The short answer to “Can I feed my dog cat food?” is yes.
The answer to the implied question, “Is it safe?” is a little more complicated.
A healthy dog has nothing to fear from eating cat food for a day or so. It can also be used as an occasional treat. Commercial cat food is made from similar ingredients as commercial dog food.
The problem is that dogs and cats have completely different nutritional requirements. In the wild, canines such as wolves and coyotes are omnivores, eating a wide variety of foods.
Felines tend to be carnivores, eating meat almost exclusively. A cat’s need for protein, fat, and calories is much greater than a dog’s.
Dogs tend to gulp their food, devouring large amounts quickly. Cats tend to eat smaller mouthfuls over a longer period of time.
Companies making commercial dog food and cat food may start with similar ingredients but follow different formulas thereafter. Commercial dog food is bulkier than commercial cat food. Cat food contains more protein, fat, and calories, while dog food contains more fiber.
Dietary fiber is important for digestive health and makes your dog feel fuller longer. Since he feels full, the dog eats less, maintaining an ideal weight more easily. The fiber in the diet also improves cholesterol and blood sugar levels and assists in the prevention of diabetes and heart disease.
By controlling blood sugar levels, fiber helps the owners of diabetic dogs protect their pets’ health. The National Academy of Science believes that dietary fiber also helps to prevent colon cancer.
The high caloric density and high levels of protein and fat in cat food are hard on the canine gastrointestinal tract and can cause dogs to pack on the pounds.
Not all fiber is created equally. Some fiber tends to hinder the absorption of vital nutrients. Fiber from beet pulp provides all of the benefits of fiber without interfering with digestibility.
The sheer density of cat food, along with the flavor, makes it hard for dogs to resist. Food for kittens, being even denser and tastier than food for adult cats, is irresistible to dogs, especially puppies.
Short term problems
A dog’s gastrointestinal system is simply not designed to digest the calorie-dense, high-fat content in cat food. For a dog with a sensitive stomach, cat food can cause an upset stomach, vomiting, and diarrhea.
Long term problems
Allowing dogs to eat cat food for an extended period of time can cause serious health problems. Excessive protein can put a strain on the liver and kidney.
Over time, excessive levels of fat can lead to weight gain and obesity. Obesity is the most common preventable condition among dogs in the US. Obesity in canines, as in humans, can trigger a host of secondary problems.
Pancreatitis is an inflammation of the pancreas. This inhibits the ability of the pancreas to produce insulin, in turn leading to canine diabetes mellitus. Elevated blood glucose, over time, causes damage to the kidneys, eyes, heart, blood vessels, and nerves.
Heart disease is almost as common in dogs as it is in humans. The hearts of obese dogs, just as the hearts of obese people, have to work harder.
Eventually, heart disease progresses into congestive heart failure, where the heart is unable to meet the demands of the body. Symptoms include fatigue, lethargy, trouble breathing, and loss of appetite.
Secondary hypertension can be caused by both diabetes and kidney disease.
Obesity is also a contributing factor in arthritis and accelerated degeneration of the joints. Heavier dogs have more problems with a hereditary bone deformity called hip dysplasia.
There are some substances in commercial cat food that are toxin to dogs. Cats easily tolerate Vitamin D levels in foods containing fish meal that are toxic to dogs.
Arachidonic acid, an essential fatty acid for cats, can cause digestive problems when ingested by dogs.
Dogs can synthesize the beta carotene in their food into Vitamin A, but cats cannot. Commercial cat food contains Vitamin A in amounts that may prove toxic to dogs.
Keeping dogs out of cat food
There are a number of techniques to keep dogs out of cat food:
Slow feeders and puzzle feeders allow a cat to use his paw to get food. It is accessible to a cat, but a dog’s paw may be too big to reach inside.
You can also try putting the cat’s food bowl in an elevated spot like a countertop.
Inside of a cat tree with openings big enough for a cat but too small for a dog.
Feed the dog and the cat in separate rooms with the doors closed.
Feed the cat inside a pet carrier with the door latched.
Choosing the right dog food
- Look for meat or a specific meat meal, such as lamb meal or chicken meal listed before any grains. Remember that ingredients are listed in descending order by weight. Since beef, lamb, and chicken are 70+ percent water, making them extra-heavy, they will be listed first.
Be wary of any food whose protein comes from grains like corn or wheat gluten. Although dogs do eat plants, they have a much easier time digesting animal protein. Animal protein also contains important amino acids.
- Make sure that your dog’s food is lifestyle appropriate. Life stage food, available for puppies, adults, and seniors, is generally not necessary. A varied diet of high-quality ingredients is your best option regardless of age.
An active puppy, or a high energy working dog, however, has different requirements. He needs a nutrient-dense, higher calorie, high carbohydrate food that would not be appropriate for a couch potato.
- People food, such as table scraps and leftovers, make a good dietary supplement, but take care not to overdo it. Contrary to the popular myth, a fat dog is not a healthy dog.
- Change types or brands of food occasionally. Feeding the same food for several months can contribute a sensitivity to specific ingredients. Some veterinarians believe that feeding the same food over a long period of time may contribute to inflammatory bowel disease.
Digestive enzymes and probiotics aid digestion and help maintain a healthy GI tract.
Essential fatty acids from fish oil omega 3 fatty acids also contribute to a healthy GI tract in addition to providing nourishment to the skin and coat.