Can Cats Eat Dog Food? Learn Which Nutrients It Lacks

image of a feline eating from dog bowl

So, can cats eat dog food? There is one Garfield cartoon where Garfield tells Odie about the ingredients in dog food. Garfield (likely only teasing) claims that dog food has yak lips, lizards, caterpillar fuzz, duck feet, aluminum siding, chewed gum “and some stuff you wouldn't even want to know about!” Odie looks a little ill. Then off panel, Jon tells Garfield that they're out of cat food and he'll have to eat dog food.

Garfield nonchalantly picks up Odie's dish and gulps down the contents. Odie looks a lot ill. When Jon asks what's wrong with Odie, Garfield replies “Must've been something he ate.” Keep in mind, Garfield is a cartoon cat. Would it be alright for a real cat to do this? 

The simplest answer is: Not on a daily basis. The more detailed answer is that dog food doesn't have all of the necessary vitamins, nutrients and amino acids that cat food has. It's not healthy enough, it's not moist enough, and odds are it's not even tasty enough.

Why Is Dog Food Bad for Cats?

Cats and dogs are two very different animals. This isn't just referring to temperament or looks. They are on a biological level completely different and have different nutritional needs. A dog might prefer meat, but is omnivorous. A cat is an obligate carnivore. Cats also need more moisture in their food than most dog foods provide.

Cat food is formulated for a cat's nutritional needs and dog food is formulated for a dog's nutritional needs. Comparing and contrasting the ingredient labels will reveal three fundamental differences between cat food and dog food.

Dog food lacks vitamin A

Cats need vitamin A. A lack of vitamin A in catscan lead to night blindness, a shabby coat and weak muscles. The cat's immune system requires a daily does of vitamin A Kittens and pregnant females especially need vitamin A to promote growth and neurological development. Vitamin A can be found in liver, fish oil and egg yolks.

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As a carnivore, a cat not only has a greater tolerance for vitamin A than an omnivore, but a greater need. The recommended daily dose of vitamin A for cats is between 2272 IU per pound and 340,900 per pound.

Dog food lacks taurine

Taurine is an essential amino acid largely found in organ meats. Cats cannot provide their own taurine and need to get it from taurine rich food. Dog food typically does not have this necessary nutrient. Cats need taurine for their eyes, ears and hearts to work properly. Taurine combines with bile acids to aid in digestion.

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As with a Vitamin A deficiency, a cat with a taurine deficiency may experience night blindness and weak immunity. Dog food often does not have taurine nor is it required to as dogs can make their own.

Dog food lacks protein

Cats have an even greater need of protein than dogs. The minimum amount of protein in dog food is 18 percent as required by the Association of American Feed Control Officials.

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The minimum amount of protein required for cat food is 26 percent. What's more, dog food protein may come from plant sources like soybeans. This simply will not provide your cat with the nutrients she needs.

Can cats eat dog food occasionally, as a snack?

image of a kitty receiving a snack

It's unlikely your cat will want to. Dog food tends to be rather bland in flavor compared to cat food. But, you know what they say about curiosity and cats. Fortunately, this is one time where a curious nibble won't be fatal.

Dog food doesn't have anything poisonous to cats, but it's lacking in nutritional value. An odd bite here and there won't hurt her, as long as she's not filling up on it and not eating her own food.

How to Stop Cats from Eating Dog Food

If your cat develops a taste for dog food, she's probably just looking for some variety. Introduce her to some cat safe treats for when she wants a snack. When you feed your pets, you may want to do it two times a day and make sure they finish it. Leaving food out for them to graze on at will lead to bad eating habits.

Keeping dog food out of reach of a creature with razor sharp claws and Olympic level jumping skills can be difficult. If your cat laughs at plastic, consider storing the dog food in a metal tin, such as the kind popcorn is sold in at Christmas.


There are many valid reasons that one type of food is manufactured for dogs and one type is made for cats. Their nutritional needs are different and feeding a cat dog food is depriving her of necessary nutrients. Your cat needs vitamin A, taurine and high levels of protein that your average dog food just doesn't provide.

While an odd mouthful of dog food every once in a while won't harm your curious kitty, she shouldn't load up on it to the point she has no appetite for the food she should be eating. As a pet parent, it's your job to make sure your furry friends eat what they need to eat.

Most cats don't even like dog food, but if your eccentric kitty is swiping more food from Fido than what's good for her you may have to take measures to stop her. Your cat needs to eat cat food, simple as that.

yellow flower cat

Can cats eat dog food?

No, cats cannot eat dog food. Cats have unique dietary requires and unlike dogs, cats are obligate carnivores, this means that they have to eat meat in order to survive. Taurine and Arginine are essential nutrients that need to be consumed daily by a cat and they are found only in meat.

Is it safe for cat to eat dog food?

Just as it's dangerous to feed only cat food to dogs, cats cannot survive on dog food alone. Dog food lacks sufficient vitamin A and taurine, two nutrients cats need to live healthy lives. Dog food is also deficient in arachidonic acid and lacks the adequate meat-protein levels that cats need.

Will dog food hurt a cat?

An occasional bite of dog food won't hurt your cat. But cat food is specially formulated for a cat's needs, which include more protein as well as certain vitamins and fatty acids. A steady diet of dog food can cause your cat to be severely malnourished.

Can cats eat dog food for a day?

At least not on a regular basis and definitely NOT as an exclusive diet. Here's why cats can't eat dog food: While some dog foods may contain additional vitamin A, many won't have the amounts a cat requires for a lifetime of optimum health. Second, Taurine is an amino acid all cats require.

  • Updated April 22, 2021
Mary Nielsen

A huge animal lover, born and raised around dogs, cats, chickens... Self-educated pet care nerd. Currently parent of three adopted cats and one small mutt. Animal adoption advocate. Loves a good book (about animals) and playing the piano.