Cat food versus Dog food: Is there a difference?

If you have a household with both a dog and a cat, then you have probably fought the never-ending battle of trying to keep the cat out of the dog food or the even more likely scenario of trying to keep the dog out of the cat food!  This leads us to two very common questions: “Why do my animals seem to prefer each other’s food more than their own?” and “Can I just feed them both the same kind of food?” 

Although dog and cat foods look similar on the surface, there are several important differences. 

Cats are obligate carnivores, meaning they need meat as their main food source.  Dogs are omnivores, and although there is also meat in dog food, there are higher levels of fiber in it.  Taurine, an amino acid, and arachidonic acid, a fatty acid, are two ingredients contained in cat food that is not in dog food.  Cats require larger amounts of these, while dogs are able to make their own.  Vitamin A is another essential ingredient in cat food, and although there is sometimes additional Vitamin A in dog food, it still is not enough for cats. 

So now that you know the most important differences between the two, you’re probably still wondering why your animals are so attracted to each other’s food dishes!  Although it’s fairly common for cats to get into the dog food, it seems like it’s usually more likely for the dogs to sneak in and empty the cat food dish.  This may be because the cat food has the aforementioned higher levels of protein and the effect that has on the flavor of it.  It may not seem like as big of a deal for the dog to eat the cat food since it isn’t necessarily “lacking” any ingredients essential to their diet, but it isn’t good for them.  Due to cat food being higher in calories and protein, and containing heavier doses of fat, it is not ideal for the gastrointestinal tracts of dogs.  Besides causing vomiting and diarrhea, long-term use will typically cause a dog to become very obese and suffer more severe gastrointestinal issues.  It can also be very hard on their liver and kidneys. 

So now that we know “WHY”, the question is “HOW” do we keep our pets from scarfing each other’s meals?  When feeding your animals, try to keep their food dishes in separate rooms.  Putting the cat dishes in an elevated, scenic spot will not only help to keep the dogs out of it, but may entice the cat to eat there rather than a floor-level spot where the dog dishes are.  It may be necessary to lock the cat inside and feed the dog outside, or lock the cat in a separate room until your pooch is finished eating.  Try sprinkling a broken up treat on your dog’s food to entice him to begin his meal right away and then remove any leftovers when he’s finished; this will remove the temptation for the cat. 

If you still have questions regarding the diet of your pets, contact your local veterinarian!