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Anyone who owns a dog or a cat knows that they will typically
eat anything they can get their paws on. While it is not harmful
for a dog to eat a cat's food, it can be potentially hazardous for
a cat to eat a dog's food. In moderation, a cat eating a dog's food
is probably safe, but if the cat is only eating Fido's dinner, they
are probably not getting the nutrients that are essential to their
specific health needs.
"Cats' nutrition requirements are different than dogs', they
have unique needs," explains Dr. John Bauer, a professor of animal
nutrition at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine
&Biomedical Science. "Your cat is not going to get ill from
eating the occasional pieces of dog food, but if they are only
eating dog food, then they are not getting nutrients they need for
a healthy life."
If you have a cat that prefers to feast on their canine pal's
dinner, it is important to know that there are five main nutrients,
essential to feline health, that are not balanced properly for
proper feline nutrition. "First, cats require a higher protein to
calorie ratio than dogs," notes Bauer. "Cats eat less than dogs.
Therefore, they need to be getting the protein needed from a
smaller amount of food. By contrast, dogs will eat a larger amount
of food, thus getting the proper balance of protein to
Also, cats are not able to make their own Vitamin A, which has
to be added to their food and is essential to their health. "Dogs
are able to make Vitamin A from beta-carotene," explains Bauer.
"Since their bodies can create this vitamin, it is not necessary
for it to be in their food per se. . A dog could live with only
small amounts of vitamin A added into their food as long as they
are also getting beta-carotene, a cat cannot."
Thirdly, Bauer explains that cats are not able to make the amino
acid, Taurine. According to the Iam's website, Taurine is important
to maintain proper feline heart function, vision, and reproduction.
It is also needed to form bile that helps with digestion.
A lack of Taurine can lead to the weakening of the heart
muscles, which in turn can cause heart failure. In addition to
maintaining cardiac health, this amino acid is also necessary for
the proper development and function of the retina cells in cat's
eyes. A taurine deficiency can lead to the cells dying which can
cause impaired vision and blindness. Taurine also effects
reproduction. To ensure proper structural development of a kitten,
both the mother and the baby must maintain proper levels of
"Dogs are able to make taurine, meaning it does not have to be a
specific ingredient in their food," notes Bauer. "Cats eating lots
of dog food will not be getting the necessary amount of taurine
they need to maintain their health. Bauer also states that dog food
does not need to have arachidonic acid, a fatty acid essential to
According to the article "Special Nutrition Needs of Cats,"
found on peteducation.com, arachidonic acid is necessary to produce
an inflammatory response that helps the body protect itself. It is
necessary for proper blood clotting, aids in regulating skin
growth, and is necessary for the functioning of reproductive and
"Again, arachidonic acid is something that unlike dogs, cats are
not able to manufacture. Therefore, it is found in food for cats
but is not necessary in dog foods," adds Bauer.
Bauer says the fifth nutrient cat's need is Niacin, a B vitamin.
As stated by peteducation.com, Niacin deficiencies can cause loss
of appetite, inflamed gums, weight loss, and hemorrhagic diarrhea.
"Cat's can't make Niacin, they need to ingest this nutrient from
their food," comments Bauer.
Cats and dogs require different levels and sources for nutrients
they need to maintain their health. If they are not getting proper
amounts, it can lead to health problems. "If your cat sneaks dog
food once in a while, it is not going to compromise its health,"
notes Bauer, "but if they are only eating dog food then they are
not going to be getting nutrients needed to maintain their health.
It is important your animal is eating food designed for its
specific nutritional needs."
Likewise, a dog that eats cat food won't be in danger of a lack
of needed nutrients, but that doesn't mean it is healthy. "Animal
foods are made specifically for that species," states Bauer. "It's
all about ratios; cats eat smaller amounts of food, so their food
contains higher amounts of nutrients per piece. Even if dog food
had the proper nutrients for felines, the cat would have to eat
larger amounts of the dog food to get the same nutrients they would
receive from a serving of cat food."
Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine
& Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University.
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