Pet Columns, Office of Public Engagement, College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

U of I logoCollege of Veterinary Medicine

Back to search page.

Don't Feed Your Cat That Dog Food

Pet Column for the week of October 14, 1996

Office of Public Engagement
2001 S. Lincoln Ave.
Urbana, Illinois 61802
Phone: 217/333-2907
By Joseph Hahn
Information Specialist

There are some who believe that it is all right to feed dog food to cats. There are others
who feel that it is all right to feed cat food to dogs. It is time to set the record straight on the
nutritional habits of our favorite furry family friends.

"Cats are very peculiar in their dietary requirements," says Dr. Allan Paul, small animal
Extension veterinarian at the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine at
Urbana. "They are not small dogs."

The first major difference between cats and dogs, explains Dr. Paul, is that cats are true
carnivores, requiring a diet mainly of meat and meat products. Dogs are omnivores, having
the ability to exist on a diet of meat and plant products.

"There are certain nutrients that cats need that can only be found in animal sources," claims
Dr. Paul. "Dog foods are higher in grain products and lack some of these essential

Taurine is an essential amino acid that is crucial for a catsí health and is only found in animal
tissues. Without taurine in the diet, cats can experience heart problems, blindness, and
respiratory problems. Dr. Paul remarked that the blindness caused by a lack of taurine in
the diet was first seen in cats that were fed strictly dog food.

The next nutrient Dr. Paul mentioned was vitamin A. Dogs have the ability to convert
beta-kerotene to vitamin A. Cats on the other hand need pre-formed vitamin A in their diet,
which can only be found in animal tissues.

Arachidonic acid, a necessary fatty acid, can be synthesized by a dog using linoleic acid.
The cat is unable to do this and needs to ingest arachidonic acid in their diet. This, too, can
only be found in animal tissues.

Finally, Dr. Paul stated that cats have a much higher protein requirement than dogs because
they use protein as an energy source.

"Because of all of these differences, you should not feed dog food to your cat," states Dr.
Paul. "Because cat food is not formulated for dogs, you should not feed cat food to your

If you would like further information on this topic, contact your local veterinarian.