Can dogs or cats eat cat food?

September 22, 2023
This article is not intended to be a substitute for professional veterinary advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your veterinarian with any questions you may have regarding your pet’s care, treatment, or medical conditions.

Can dogs eat cat food?

You'd be surprised how often this question gets asked! Dogs and cats have different dietary needs, so their food isn't one-size-fits-all. But if your dog sneaks a bite of cat food, there's usually no need to panic.

Cat food is chock full of protein and fat. It's designed specifically for felines! Pound-for-pound, cats often require more calories than dogs due to their faster metabolism. While dogs can handle protein pretty well, too much cat food can spell trouble. Obesity is one concern, and signs like lethargy, excessive thirst, and a bigger belly could point to other illnesses. Pancreatitis is also a risk, with symptoms including vomiting, belly pain, and decreased appetite.

So while an occasional nibble of cat food won't hurt most dogs — unless they have specific allergies or medical conditions like food sensitivities or gastrointestinal issues — a regular meal swap isn't a good idea. If you find you're out of dog food, better options include cooked lean meats or specialized dog treats.

Remember, when feeding your pup anything other than their usual fare, keep fresh water handy. Dogs need to stay hydrated, especially when their diet changes, even briefly.

As always, consult your veterinarian before introducing a new food into your pet's diet. If your dog eats cat food (or any unfamiliar food) and starts showing signs of illness such as lethargy, diarrhea, or vomiting, reach out to your veterinarian immediately. And if your pup requires veterinary care due to eating any unsafe foods, pet insurance can help cover the cost of treatment.

Can cats eat cat food?

Honestly, we could just say "yes" and leave it that. But okay, let's dive into this a bit more.

Commercial cat food is specifically formulated to meet your feline friend's nutritional needs, providing them with the vitamins and minerals they need to stay healthy. Most cat foods contain high-quality protein sources – such as chicken, fish, or beef – that cats need to maintain muscle mass and overall body function. (Remember, cats are obligate carnivores, which means they need a diet rich in animal protein to thrive.)

Commercial cat foods also contain specific nutrients that are essential for feline health, like taurine (yes, the stuff that's in Red Bull). Taurine plays an important role in maintaining good vision, heart health, and reproductive function in cats. By eating the right cat food regularly, your cat can get all the nourishment they need even if you don't supplement their diet with anything else.

Remember, feeding your cat homemade meals or human food may not always provide the complete balance of nutrients required for their well-being. Some human foods, like chocolate or onions, can even be toxic to cats. Even foods that are merely SEASONED with ingredients like onion or garlic powder can be extremely dangerous; it's easier to accidentally poison a cat than many pet parents realize. So now we've arrived at another major benefit of sticking with commercial cat food: You can rest assured it won't contain any toxic ingredients.

Admittedly, not all commercial cat foods are created equal. To pick the healthiest option, look for foods that list a high-quality protein source as the first ingredient, and avoid those with artificial colors or preservatives. The AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials) seal can also be a reliable sign that the food meets basic nutritional standards.

If you're undecided between hard or wet cat foods, there are various factors you can consider. Hard food can be a dental hygiene boost for your cat, helping to scrape off plaque and tartar as they chew. Wet food, on the other hand, is easier to eat and can be better for hydration; it's especially useful for kitties who don't drink enough water.

As always, consult your veterinarian before introducing a new food into your pet's diet! If your cat eats a new type of cat food and is showing signs of illness such as lethargy, diarrhea, or vomiting, reach out to your veterinarian immediately. If they require veterinary care due to anything they ate, pet insurance can help cover the cost of treatment.

Information Purposes Only

The suggestions offered here are for informational purposes only and are not a substitute for pet-specific advice from your veterinarian. Never disregard your vet’s recommendations, or delay in acting on them, based on something you have read on this site. Regardless of how a food is rated here, any food that you give your pet can pose potential health risks, including allergic reactions, choking, or other health conditions such as bloat. Always monitor your pet while they’re eating, and never introduce a new food into your pet’s diet without first consulting your veterinarian. 

Pet Poison Emergency Protocol

If your pet is acting sick, call your regular veterinarian immediately. If your regular veterinarian is closed, call a nearby on-call veterinarian, animal urgent care, or veterinary emergency hospital. If your pet is not acting sick but you think they may have been exposed to a poison, call the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center (888-426-4435) or Pet Poison Helpline (855-764-7661).

Food Safety Statuses


Could be given almost daily without harm

Safe in moderation

Not toxic, but should not be given regularly


Toxic or simply too risky to give to your pet