Is Wet Cat Food Bad For Dogs?

Updated September 16, 2023

Many people owning both a cat and a dog wonder – is wet cat food bad for dogs? What happens if a dog eats cat food?

Cat food isn’t dangerous to dogs in moderate amounts, but it isn’t risk-free either.

Just because dogs are often attracted to cat food doesn’t mean they can eat it safely. Felines and canines have different dietary needs and must consume specially formulated food.

There’s no need to rush to a vet if your dog has tried a bit of wet cat food, but you should be aware of the potential side effects and long-term consequences.

If your dog finds cat food more appealing than dog food, learn how to keep a dog from eating cat food to ensure the long and healthy life of your pet.

Cat vs Dog Nutritional Needs

To understand why cat food isn’t suitable for dogs, we should outline the differences in cat vs. dog nutritional needs.

Cats are obligate carnivores, and dogs are omnivores. In other words, cats must feed primarily on animal protein, and dogs can eat pretty much anything.

Cats should get at least 50% of their daily calorie intake from meat and other protein sources, at least 30% from fat, and no more than 20% from carbs.

In contrast, dogs require at least 22% protein and 5.5% fat. An adult dog’s diet can contain up to 50% carbohydrates, up to 4.5% of which can be fiber.

So, cats need significantly more protein and fats than dogs and cannot digest carbs effectively. Cats have a higher requirement for amino acids than dogs – they need to get 11 amino acids from food because they can’t synthesize them.

The feline body also requires more fatty acids, minerals, and vitamins which it can’t synthesize from food, so cat food manufacturers add these elements into their products as supplements.

The canine body can produce these elements and doesn’t need supplements.

Consequences Of Feeding Cat Food To a Dog

Overall, occasional consumption of cat food poses no threat to dogs because cat food ingredients aren’t toxic to dogs. However, problems can arise if a dog eats cat food regularly and vice versa.

Cat food is high in fats. While the canine diet should consist of 5%-20% of fats depending on a particular dog’s lifestyle and age, the feline diet consists of about 30% fats. Too much fat in a dog’s diet can lead to obesity.

The excessive fat content in food may not harm a puppy or pregnant dog but can be dangerous for neutered or spayed dogs whose metabolism isn’t as fast and can’t effectively break down fats.

Particular dog breeds are more prone to obesity than others, including golden retrievers, Basset hounds, pugs, beagles, and border terriers. Another potential consequence of high fat content in canine diet is acute pancreatitis.

Pancreatitis manifests with a swollen abdomen, diarrhea, lethargy, loss of appetite, and abdominal pain and is predominant in cocker spaniels, miniature schnauzers, poodles, and older dogs.

However, fat isn’t the only element in cat food that can harm a dog in the long run. Feline nutrition is often saturated with vitamin D, which cats can’t synthesize themselves. But for dogs, too much vitamin C can be dangerous.

Vitamin D toxicity in dogs causes vomiting, loss of appetite, frequent urination, drooling, and weight loss. Without timely treatment, excess vitamin D in a dog’s body can lead to kidney failure and death.

Some dog owners think that the more protein in their pet’s diet, the better. However, more protein doesn’t mean more muscle. A dog’s body can only metabolize as much protein, and any excess protein turns into waste or is stored as fat.

In other words, even cat food low in fat but high in protein can lead to canine obesity and pancreatitis. Excess mineral content in the canine diet can lead to the development of kidney and gastroenteric diseases.

Still, the side effects of dogs eating cat food aren’t nearly as severe as the consequences of cats eating dog food. Protein, fat, mineral, and vitamin deficiency in the feline body can be fatal.

Can Wet Cat Food Be a Dog Treat?

Dogs shouldn’t feed solely on cat food, but can cat food serve as a dog treat? While cat food isn’t the healthiest treat for dogs, it’s unlikely to hurt your pet if the serving size is adequate.

