Ever been in a situation where the stores are closed and you’re running out of cat food, but you still have some dog food left? Well, what do you do? Should you feed your cat any of the dog’s food or should you try to find a recipe to cook for your cat? Which is healthier and most importantly, which is safer?
Every so often I get asked what I would do in this situation, and while I am not a licenced feline nutritionist and nor do I claim to be, I do hope to break down for you what some of the differences between cat food and dog foods are.
BUT CATS, KITTENS, DOGS & PUPPIES EAT THE SAME FOOD IN THE WILD
I often hear this statement whenever folks are uncertain what differences between types of dog and cat foods are. I find this is especially true whenever discussing the difference between kitten and puppy food versus cat and dog food.
While it is true that a mother would hunt the same mouse for her kittens as she would herself, the kittens would eat different amounts of that mouse and perhaps even different parts than the mother would have. That being said, it is known that cats and dogs need a different amount of nutrients, minerals, fats and proteins based on their age, weight, breed, etc. Although you also have to hold into account that many wild animals do not get all the food they need, or may even get less than they need.
That’s where nutritionists come in. The hope is that the food manufactured is as close to a cat or dog’s natural diet, however, this is pretty difficult especially when creating kibbles or even wet foods. Even when both are fed fully raw diet there are some supplements and precautions that need to be taken to ensure that your animal is the healthiest and has all of the vitamins, minerals and other dietary necessities.
All that being said, let’s cover some of the biggest differences between cat foods and dog foods and the risks you run while feeding either the opposite.
SPECIFIC REASONS DOG FOOD IS BAD FOR CATS
Many dog foods don’t pro
vide a Vitamin A supplement and instead use beta carotene instead. This is because dogs can actually turn beta carotene into vitamin A. Though that being said, if a dog food does contain Vitamin A, chances are it’s not enough Vitamin A to sustain your cat’s needs. So what’s the problem? Well, Vitamin A is necessary for proper muscle and nerve health. The first sign of a Vitamin A deficiency is a dry coat and dry skin.
Dog food does not contain Taurine which is an amino acid which is critical to cats. Taurine affects the immune system, heart muscle function, digestion, vision and even pregnancy and fetal development. The first thing to be affected by a taurine deficiency tends to be the heart. Kittens are at a higher risk of having a taurine deficiency, which is why many brands of food will make kitten food with extra taurine (along with fat and protein.)
Dog foods do not have archidonic acids, which is an acid dogs can actually produce themselves. Cats need enough arachidonic acids to ensure they have a proper inflammatory response if necessary. That being said, it is also necessary for good gastrointestinal and reproductive health, proper blood clotting as well as skin growth.
Cats need a much higher protein level than the average dog does. This is due to how carnivorous cats are in comparison to dogs who are omnivores. While low protein levels may not kill your cat, it can potentially harm your cat longterm.
SPECIFIC REASONS CAT FOOD IS BAD FOR DOGS
Cat food has too many calories and can cause dogs to become overweight quickly or even develop chronic illnesses like diabetes. That being said, cat food also has high levels of proteins and fats which aren’t advised for dogs as they often lead to gastrointestinal problems. If fed cat food for too long, a dog may even develop pancreatitis from the high fats and proteins.
Cat food does not contain enough fibre to support a dog’s diet.
IS IT EVER ACCEPTABLE TO FEED YOUR CAT OR DOG THE OPPOSITE FOOD AS A TREAT
Absolutely acceptable, though again try not to overdo it, especially with dogs. Dogs are notorious for becoming picky, especially if they end up liking food that isn’t their regular. This is why a number of vets and trainers recommend you do not mix your dog’s kibble with their wet food so they are more likely to always eat them separately.
That being said, it can be hard to stop your dog from being interested in cat food since cat foods are so high in fats and proteins. This means that cat food smells especially yummy to dogs like fatty foods smell great to us!
Some vets have recommended feeding your cat a couple of pieces of dog kibble every so often to promote good dental hygiene. The reason being that dog kibble is often larger than cat kibble, ensuring that some plaque and tartar gets scraped off. The only issue is, it’s still up for debate whether or not this actually helps. That being said, there are also kibbles that are made for cats that are larger.
AT THE END OF THE DAY EVEN DOG FOOD IS DIFFERENT DEPENDANT ON THE BREED
Now, this isn’t to say that every specific breed needs its own dog food, it is to say that large dogs do need different foods than small breeds. Why? Bone density primarily.
Oftentimes when folks feed their dogs the wrong food their dogs experience bone problems. In large breeds, this is most commonly hip dysplasia which is an orthopedic disease. So, to avoid this large breed dog foods have less calcium and phosphorus and are less energy-dense.
Small breeds, on the other hand, tend to deal with issues because of their high metabolism. They are at risk of hypoglycemia which can also lead to seizures, lethargy, weakness, muscle tremors or in extreme cases death.
This is why companies like Royal Canin have breed-specific foods to ensure that there is no confusion about which food to feed your dog or cat. Is it necessary? No. Can it be helpful? Absolutely, for newer pet parents who don’t know that different sized animals have different nutritional needs.
HOW CAN I AVOID HAVING MY DOG EAT MY CAT FOOD AND VICE VERSA?
It can be hard watching your cat or dog at all times, especially if you open-feed them. If this is the case, you may want to look into getting a microchip feeder. While they do come at a higher price than a food bowl, they do ensure that only one specific pet gets the food inside. They are developed to help keep food fresh, so it’s even better than having an open bowl in general.
I THINK MY CAT/DOG ATE THE OPPOSITE FOOD AND IS SICK… WHAT DO I DO?
If your dog or cat is experiencing signs of lethargy, vomiting, diarrhea or other forms of illness after the first time you feed them the opposite food, this is very normal. In general, when cats or dogs have food that is new to them, they find it difficult to break down the ingredients, especially if they are new.
It is always a good idea to give a vet a call to give them an idea of what is happening to your pet and see if they have any instructions on what to do next.
Often vets will recommend you simply monitor your dog/cat for the next 30-minutes to see if any symptoms change. They will also recommend you check how hydrated your dog/cat is to ensure that they do not need IV fluids.
If symptoms last more than an hour it is recommended you take your pet to the vet, though dependant on how serious the symptoms are it may be a good idea to take your pet to the vet earlier.
Note: dehydration is not a joke and can be life-threatening.
While feeding your cat or dog the opposite food one time or a piece of kibble as a treat won’t negatively affect them, feeding the wrong food longterm will have some nasty consequences.
It is true that a number of cat and dog products are interchangeable, however, when it comes to food cats and dogs have very different nutritional needs That being said it is always best to consult a vet when changing your dog or cats food.