Can Cats Eat Dog Food in an Emergency? A Guide to Whether Dog Food is Bad for Cats!

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Can cats eat dog food in an emergency? Yes, but it is not ideal and should only be done if no other options are available. If you have a dog and a cat, it’s best to keep them apart at feeding times. 

Cats are obligate carnivores, which means that their bodies are designed to digest and use only animal-based proteins. They aren’t able to properly digest plant-based foods.

Dog food is not as nutrient-rich as cat food and may not have all of the nutrients that a cat needs. Dog food often contains ingredients that can be harmful to cats, such as grains and other fillers. If you must feed your cat dog food, ensure it’s a high-quality product, and don’t regularly give your cat dog food.

There are many commercially available cat foods that can be stored for an emergency, as they have a long expiry date. It’s always best to stock up to avoid running out. This article will answer the question, ‘can cats eat dog food in an emergency?’ We’ll also look at the differences between cat and dog food. We’ll also give you some tips about feeding your cat!

Differences between cat and dog food

While both cat and dog food are made up of animal-based proteins, there are some key differences between the two. Cat food is typically higher in fat and lower in carbohydrates than dog food.

Cat food also has a higher moisture content, which is important for cats because they typically drink less water than dogs. The protein content of cat food is also higher, which helps support a cat’s lean muscle mass.

In addition, cat food contains taurine, an important amino acid essential for feline health. Dog food does not typically contain taurine, so it is not a complete nutrient source for cats. Other nutrients are missing from dog food, such as vitamin A and Arachidonic acid, which cats need to be healthy.

Related Article: Can Cats Have Almond Milk? Can Cats Be Vegan? 

Cat food vs. dog food: The main differences

can cats eat dog food in an emergency?
Can cats eat dog food in an emergency? Yes, but don't make a habit of giving your cat dog food or your pet may y suffer from health issues.

Cat and dog food may look very similar, but there are several differences, especially regarding the nutrients they contain. It’s best to choose the right food for your pet. Here are the main differences between dog and cat foods.

  • Different nutrient content
  • Cat food is higher in protein and fat and lower in carbohydrates
  • Cat food is enriched with taurine, an essential amino acid for cats. Dog food doesn’t contain taurine.
  • Cats require vitamins such as vitamin A, linoleicarachidonic acids thiamin, niacin, and folic acid. These may be found in dog food but not in the correct amounts.
  • Cat food has a higher calorific content than dog food.
  • Cats don’t need vegetables and grains in their diet. Dog food also contains too much fiber for a cat.
  • Cat food has a higher moisture content than dog food.
  • Cat food is often made with more palatable ingredients, while dog food is made with more appealing ingredients to dogs. 

How to stop cats eating dog food and vice versa

If you have both cats and dogs in your home, it is vital to keep their food separate to prevent them from eating each other’s food. The best way to do this is to feed them in different rooms or areas of the house. You can also use pet gates or fences to keep them separated.

If you notice that your cat is interested in eating dog food, try giving him a small amount of cat food to see if he will eat it. If he doesn’t show any interest in cat food and seems to prefer dog food, you should consult with your vet about switching your pet to a cat food diet.

Here are some tips to stop cats from eating dog food:

  • Store cat and dog foods in an airtight container somewhere your pets won’t be able to get to it. Don’t leave bags of kibble lying around as your cat may be able to help himself.
  • Feed your cat and dog in bowls that look different. Choose different shaped and colored bowls and feed your pets in different areas. This will make it more obvious for them, and they will be able to tell which food is theirs.
  • Only feed your cat and dog the right amount. Don’t feed them so much that they can’t finish their meals, or there will be leftovers that the wrong pet will eat.
  •  Don’t let your cat get into the habit of eating dog food. Instead, create a routine so that your pets know when and where they are fed and only give them their specific food dishes.
  • Be firm with your pets and say ‘no’ if you see them eating from the wrong bowls.


Many dogs regularly steal cat food, and this should be discouraged as it’s richer than dog food and contains more calories and protein. Dogs are likely to gain weight if they regularly eat cat food. As cat food contains too much protein for dogs, it’s likely to affect their kidney and liver over the long term.

Cat food won’t meet a dog’s nutritional needs and dogs that eat cat food are also more likely to suffer from a condition called pancreatitis which cause the following symptoms:

  • A hunched back
  • Upset stomach including diarrhea and vomiting
  • Fever

Dogs with pancreatitis need to be taken to the vet immediately.

What is dog food made from?

The primary ingredients in dog food are proteins, such as meat, poultry, and fish. These proteins are combined with carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, and minerals to create a complete and balanced diet for dogs.

Some of the most common sources of animal-based proteins in dog food include beef, lamb, chicken, turkey, pork, and fish. Dog food can also contain by-products of these animals, such as organs and bones.

In addition, some dog foods may contain plant-based proteins, such as soy or corn. These ingredients are typically included in lower-quality dog foods and should be avoided if possible. Dog treats aren’t suitable for cats as they may also contain grains.

Dog foods are available that have been specially formulated for different breeds and ages of dogs.

What is cat food made from?

can cats eat dog food in an emergency?

Cat food is also made from various animal-based proteins, including meat, poultry, fish, and by-products. The most common meat sources in cat food are chicken, turkey, beef, and lamb. Fish is also a common ingredient, with tuna and salmon being two of the most popular options.

By-products are also often included in cat food, such as liver, kidney, and heart. In addition to animal-based proteins, cat food also contains a variety of carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, and minerals. These ingredients are necessary to help meet the nutritional needs of cats.