As a rule of thumb, limit treats to 10% of your dog’s daily calorie intake. A ten-pound dog should consume 200 to 275 calories daily, a 20-pound dog – 325 to 400 calories, and a 70-pound dog 900 to 1050 calories.

Therefore, a ten-pound dog can consume cat food for 20-27 calories, a 20-pound dog for 32 to 40 calories, and a 70-pound dog for 90-105 calories. Either way, the serving size is tiny.

Note that the daily calorie intake may vary depending on a particular dog’s age, lifestyle, activity level, and health condition.

Dogs diagnosed with pancreatitis, obesity, or irritable bowel syndrome should never eat cat food, even as a treat.

Is Wet Cat Food Better Than Dry Food?

Many dogs prefer wet cat food over kibble. In theory, the difference between wet vs. dry cat food is negligible as both types are produced to meet feline nutritional needs. But are wet and dry cat food equal for dogs?

Nutrition-wise, dry and wet cat food are the same. Both wet and dry cat food contains too much fat, protein, vitamins, and minerals for dogs and may lead to obesity, pancreatitis, kidney diseases, and gastroenteric issues.

Wet cat food contains more water, which is beneficial for a dog’s gastroenteric tract. The high water content prevents constipation and dehydration, while the softer texture makes food easier to chew for dogs with dental problems.

And since wet cat food is moister and has a lower calorie density, dogs need to eat less to feel full. However, the higher water content may be a drawback for dogs whose diet is rich in fiber because they may suffer from diarrhea.

Is All Cat Food The Same?

The above-mentioned nutrient ratio refers to feline food formulated for healthy adult cats without special dietary needs.

However, not all cat food is the same. The nutrient ratio and microelement content can differ drastically between different cat food brands and types.

For example, kitten food is higher in fat, amino acids, vitamins, and minerals than food for adult cats.

Regular kitten food consumption is harmful even for cats, and dogs are much more likely to develop pancreatitis or gain weight.

On the other hand, food formulated for senior cats is lower in calories and contains less protein because older cats are prone to obesity. Food for senior cats is also made for easier digestion, so it has more fiber.

Food for cats with gastroenteric issues, kidney diseases, food allergies, diabetes, and other health conditions may also differ from regular cat food. Additionally, cat food quality varies by brand.

But expensive cat food isn’t necessarily better when it comes to dogs. If your dog admires cat food and you want to give it as a treat occasionally, check the ingredient label instead of blindly buying a posh brand.

Are There Any Benefits To Feeding Cat Food To a Dog?

Cat food isn’t dangerous for dogs if consumed in moderate amounts, but are there any health benefits to feeding a dog cat food? In short, no. Every species has unique dietary needs and must eat specially formulated food.

Neither the high fat content nor the extra protein is healthy for your dog. One of the most common myths about the dog diet is that vitamins and minerals are never excessive.

That’s a dangerous misconception, and cat food contains way too many microelements for dogs.

If your dog has mineral or vitamin deficiency, ask your veterinarian to prescribe supplements that will target a specific problem rather than change your pet’s entire diet.

Why Does My Dog Like Cat Food?

Some dogs prefer cat food to dog food. There’s no universal answer to why a dog likes cat food – some dogs are attracted to meat smell, while others may enjoy the texture.

Each dog is an individual and may have different reasons for preferring one food type over another. A more important question would be how to stop a dog from eating cat food.

Many people owning both a cat and a dog struggle to make their pets eat their own food. Firstly, don’t give your dog constant access to the cat’s bowl. Feed your pets on a schedule.

If your dog only eats cat food because it’s constantly available while its own food is not, feeding your pets together may help.

But if your dog is more attracted to cat food than to its own, you may feed your cat at an elevation where your dog can’t jump or in a separate room.

If you suspect that your dog is attracted to the smell of meat, incorporate more protein into its diet (but don’t exceed the recommended content) or sprinkle its kibble with meat juice.

Lastly, you can train your dog to leave the cat bowl alone by command. Each time your dog obeys the command, give it a treat as a reward.

Image credit: Pexels

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