What Happens if Dogs Eat Cat Food?

Angela Vuckovic
by Angela Vuckovic
Monika Wisniewska/Shutterstock

A multi-pet household is always full of adventures, and even more so when you have both cats and dogs. While there are many fun aspects to sharing your life and your home with multiple pets, there are quite a few challenges, as well – such as making sure everybody’s keeping their nose in their own food bowl. We all know that dogs tend to have healthy appetites and are not picky, which means they’ll often try (and succeed) in eating cat food when given the chance.

While not the  worst thing a dog can eat when sharing a home with a cat (litter and its contents seem to be irresistible to some canines), kitty kibble certainly isn’t the best type of food for your dog, either. But what happens if dogs eat cat food? Can it be harmful to them? And are cat and dog foods really that different? Here’s what you need to know.

What Happens if a Dog Eats Cat Food?

Let’s face it: if a dog eats cat food occasionally, it's usually not a cause for concern. The worst that can happen is an upset stomach or a bit of diarrhea. The main cause is the fact that cat food is formulated differently from dog food, containing higher levels of protein and fat, which can be harder for dogs to digest. If a dog eats cat food regularly, however, it can lead to digestive issues such as upset stomach, diarrhea, or even  pancreatitis due to the higher fat content. In other words, sneaking food from the cat’s bowl once or twice won’t be an issue – but repeated consumption most definitely will. What is more, cat food lacks certain nutrients that dogs need in their diet, such as adequate levels of vitamin E and taurine. So, while an occasional nibble might not harm your dog, it's best to prevent regular access to cat food to avoid potentially considerable health problems.

Another reason why doggos should steer clear of cat food on a regular basis is weight gain. Cat food has a quite higher fat content, which can lead to weight gain in dogs. All the excess weight (which can pile up quite quickly) will lead to a lot of health issues, like diabetes or joint issues. 

If your pooch likes to sample cat food, they might also experience an upset stomach, resulting in vomiting or diarrhea. This is because cat food contains much more protein than the usual dog food. Higher levels of protein are harder to digest for dogs, and this results in gastrointestinal discomfort. A home remedy for an upset tummy in dogs – if it’s due to eating a bit of kitty food – could be providing  dog probiotics in combination with a bland diet for a day or two, until they’re feeling better. 

A rare, but more dangerous side effect is pancreatitis. This is a painful inflammation of the pancreas that requires swift veterinary treatment. Pancreatitis can be triggered in dogs by a sudden increase in fat intake, such as that from eating cat food. Signs of pancreatitis include a hunched posture, a swollen abdomen, and blood in the stool. If you spot any of these signs, immediately visit a vet. 

For the less serious side effects of dogs eating cat food, you should observe your pet’s reaction. If the signs of an upset stomach go away after 48 hours, then there is likely no reason to worry. However, if the symptoms persist, or you spot signs of an allergic reaction such as a swollen snout or neck, then it is necessary to seek the help of a vet. 


In the end, to prevent these issues, it's important to keep cat food out of reach of dogs and feed each pet their appropriate diet. If you own both a cat and a dog, an  automatic feeder could be a good idea – especially if it has a microchip or an RFID sensor built-in, so it dispenses food only when your kitty is in front of it and not your clever canine. You can also feed them in separate rooms, minimizing the chance of them consuming the wrong food

If the damage is already done, though, and you suspect your dog has consumed a significant amount of cat food or is experiencing any health problems as a result, it's best to consult your veterinarian for advice and follow their instructions. 

Angela Vuckovic
Angela Vuckovic

A proud mama to seven dogs and ten cats, Angela spends her days writing for her fellow pet parents and pampering her furballs, all of whom are rescues. When she's not gushing over her adorable cats or playing with her dogs, she can be found curled up with a good fantasy book.

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