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Ask Einstein: Is It Okay to Feed Dog Food to a Cat?

Short answer, no; we kitties are like performance cars, while dogs are like Dodge pickups.

Dusty Rainbolt  |  Mar 2nd 2015

Dear Einstein,

My owners are sooo lazy. How lazy are they? They’re so lazy that when they feed Frank the dog, they feed me too — the same stuff. I’m a Persian. What do they think I am, a Pug?


Cat and dog at same bowl by Shutterstock”>

Cat and dog at same bowl by Shutterstock”>

It’s nice if your pets are friendly enough to eat together, but cats and dogs have very different nutritional requirements. Cat and dog at same bowl by Shutterstock

Hey, Fideaux,

We kitties aren’t just pooches with pointy ears. Not only are we more dignified, we smell better. Cats and dogs have very different nutritional needs, too. We kitties are like a performance car — a Purrsche, if you will — whereas dogs are more like a Dodge pickup truck. You need high-octane fuel, not regular.

We kitties are obligate carnivores. From the tip of our ears to the end of our tails, our unique physiology makes us one of the few species on Earth that must eat meat to survive. Dogs are omnivores. They can eat plant protein as well as meat.

Cat and dog look at hamburgers by Shutterstock”>

Cat and dog look at hamburgers by Shutterstock”>

“We’ll have what you’re having.” Cat and dog look at hamburgers by Shutterstock

Dogs only need 38 nutrients daily, whereas kitties are known to require at least 40. Unlike dogs and humans, who can eat both meat and plant material, your body can’t synthesize some necessary nutrients. According to Dr. Tony Buffington, veterinary nutritionist extraordinaire, kitties have special requirements for arachidonic acid, vitamins A and D, many B vitamins, as well as proteins and critical amino acids like taurine and arginine, which you can only get from meat sources like lizards, bluejays, and mice.

You may have heard humans tell their kids, if you do “that” you’ll go blind. It’s really true when it comes to eating dog food. Dog foods simply won’t support our bodies’ specialized needs for taurine and other vital nutrients. If you don’t get enough of these, you could suffer from numerous diseases including permanent blindness and deadly cardiomyopathy. Don’t let anyone talk you into going veggie cat, either.

Canned sardines by Shutterstock’>

Your human needs to check all cat food labels. Canned sardines by Shutterstock

When your human Mom shops for your bona fide cat food, she needs to put on her reading glasses and check out the label’s fine print. Every pet food label must display an Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) nutritional adequacy statement that includes the words “complete and balanced” for your specific stage of life. This means the product contains all the nutrients you need in the right proportions for your age. If the label says “intermittent or supplemental use only,” the food is not complete and balanced.

Cat and dog choosing food by Shutterstock’>

Dogs can live a vegetarian life, but cats absolutely need meat in their diets. Cat and dog choosing food by Shutterstock

On store shelves your mom will find life stage formulas for gestation/lactation, growth, maintenance, and “all life stages.” A growth diet contains too much fat and protein for a 12-year-old kitty’s body. Maintenance diets, formulated for a mature couch potato, won’t fuel an active, growing kitten’s needs. Diets designed to satisfy “all life stages” might be a better option if you live in a multicat home with kitties of different ages and nutritional needs.

Dr. Sally Perea, another veterinary nutritionist, says look for protein levels greater than 30 percent (on a dry matter basis). She also says to check out the label to verify that meat, poultry, or fish-based protein sources are mentioned at the top of the list. The ingredients will appear in decreasing order according to weight. But wet ingredient weigh more than dry ingredients. So meats, which may contain 70 percent moisture, will appear higher on the list than the same ingredient in a dry kibble. Grains and fillers such as glutens and flours, contain very little moisture. If meat appears first but wheat flour, wheat gluten, and corn immediately follow, the fillers may actually outweigh the meat.

So, Fideaux, demand equal rights for a better diet. Oh yeah, it’s not good for a dog to eat cat food either.

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Got a question for he who knows everything feline? Just Ask Einstein in the comments below and you might be featured in an upcoming column. (Letters don’t have to be written from the cat’s point of view.) Remember, any change in your cat’s behavior or activities could be a symptom of disease and should be investigated by your vet, even if it unfortunately involves glass tubes and cat posteriors.

About the author: Einstein’s assistant, Dusty Rainbolt ACCBC, is the vice president of the Cat Writers’ Association, editor-in-chief of, and a member of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. She’s the award-winning author of eight fiction and non-fiction books including her most recent paranormal mystery, Death Under the Crescent Moon.