seem like it, this is where a major difference between cat and dog food comes in.
Cats experience taste very differently than other animals. For example, humans have up to 9000 taste buds, dogs have around 2000, and cats have less than 500. Naturally, this majorly impacts how they experience taste. Cat food is designed specifically to appeal to their senses, which is why it has such a sharp smell.
As opposed to the 35 to 45 percent protein in cat food, most dog foods only have an average of 20 to 25 percent protein quantity. This nutritional difference will add up with repeated and daily use, leaving your cat without the nutrients it needs.
Additionally, good cat food options should be free of additives and preservatives that could be harmful to your pet.
The amino acids taurine and arginine are essential to maintaining healthy heart function, eyesight, digestive and reproductive abilities in your cat. They can only be sourced through animal-based proteins, which is why cat food requires such high percentages of protein.
- Arachidonic Acid
Cats need their foods to have nutrients that their bodies don’t naturally produce, and arachidonic acid is one of them.
These fatty acids are essential for your cat’s health, and without them, your pet may develop kidney and liver damage, as well as, skin issues. Dogs don’t have this problem because they can develop arachidonic acid on their own. So dog food doesn’t add this as a supplement, which can be devastating for your cat’s health.
- Vitamin A and Niacin
Cats also need large doses of vitamin A and niacin since they do not produce these nutrients themselves. Without the required amounts, your pet may face muscle loss, fur loss, and weaker vision, among a host of other concerns. While certain high-quality dog foods do have these ingredients, the quantities are extremely low.
Overall, if you want your cat to have the best nutrition, you need to feed it food that caters to its needs. While dog food is not toxic or harmful for your cat, regular use will eventually weaken your pet.
Now you may be wondering if the opposite is possible. Can dogs eat cat food? Again, the answer is clear. Because of the imbalance in nutrients, your dogs will end up eating an excessive amount of protein and fat. The high-calorie diet will leave their health compromised and likely result in obesity.
How to Feed A Multi-pet Household?
Feeding a multi-pet household can become a cause for concern. And while your cats and dogs may co-exist peacefully, that doesn’t mean you can feed them the same thing.
With pets, it is safe to assume they will stick their heads into each other’s food bowls. The best solution is to have completely separate eating areas and food dishes. Establish those boundaries early and avoid bowl sharing so your pets learn where they need to go to get their food.