Can dogs eat cat food?

by Dr Gretta Howard
Practicing Veterinarian
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It can be tricky juggling different diets for different pets living together in the same household and occasionally your dog might eat the cat’s food and vice versa, but is this safe? Can dogs be allergic to cat food? Can cat food make a dog sick?

Important differences in nutritional needs between dogs and cats

Dogs and cats are completely different species with their own set of nutritional requirements. Like humans, dogs are omnivores, requiring a balanced mix of both meat and plant-based diets, while cats are known as obligate carnivores, requiring a high-protein meat-based diet. The minimum requirement for protein in cats and dogs respectively is 26% (cats) and 18% (dogs) of dry matter. Cats are also able to tolerate a higher fat content than dogs, with their minimum requirement for fat content being 9% (cats) and 5.5% (dogs)1. There are also some specific amino acids that cats require in their diet as they are unable to synthesise these for themselves, including arginine and taurine, so for this reason, you shouldn’t feed dog food to cats2,3.

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Is cat food bad for dogs?

The short answer is yes, cat food can be bad for dogs. Due to their genetic differences and unique nutritional requirements dogs and cats need to eat different foods, and a dog that consumes cat food long-term can encounter serious health problems. 

Problems encountered when dogs eat cat food

While cat food may be enjoyed by dogs, it is not particularly healthy for them in the long term.


Diets containing a high fat content, such as cat food, can contribute to the development of a painful and life-threatening disease called pancreatitis in some dogs.

Dental health

Dogs that routinely eat cat food will be at a higher risk of developing dental problems because the biscuits are too small to allow proper chewing, particularly in medium or large-breed dogs.

Gastrointestinal upsets

A sudden change to a different diet designed for a completely different species is a recipe for a potential bout of diarrhoea – something most owners would rather avoid.

Musculoskeletal problems

Puppies that are still growing need a diet that is nutritionally balanced for their fast growth rate as well as ensuring the correct calcium to phosphorus ratios. Therefore, cat food is not at all suitable for growing puppies.

If I run out of dog food, on occasion, is it ok for dogs to eat cat food?

Can dogs eat cat food? Yes, rarely, but cat food is not ideal as a long-term diet for dogs. In small amounts on rare occasions, it is unlikely to do any harm. So, if you find yourself in a situation where you have run out of dog food but have cat food available, then feeding cat food on these rare occasions in most cases will not have any adverse effects. Saying that, a sudden change in diet can result in semi-solid stools because there has been a sudden change in diet with a different balance of ingredients present.

So, the best advice is to have enough dog and cat food at all times.

Keeping your dog’s diet consistent with a well-balanced premium commercial pet food such as Black Hawk will reduce future health problems. While occasionally getting access to cat food will unlikely affect long-term health, it is best that dogs are fed diets designed for dogs and cats are fed diets balanced correctly for cats.


1. AAFCO – Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO)
2. Morris J, Rogers Q, Pacloretty L. Taurine: An essential nutrient for cats. J Small Anim Pract. 1990; 31:502-509.
3. Morris J, Rogers Q. Arginine: An essential amino acid for the cat. J Nutr. 1978;108:1944-53.