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So Your Dog Ate Cat Food… Should You Worry?

April 5, 2019 by Tails Magazine in Featured, Wellness with 0 Comments

By Emily Parker

For multi-pet households, stopping your dog from getting into your cat’s food can seem like an impossible feat, plus it can be tempting to just let your pooch chow down on your cat’s food. After all, dogs and cats are both animals, right? What’s the harm?

Turns out, there can be serious health issues associated with dogs eating food that’s meant for cats. While you don’t need to panic and call your vet just yet, it’s a good idea to learn more about the differences between cat and dog food and be better informed so that, in the future, you can look out for warning signs.

What’s in cat food?

Cats require a high protein diet, which means that their food is jam-packed with goodness.

Wet cat food is almost always heavily meat-based and has a high caloric density, which means that there’s a lot of energy per gram. Some brands of wet cat food also include ingredients like cheese and carbohydrate fillers.

Dry cat food is more fibrous, which is also extremely important for a cat’s diet. Some types of dry cat food include added grains like rice and corn meal.

Cat food also includes the additives arachidonic acid and taurine, which are compounds that cats need to survive but can’t produce by themselves.

How is cat food different from dog food?

While it may seem like dog food and cat food are essentially the same, in reality they’re actually quite different products. As mentioned before, cat food has a high caloric density—much higher than that of dog food. A dog eating cat food could be compared to a human eating energy bars—lots of protein, and lots of calories.

Dog food also includes certain ingredients that can’t be found in cat food, including beet pulp, which aids in digestion, and linoleic acid, which helps keep dogs’ coats glossy and thick. Most cat foods don’t contain either of these ingredients, meaning that a dog won’t get all of the nutrients he or she ideally needs from eating cat food alone.

Cats’ digestive systems are equipped to deal with the high protein content of cat food, but some dogs have difficulty processing so much protein at once. This can lead to diarrhea and vomiting, sometimes for up to 24 hours after the cat food has been eaten.

Aside from this, there isn’t generally any other negative short-term effects. If your pup gulps down a little cat food, it’s unlikely to cause serious damage. However, it should be noted that caregivers know their dogs best. If your dog is sick, lethargic, or vomiting after eating cat food, call your vet. As all responsible pet parents know, it’s best to err on the side of caution when it comes to your furry friend’s health.

Is it alright to keep feeding my dog cat food?

While the short term effects aren’t particularly severe, continuing to feed your dog cat food in the long term can cause serious health problems. Dogs that are sensitive to high protein levels will continue to be unable to digest the food properly, and if they’re eating nothing but cat food this may lead to malnutrition.

On the other end of the scale, if your dog can tolerate cat food then the high caloric density will mean that he or she will be consuming too much energy. Just as in humans, this leads to obesity, which has a wide range of associated risks and health problems. Osteoarthritis, high blood pressure, pancreatitis, and kidney disease are just some of these effects.

It may be cute to watch your dog gobble up your cat’s food, but purposefully feeding your canine food that isn’t good for him or her is never a good idea.

How do I stop my dog from eating my cat’s food?

Many people in multi-pet households have trouble keeping their animals separate during feeding time. Having two cats who like to steal each other’s food myself, there are a few methods that I’ve used that work well.

  • Try feeding your pets in different rooms. If you confine your dog to one room while you feed your cat, or vice versa, then any food-stealing is unlikely.
  • Use different bowls to feed your pets. If you’re using bowls with the same colors, shapes, and sizes to feed both of your pets, then it could be that your dog is simply confusing your cat’s food for his own. The easiest remedy to this is to buy one of your pets a different looking bowl. You could even try buying different sized and colored mats to put under your animals’ bowls to help distinguish them.
  • Take food dishes away once your pet is done eating. Many cats and even some dogs prefer to graze on their food rather than eat it all in one go, but in two-pet households this can be a recipe for disaster. Instead of leaving the food bowls out all day, take them away and then give them back to your pet a few hours after so that they can continue eating. This can get somewhat tiresome, but it’s a useful strategy.
  • Supervise feeding time. If you can’t feed your pets in different rooms, then your only option might be to supervise their feeding time. If you see your dog trying to nudge your cat out of the way to get at her food, redirect him back to his own food. After enough repetitions of this, your dog should stop trying to steal the cat’s food at all. Be warned, though, because for stubborn pups this training process can take months.
  • Change up your dog’s food. If your pooch is continually trying to steal from your cat, it’s possible that they’re not satisfied with the food they have and are looking for alternatives. Switch up the brand you’re using, add in more wet food, or put on your chef’s hat and try baking some dog-friendly recipes. You may find that your dog focuses more on his own food if it’s a bit more interesting.

If your dog swiped a mouthful of your cat’s food while you weren’t looking, you shouldn’t worry too much. However, if it’s an ongoing issue or if you’re purposefully feeding cat food to your dog, there may be serious health consequences for your pooch. Tackling feeding time in a multi-pet household can be difficult, but there’s no shortage of strategies out there to make it easier.

Emily Parker shares her life with her fiancé, Bill, and her two black cats, Gus and Louis. Gus only has one eye, but that’s why she adopted him! When she’s not exploring her neighborhood for new (cat) cafes, she’s researching and writing over at her website, Catological, where her goal is to help cat parents love their kitties better. 

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