Tuesday 7 June 2011

Dogs Eating Cat Food

You're concerned about dogs eating cat food and want to know if it is OK. I guess in mult-pet households where there are dogs and cats, dogs might well eat cat food and vice-versa. Incidentally, it is more of a problem if for cat if she eats dog food than for a dog is he eats cat food.

dog eating cat food
Plush toy dog eating Venezuelan food
Photo by JunCTionS (Flickr)

In some ways the concern about dogs eating cat food is a bit odd. On a common sense basis we know that the food prepared by pet food manufacturers is different for dogs and cats. That in itself tells us that dogs have different dietary requirements to cats.

So, allowing a dog to eat cat food will at the very least be less than ideal and may, in the long term, have health consequences. We can deduce that without any knowledge of cat or dog food, or cat and dog health or biology.

If it is relatively easy to ensure that our dog eats dog food and not the cat's food then common sense dictates that we should make the arrangements.

I sense that the problem is that in households where there are cats and dogs some people understandably find it hard to make sure the cats eat cat food and the dogs eat dog food! The concern is more about how to get dogs to eat their food only in the multi-pet household. One internet commentator says that he keeps dogs from eating cat food (which is attractive to a dog because it is rich in protein and perhaps smells nice) by placing the cat food high up and the dog food on the floor. Cats are excellent jumpers, better than dogs so they can get to their food but the dog can't. As cats are less interested in dog food than dogs are in cat food, leaving it on the floor does not lead to cats eating it. Another friend, Elisa, says "cat feeders are on the bar out of reach. Back in the 80's my 2 dogs ate all cat food and both lived healthy lives...." Read on though..

Adding a bit of detail to the differences between cat and dog nutritional requirements, the authors of Cat Owner's Home Veterinary Handbook say that "cats require...about two to three times as much [protein] as dogs. On that basis we have to ask, "what are the health consequences of a dog eating a diet that is far too high in protein?" Note: cat food is also too high in fat for a dog (src: ASPCA).

Both cats and dogs are carnivores but Linda P Case in The Cat Its Behavior, Nutrition & Health, says that cats have "more stringent dietary requirements than those of more omnivorous species, such as the dog." Dogs are more flexible in their dietary requirements than the obligate carnivore, the cat.

How does this difference manifest itself if a dog eats cat food? Clearly if a dog eats some cat food, sometimes, there cannot be a problem particularly if the added protein in cat food is offset by providing low protein dog food as well.

But for a dog that only eats cat food - what happens then? Well, I have heard from one commentator that it can cause diarrhea. I have no authorities to support that, however. The School of Veterinary Medicine at University of Missouri says that in the long term it can cause serious health problems - organ damage. Clearly it is dependent on the individual dog. ASPCA says that dogs eating cat food can lead to them developing gastrointestinal problems that includes vomiting and diarrhea. Personally, I think that the likelihood is that in general the dog would be OK but in individual cases he or she won't.

I'd stick to the rules and find a way to stop the dog eating the cat's food! If you are interested you can read about the opposite: Cat Eating Dog Food. This helps us understand the effect on dogs eating cat food, as well.

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  1. Too much protein can be hard on the kidneys. This is true for any animal because the catabolism of protein produces most of the wastes which the kidneys filter from the blood. I've read that cats have amazing kidneys, which makes sense-- they eat a lot of protein! The dog could suffer kidney damage, I'm guessing, if fed too much protein over a long period of time. Many cat foods actually contain too many carbs and not enough protein for cats, I feel. Reading labels can be revealing. Depending on the quality of the cat food it may or may not be problematic for the dog. High protein, low carb diets are bad for humans also. Some try it to lose weight, but unless you have the organs and digestive capacities of a feline, steer clear of those fad diets.
    Ruth (Monty's Mom)

  2. Thanks Ruth for the helpful additional information.


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