Most dogs don’t have a very particular palate. Puppies, especially, may get into anything and everything they perceive as food, whether that means food on the counter or table, garbage, random bits of crumbs on the floor, another pet’s food, and sometimes, even plants or non-food things that aren’t safe for them—at least until they learn otherwise. What is different about cat food, compared to dog food? Why do some dogs like to eat cat food, and others hate it? Is it safe? Can you feed your dog cat food in a pinch? What happens if your cat eats your dog’s food?
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The Root of the Behavior
Just like dogs, cats are carnivores. Both cats and dogs have sharp front teeth built for tearing meat, but dogs also have teeth in the back of their mouths built for grinding up bones and even some plants. But that means that cat food is designed with more meat, which is essential to the feline diet. Cats also need taurine, an essential amino acid, and vitamin A to survive and be healthy. Dogs’ bodies produce taurine naturally, so it isn’t present in their kibble. Cats need to eat it daily. They also need more vitamins and minerals in their food than dogs do. Regular deficiency in those vitamins and minerals can lead to a variety of other health issues, from skin and energy to gastrointestinal disorders and even seizures. If your cat eats dog food, it won’t hurt if they sneak a bite on occasion, but they shouldn’t be allowed to eat only dog food.
If your dog hates cat food, it may be a specific scent they find unappealing. Dogs have a highly developed sense of smell, many times more precise than a human’s. Some cat food has fish-based products in it that may smell more strongly than what a dog is used to. Some wet foods, especially, may have a stronger smell than regular dog chow. Your dog might just hate cat food because it smells bad. Alternatively, your dog might have learned not to mess with the cat’s bowl. It might not be that your dog hates cat food specifically, but has learned that the cat’s bowl will be defended by several sets of sharp claws. Whatever the reason, if your dog hates cat food, that’s okay. You shouldn’t give your dog cat food anyway. Dogs can survive on cat food if it’s very occasionally and just for a short-term, but eating cat food for any length of time may result in some health issues, including gas, vomiting, or diarrhea, weight gain, higher risk of obesity, and even kidney problems.
Encouraging the Behavior
If your dog hates cat food, it’s probably for the best. There’s a reason kibble is available for specific types of dogs and cats, separated by age and other nutritional needs. Different animals need different things. Your cat food-hating dog probably knows there’s something in there that’s not good in some way. Maybe they’ve learned their lesson after the last time they gorged on cat food and felt sick later. It could also be that the cat’s food has gone rancid or expired, which can happen. Always check the expiration date on your pet food. If you want to deter your dog from getting into your cat’s food, you can feed your pets in different places in your home. Raised surfaces are preferable for your kitty’s bowl, like on their favorite perch or windowsill, on a bookshelf, or in a closet, bathroom, or laundry room where you can install a cat door to keep your dog out.
To keep your cat out of your dog’s food, feed your dog somewhere where you can close the door, or restrict your dog to five to 10 minutes at their bowl before you take their food away. This controls when and how much they eat, and also encourages your dog not to graze all day. Eating regular meals instead of grazing may also help accelerate your nightly walk routine. You can also try hand feeding your dog, which promotes bonding between you and your dog, and provides a great opportunity and motivation for training sessions.
Other Solutions and Considerations
You shouldn’t let your dog eat cat food. Giving them cat kibble or allowing them access to your cat’s bowl may do more harm than good. You should always feed your dog appropriate serving sizes of high quality dog kibble. Your vet can tell you more about great store-bought options for your dog’s age, size, and dietary needs. You can also ask your vet about diet alternatives, like a raw food diet, which, if done properly, may prove extremely beneficial to your dog’s health and development. Not everything sold in pet stores is healthy or appropriate for your dog. Try to keep your dog out of your cat’s food and vice versa. You can consult a trainer for advice on other ways to discourage your dog from stealing food that isn’t theirs.
If your dog hates cat food, all the better. Cat food isn’t appropriate to feed your dog long-term, but an occasional nibble if they sneak a bite won’t hurt them. With some effort, time, and possibly some minor rearrangement in your home, but you can teach your pets to stick to their own bowls.