Cat Food for Thought

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 calories.

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 taurine.

“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 feline nutrition.

According to the article “Special Nutrition Needs of Cats,” found on, 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 gastrointestinal systems.

“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, 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. Stories can be viewed on the Web at Suggestions for future topics may be directed to

Angela G. Clendenin
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