Have you ever wondered if it's okay that your dog eats from your cat's food bowl? Dogs are not big cats, so their digestive systems are not designed to eat cat food. Long-term feeding of cat food to a dog can cause some health issues, so it's helpful for a dog owner to be aware of some of the differences in these similar pet foods.
Nutritional Needs of a Dog
When you are talking about nutrition, there are six basic nutrients that are discussed: water, protein, fat, carbohydrates, minerals, and vitamins. Dogs need all six of these nutrients, since they are omnivores, but in varying amounts. Cats have different needs, since they are carnivores.
Extensive research has been done over the years to determine what is nutritionally beneficial to a dog so dog food companies are able to know how to formulate their foods. A group called the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) is even responsible for defining and standardizing what pets need in their food. This means that if your dog food has the AAFCO seal on it, then it follows the recommended guidelines for formulating a complete and balanced dog food. These guidelines are different for cats and dogs, though.
Since nutritional requirements are based on different life stages, diseases, and the weight of a dog, different foods that are designed for different dogs may have different amounts of the six basic nutrients in them. For example (and according to the National Research Council), a healthy adult dog weighing 33 pounds is allowed up to 25 grams of crude protein and 14 grams of total fat per day in addition to carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, and of course water. But a dog that is nursing a litter of puppies or who has kidney disease will have different nutritional requirements. This is why feeding a dog food that follows AAFCO guidelines is the best and easiest thing you can do to provide proper nutrition to your dog. Cat foods have different guidelines to meet the needs of a cat.
Different Kinds of Dog and Cat Food
Dog and cat foods come in a variety of different packages and formulations. Wet or canned food, moist pouches, freeze dried, refrigerated fresh, dry kibble, and even dehydrated foods are all available for your pets. Within these different types of foods are then also certain kinds of diets such as grain-free, high protein, limited ingredient, hydrolyzed proteins, and other special formulations to meet the needs of sensitive or allergic pets. The number of options can be daunting to pet owners.
What Food Should Dogs Eat?
Most dogs thrive off of a of dry kibble that follows AAFCO guidelines but the growing number of specialty food options has drawn some dog owners away from the traditional dog food bags. Most pet stores now have freezers and refrigerators to provide the other options that aren't found on the shelves in the pet food aisle. Most every dog food you see in a pet store will follow AAFCO guidelines so as long as you choose a food designed for a dog and their specific needs you will be providing proper nutrition unless they have a medical condition requiring supplements. The same goes for feeding cat food to cats, but that does not mean that they are interchangeable between species.
What if a Dog Accidentally Eats Cat Food?
If a dog accidentally eats cat food then there is no immediate cause for concern. Cat food is not toxic to dogs, but it is likely to cause a little diarrhea or even vomiting. Anytime something new is suddenly introduced into a pet's diet, this gastrointestinal upset is expected but usually short lived. Most dogs don't even need to go to the veterinarian, but if the vomiting and diarrhea continue for more than a day or so, you should contact your veterinarian.
If your dog eats an exceptionally large amount of cat food, bloat is the biggest concern. Dog's stomachs can fill with air and food and cause bloat, which can be fatal. A bloated and hard abdomen and vomiting without anything coming out are signs that your dog may be experiencing bloat. You should contact your veterinarian immediately if this is suspected.
Cailin R. Heinze, DACVN, and DACVN Cailin R. Heinze. Vegan Dogs – A Healthy Lifestyle Or Going Against Nature? Clinical Nutrition Service At Cummings School, 2020
The Association Of American Feed Control Officials > Home. Aafco.Org, 2020
Selecting The Right Pet Food. Association of American Feed Control Official
Food Bloat In Dogs. Charlottesville Emergency Animal Hospital - Greenbrier Emergency Vet, 2020