There’s just something about cat food that many dogs find completely irresistible. From the strong fishy flavors to the allure of something different, it can be tricky to stop your dog from stealing the cat’s dinner! But there are good reasons why dogs and cats need their own special diets, and you should try to keep the dog out of the cat food…
Why cat food isn’t good for dogs
Both cats and dogs have their specialized nutritional requirements and should be fed a diet that meets these unique needs. Cats are obligate carnivores (they require meat to survive) and have a higher requirement for protein and fat compared to dogs. This is probably one of the reasons why dogs find cat food so tempting – it contains more tasty meat and fat!
Due to these differences, dogs that eat cat food are at risk of becoming overweight and may develop health problems like pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas and associated illness) or gut issues such as vomiting and diarrhea. Cat food can also be problematic for dogs with underlying health issues, such as liver or kidney disease, due to the increased protein content.
Though the odd helping of cat food is unlikely to seriously harm your dog, it’s important to make sure they’re getting the right nutrition from a complete and balanced dog food.
Another issue that comes with your dog helping themselves to the cat food is one of behavior. Your cat may feel bullied or threatened by the dog accessing their food, which can lead to long-term anxiety and stress.
There may also be competition over the food bowl, as cats are more than capable of holding their own! This can lead to injuries such as a cat scratch to the eye if a curious pup sticks their nose where they shouldn’t!
Can cats eat dog food?
On the flip side, cats should never be fed dog food as it will be deficient in some of the essential nutrients they need to survive.
Unlike dogs, cats are unable to make the essential amino acid taurine and need to obtain it through their diet. Taurine deficiency can lead to a serious heart condition known as dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM). Cats also require arachidonic acid (a fatty acid) and have a unique requirement for vitamin A, both of which are unlikely to be present in the appropriate amounts in commercial dog food.
How to stop your dog eating cat food
1. Elevate the cat’s food
This is one of the easiest methods to stop your dog from getting into the cat food – put it where they can’t reach it! Cats are natural climbers so unless they have an injury or arthritis and find it difficult to climb or jump, try placing their food bowl up high!
Good options are on the top of a cat tree, a window sill, on top of tall furniture, or a sturdy shelf. These should be designated zones for your cat only and there are lots of creative options for elevated feeding like customized shelves and perches! For hygiene reasons, benches, tables, or anywhere you eat or prepare food should be avoided – we love our cats but don’t need to share their germs!
2. Use a protective bowl
These are specially designed bowls that have a protective cover with holes large enough for your cat’s head to reach through comfortably, but not your dog’s. This set-up, though good for large-breed dogs, may not always be appropriate to keep out smaller breed dogs like terriers or whippets.
Another more high-tech solution is a microchip-activated pet feeder. These bowls will only open for the pet whose microchip matches the one registered. These are great for any situation where pets are stealing each other’s food and are also useful for multi-cat households if the cats need to be fed different diets.
Enclosed feeders also have the benefit of containing any mess and can even help maintain freshness of food.
3. Put cat food in another room
Depending on your living situation, you could also set-up your cat’s feeding stations in another room. A cat flap can be installed to allow access, or the doorway can be blocked off from your dog with a pet or baby gate, which your cat is likely to be able to get over or through.
There are also door straps and stopper systems that hold the door open securely to a width that your cat can fit through, but a larger dog can’t. These systems will be limited by the size of your dog, as small breeds like chihuahuas or terriers may be able to slip through easily too!
It’s important to make sure these systems are installed correctly so the door cannot close and injure your cat or inadvertently lock them away from their food and water.
4. Use a pet crate
If your dog is trained to use a crate, you could try feeding them separately in their crate while you give your cat their dinner in another room. This is most effective if your cat is also meal fed and will finish their food while your dog is eating. If your cat is free-fed and has food out at all times, this method is unlikely to be beneficial.
Crate training a dog takes time and needs to be done correctly – the crate is designed to be a den or safe space and not a punishment. Your veterinarian or a veterinary behaviorist can assist you with how best to crate train your dog.
The most successful strategy to keep your dog out of the cat food will depend on your unique lifestyle and living conditions. Take the time to think about how each of these ideas might fit in with your pets and their home environment.
If you have an older cat or one with an underlying illness such as arthritis, make sure to discuss any changes to their lifestyle with your veterinarian first as some of these options may not be suitable for them.