Cat food is available for different life stages, e.g. kitten food, food for adult cats, and food specifically formulated for seniors. It’s best to stick to a food that’s right for your pet, as these food have been scientifically formulated with the correct nutrients for each stage of life.


Dogs and humans can naturally produce taurine in their bodies, while cats cannot synthesize this amino acid. Therefore cats rely on their food to help them absorb taurine.

Dog food and vegan cat foods don’t contain enough taurine for a cat and should be avoided.

Symptoms of Taurine deficiency

  • Weak heart leading to heart disease in the long term
  • Weakness and lack of energy
  • Dull fur and eyes/ vision loss
  • Brittle claws
  • Weak immune system
  • Problems with the liver and urination issues

Vitamin A

Cats need relatively large amounts of vitamin A to help them stay healthy. Humans and dogs are omnivores and can extract an amino acid called beta carotene from fruit and vegetables; this is then turned into vitamin A.
Cats cannot extract this vitamin from vegetables such as sweet potatoes or squash as humans and dogs can. As dog food doesn’t contain much vitamin A, it’s not suitable for cats.

Symptoms of Vitamin A deficiency?

  • Dull looking coat
  • Skin issues
  • Lack of energy/ less vital

Arachidonic acid

Arachidonic acid is absorbed by eating cat food and isn’t in dog food. It helps keep a cat’s fur healthy and is beneficial to claw and eye health. Arachidonic acid also helps cats produce the correct blood platelets and is necessary for pregnant cats if the fetuses are to grow into healthy kittens.

Symptoms of Arachidonic acid deficiency

  • Unhealthy skin, fur, and claws
  • Can cause blood issues as blood platelets won’t be correctly produced
  • Pregnant cats may give birth to weak kittens that won’t survive into adulthood.

What is the best food for a cat?

The best food for a cat contains animal-based proteins and is complete and balanced. This means that it includes all of the nutrients that a cat needs to stay healthy. There are many commercially available cat foods that meet these requirements, so you should consult with your vet to find the best food for your cat.

You can also make your own cat food at home. However, homemade cat food should be made with caution, as it can be challenging to ensure that it is nutritionally complete.

How often should you feed a cat?

Cats should be fed two to three times per day. This will help ensure that they get all of the nutrients they need to stay healthy. You can feed them a specific amount of food each time. Follow the feeding instructions on the cat food label to ensure you get the correct amount.

Can cats eat dog food in an emergency?

Yes, cats can eat dog food in an emergency. Dog food is not as complete a nutrient source for cats as cat food is, but it will still provide them with some essential nutrients. Having one portion of dog food won’t harm your cat.

If you cannot find or afford cat food, dog food can be an alternative. However, you should only use dog food as a last resort and consult with your vet before doing so. Never feed your cat dog food over the long term, or your pet may end up with a taurine deficiency.

Some cats may not eat dog food if they are given it, as cats can be picky eaters. You should also be aware that dog food may give your cat an upset stomach with symptoms such as abdominal pain, gas, and diarrhea due to the grain it contains.


It’s best not to give dog food to a young kitten as your pet is going through a growth phase, and his nutritional needs should be met. If you have a kitten, ensure you are always stocked up with the right food so that you don’t end up feeding your pet an unsuitable diet.

That being said, it’s better to feed your kitten than to let him go hungry. It’s most likely that dog food won’t harm your kitten and can be provided in an emergency.

A kitten that is regularly fed dog food is likely to end up sickly and may have long-lasting health problems as a result. A taurine deficiency can cause heart problems in cats and kittens.

How to add moisture to dog food

Dog food lacks moisture, so it would be a good idea to mix in some water before serving it to your cat. You can also dissolve the dog food in boiling water to keep your cat hydrated. If you do this, leave it to cool before feeding your cat.

How to change a cat's food safely?

The image below shows you how to slowly ween a cat off dog food over several weeks. This may be done with guidance from your vet. Don’t completely change the food you’re giving your cat all at once, as this may cause issues such as an upset stomach. Some cats are fussy eaters and need to get used to the taste of a new food before they will eat it.

Can cats eat dog food in an emergency? As a one off its ok to give your cat dog food. If your pet regularly eats dog food you'll need to slowly replace his food using the above diagram. This method can also be used if you are changing the type of cat food your pet eats. You can also consult your vet about which food is best for your cat.

My cat is sick and won't eat, what should I do?

  • Try sprinkling a little bit of parmesan cheese on top of your cat’s regular food to make it irresistible!
  • Make a chicken broth for your cat by boiling some chicken. Your pet may drink the water which will contain nutrients. Also, offer your cat small pieces of the boiled chicken. Boiling the meat will make it softer, which is easier for a sick cat to digest.
  • Try giving your cat tinned fish such as tuna, salmon, or anchovies.
  • Be careful when feeding your pet foods meant for humans as they may contain ingredients such as onions or garlic, which are toxic to cats.

Can cats eat dog food in an emergency?: Final thoughts

If you are ever in a situation where you need to feed your cat dog food, it is important to know that there are some key differences between the two. While feeding your cat dog food as a one-off is unlikely to make your cat sick, it isn’t suitable for a cat long term as it doesn’t contain the amino acid taurine. Cats fed a diet designed for dogs will likely end up with a taurine deficiency in the long run.

You may also like to check out our plant section to find out which plants are toxic to cats.

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