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The quick answer: Cat food is not toxic for dogs to eat. However, it is not recommended as a meal substitute for your dog’s daily meals. While an occasional meaty cat food snack is safe, large quantities — or strictly feeding your dog food that is meant for cats — isn’t ideal.
Though cat and dog food may seem interchangeable, they’re actually formulated in different ways that satisfy each species’ dietary requirements. Cats are “obligate carnivores,” meaning that it’s a biological requirement for them to consume meat regularly. Dogs, however, are omnivores and need to eat a mixture of plant-based foods in addition to meat to be healthy.
While your dog might be okay chowing down on cat kibble periodically (some dogs probably think of it as a delicacy) they wouldn’t get the adequate nutrients their body requires if they only eat cat food. Eating only cat food can lead to poor health, affecting your dog’s overall quality of life.
What to Do if Your Dog Eats Cat Food
If your dog inadvertently gets into a small amount of cat food, there’s no need to worry (unless they have allergies to any of the ingredients in the cat food) because cat food is not toxic. Dogs who have consumed large amounts of cat food may experience gastrointestinal upset, lethargy, fever, and a distended, sensitive stomach. If your dog experiences these symptoms for more than 24 hours, it’s important to visit the vet.
Additionally, dogs that eat cat food – as well as those that have a high meat, low fiber diet — can become obese and over time develop pancreatitis. So keep your dog on their own dog-specific meal plan, as it is formulated specifically with their omnivorous nutritional needs in mind.
Bottom Line: While it’s not toxic, it’s not the best food for your dog.
The takeaway here is that cats and dogs have different dietary needs and therefore should eat different foods. While an occasional meaty cat food snack is safe, large quantities — or only feeding your dog food made for cats — isn’t ideal.