Why feeding your dog cat food can lead to 5 serious health risks

Cat food dangers for dogs include pancreatitis, obesity, liver and kidney damage, diarrhea, and upset stomach or vomiting.

People globally keep around 370 million cats and 471 million dogs as pets. About 65.1 million households in the US own dogs, while about 46.5 million own at least one cat. Many families have both.

Dogs often become curious about what their cat companions eat. Some dog owners admit that their canines occasionally eat cat food.

But is that hazardous? Are there cat food dangers for dogs?

What’s the difference between dog and cat food?


According to Vicki Jo Harrison, the president of TICA, dog and cat food contain different nutrients. This is because dogs and cats have different dietary needs.

In more detail, let’s examine the fundamental variations between dog and cat food.

Nutritional composition

Dog food and cat food are formulated to meet the specific dietary needs of each species. Cats are carnivores that need a diet high in animal protein and certain essential nutrients like taurine and arachidonic acid.

However, dogs may obtain nutrition from both plant and animal sources since they are omnivores.

Protein content

Cat food typically contains a higher percentage of protein compared to dog food. Cats need more protein to maintain their lean muscle mass. At the same time, dogs can function well with slightly lower protein levels.

Taurine and arachidonic acid

Taurine and arachidonic acid are crucial for a cat’s heart health and overall well-being.

Fat and carbohydrates

Dog food often contains more carbohydrates and fats, which provide the energy needed for a dog’s active lifestyle. Cats, on the other hand, derive most of their energy from proteins and fats.

Vitamins and minerals

Cat food is formulated with specific vitamins and minerals tailored to feline physiology. Dogs have different requirements, and consuming cat food might lead to imbalances in their nutrient intake. 

Cat food typically has a higher protein content than dog food, as well as specific vitamins and minerals tailored to feline physiology.

5 cat food dangers for dogs

What are the potential health risks involved if your dog consumes cat food? Let’s see just a few of them:


Pancreatitis occurs when the pancreas becomes inflamed and can happen when dogs consume cat food high in fat. Cat food generally contains more fat, which can trigger painful and life-threatening pancreatitis in dogs.


  • Loss of appetite
  • Abdominal pain
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Lethargy

Preventive measures: Limit your dog’s access to cat food, and if you suspect pancreatitis, seek immediate veterinary attention.


Due to its higher fat content and calorie density, cat food can lead to obesity in dogs if consumed regularly. Obesity poses significant health risks and can exacerbate pre-existing conditions like arthritis and heart problems.


  • Weight gain
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Decreased activity level
  • Joint issues

Preventive measures: Maintain a healthy and balanced diet for your dog, tailored to their specific needs. Avoid leaving cat food within your dog’s reach, and exercise regularly.

Liver and kidney damage

Cat food often contains more protein than dog food, and excessive protein can strain a dog’s liver and kidneys. While cats can process higher protein levels, dogs might struggle to metabolize such amounts, leading to potential organ damage.


  •  Increased thirst
  • Frequent urination
  • Loss of appetite
  • Jaundice (yellowing of the eyes and gums)

Preventive measures: For a better life for your dog, ensure your dog is on an appropriate diet with balanced protein levels. Regular check-ups can help detect any organ-related issues early on.


The higher fat content in cat food can upset a dog’s digestive system and lead to diarrhea. Abrupt changes in diet can be particularly troublesome for dogs, causing gastrointestinal distress.


  • Loose or watery stools
  •  Increased frequency of bowel movements
  • Straining to defecate
  • Dehydration

Preventive measures: Gradually introduce new foods to your dog’s diet and avoid sudden changes. Keep cat food out of their reach to prevent accidental consumption.

Upset stomach or vomiting

Eating cat food can lead to an upset stomach, which may result in vomiting. Cats and dogs have different sensitivities, and the ingredients in cat food might not sit well with a dog’s digestive system.


  • Nausea
  • Excessive drooling
  • Retching or attempts to vomit
  • Regurgitation of undigested food

Preventive measures: Stick to a balanced dog food diet and avoid introducing unfamiliar foods without consulting a veterinarian.

There are several practical ways to prevent your dog from consuming cat food, including separating the pets’ feeding areas, establishing regular feeding schedules, supervising mealtime, and keeping the cat’s food in a secure location.

How to stop dogs from eating cat food

Now you understand the potential risks of your dog eating cat food. What are some practical ways to prevent your dog from consuming cat food?

  • Separate feeding areas: Provide separate food locations for your cat and dog. Place their food bowls in different parts of the house to avoid accidental sharing.
  • Scheduled feedings: Establish regular feeding schedules for both pets. This helps with portion control and reduces the likelihood of one stealing from the other’s bowl.
  • Supervision: Keep an eye on your pets during mealtime. If you have multiple pets, ensure they eat their respective foods and do not swap dishes.
  • Keep pet food in a secure location: Keep the cat’s food out of your dog’s reach. This will prevent your dog from reaching out for food on its own.
  • Clean dishes after each meal by your cat: This will prevent your dog from eating the leftovers and crumbs from the dish. It will also reduce the risk of germs.
  • Train your dog: Use simple commands like “leave it” or “stay” to teach your dog so they won’t go near the cat’s food.
  • Use barriers: If necessary, use baby gates or other barriers to separate your pets during mealtime. 

Final thoughts on cat food dangers

While the occasional nibble of cat food might not cause immediate harm, pet owners need to recognize that dog and cat food are formulated to meet the specific nutritional requirements of each species.

Regularly feeding your dog with cat food can lead to various health risks, including pancreatitis, obesity, liver and kidney damage, diarrhea, and upset stomach or vomiting.

To keep your canine friend healthy and happy, feed them food tailored to their needs. If you have any questions about their diet, talk to your veterinarian.

Remember that responsible pet ownership includes being vigilant about what our pets consume and ensuring they live long, fulfilling lives as cherished members of our families.

Pet expert Kristen Parker has spent 12 years following her passion for animals as a writer and editor in the pet industry. Her expertise includes dog and cat health, care, nutrition, feeding, grooming, behavior, and training.




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