Can Cats Eat Dog Food in an Emergency? A Complete Guide

Written by: Karuna Subbiah



Time to read 4 min

As a multi-pet parent of a dog and a cat, you may have caught your cat sneaking a bite of the dog food or vice-versa. Or, you may have accidentally fed dog food to your cat. Or, you may have had no choice but to feed the cat with dog food when the stores ran empty. 

Either way, the question that would have run through your mind is, "Is it bad for cats to eat dog food? Was I wrong in feeding my cat dog food?" Well, there is a good reason why pet food companies have separate sections of dog and cat food. Read this article to know what happens if a cat eats dog food and if it is all right to feed dog food to cats in emergencies.

Differences in dog and cat nutrition

Although dog and cat foods use similar ingredients, their formulation is different. It is dependent on their distinct dietary requirements. The following table illustrates the list of nutrients and their varied needs in cats and dogs:


List of Nutrients

Cat Food

Dog Food



30% from meat and fish sources

25% from animal and plant sources



Fewer carbs in the form of rice or corn

30-60% supplied through grains or potato extracts



Almost 20% of animal-based fats

Only 5% required



Present in all cat foods (essential for heart and digestive health)

Mostly absent


Vitamin A

Present in higher quantities

Present in lower quantities



Provided through animal proteins

Provided through grains


Arachidonic acid

Present (essential for healthy liver and kidney function)

Mostly absent

Is it safe for cats to eat dog food?

What happens if a cat eats dog food? If it occurs seldom and your cat is healthy, there is no reason to worry. Feeding dog food to cats can be harmful if they have underlying health issues. Watch out for the following physical signs of discomfort in your cat post-consumption of dog food:

  • Allergies.
  • Vomiting.
  • Diarrhoea.
  • Excessive scratching.
  • Hair loss.
  • Behavioural changes.

Contact your vet immediately if you notice any signs of distress.

Giving dog food to cats during an emergency

Dog food does not have the required amount of proteins and calories for a cat's diet. So, long-term feeding dog food to cats is not an option. However, can cats eat dog food in an emergency? The answer depends on how long you plan to continue feeding them dog food. If no other option is available, feeding your cat dog food for the time being is okay. But ensure that you provide wholesome nourishment through cat food within the next 24 hours to avoid nutritional deficiencies.

Feeding your cat dry dog foods during an emergency, such as Acana dog dry food (fortified with chicken/turkey and oats) and Royal Canin's puppy dry dog food (rich in meat proteins), is permissible. The vegetarian varieties, such as Drool's 100% veg adult dry dog food, may not do much for your cat's taurine and arginine requirements since they are found only in meat proteins.

What happens if cats continue eating dog food?

Accidental or emergency feeding of dog food to cats is acceptable. However, if dog food consumption develops into a long-term habit for your cat, it becomes a problem. Replacing cat food with a dog's diet won't provide the nutrients your cat's body requires.

 Here are some examples of scenarios that may arise if you continue feeding dog food to your cat:

  • Cats, being obligate carnivores, rely on animal-based nutrients for their nutrition. A dog needs nutrients from both animal and plant products. For instance. Pedigree adult dry dog food is a healthy option with a combination of chicken and vegetables. However, commercial pet foods meant for dogs won't be appropriate for a cat's balanced diet.

  • Cats must consume wet cat food for their daily hydration. If your cat continues sneaking in on your dog's dry kibbles instead of their food, they won't get the required water intake.

  • Dog food cannot meet a cat's nutritional needs. It has a lower percentage of nutrients and proteins than cat food. It cannot sustain your cat's health long-term for any of the life stages and may malnourish them. Cat foods like Royal Canin's adult dry variety fit the optimal nutrient profile.

  • Long-term consumption of dog food by cats can cause taurine deficiency. Taurine is absent in most dog food. Dogs create this nutrient themselves from other amino acids present in dog food. However, cats require taurine in larger quantities, supplied through animal proteins in cat food.

  •  Taurine deficiency in cats causes numerous health issues, such as heart and digestive issues, fetal abnormalities, and irreversible blindness. Try out Orijen's dry cat/kitten food fortified with animal proteins to fulfill your cat's taurine requirements.

How to keep cats from eating dog food?

Is it bad for cats to eat dog food? On a long-term basis, yes. If you are a multi-pet parent, here are some ways you can keep your cats from consuming dog food:

  • Schedule separate feeding times. Feed one pet at a time while keeping the other one occupied.

  • Feed your pets in dedicated areas of your home. It will discourage them from swapping food.

  • Physically distance your pets from each other while feeding them.

  • Train them and keep a watchful eye. Use positive and negative reinforcements to enforce the desirable behaviour.

  • Use sealed containers for storing dog food so your cat cannot sneak into it.

The bottom line

So, can cats eat dog food in an emergency? The answer is yes if it is once in a while. Remember, dog food is not life-threatening for cats. But it is not nutritious for them either. If your cat takes a few pieces of dog food, there is no reason to fret. Just take care not to replace your cat's diet with dog food on a long-term basis.

Shop at Supertails and never face the situation of running out of cat food and dog food for your pets. Purchase high-quality and breed-appropriate pet food for your beloved pets. Avail of our online vet consultation services for any pet-related queries.

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