Can Cats Eat Dog Food in an Emergency?

can cats eat dog food in a pinch?

A lot of people think cats and dogs have a very similar diet, and in the case of an emergency, you could feed a cat some dog food and you could feed a dog some cat food. However, this is far, far from the truth. 

Dogs and cats are completely separate animals with their own nutritional needs that need to be met in their food. Most people are well aware of this and respect this, but there may come a time when you realize you do not have any more cat food. 

More often than not, this would mean you need to go to the store to buy more, or you would need to order it online. 

However, there are some situations where you might find yourself with a hungry cat and only dog food to feed the cat with. This then begs the question of can cats eat dog food in a pinch? 

What to Do in an Emergency

As a short answer, yes, cats can eat dog food if it is an emergency situation and you have absolutely nothing else that you could feed the cat. However, it is absolutely not sustainable. While your cat is eating dog food, you should use that time to either get some cat food or prepare an alternative so that your cat’s nutritional needs are covered. 

In an emergency, you might find that dog food does pretty well, and that some cats may even be eager to eat it because of the enticing smell. However, dog food is formulated for dogs specifically. What this means is that dog food is manufactured to meet the dietary requirements of a dog, which are not the same as cats. 

The DIfference Between Dog Food and Cat Food

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The biggest difference between dogs and cats is that dogs are considered omnivores while cats are obligate carnivores. This means that dogs can get a fair amount of their protein through plant matter and material, which will be a good portion of what is in most standard dog food. 

Cats, on the other hand, are not built to process most plant matter, meaning they will not get that same protein concentration from dog food which they require to maintain a healthy diet. 

What Do Cats Need, and Why Doesn’t Dog Food Provide it? 

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By definition, an obligate carnivore is specifically a carnivore whose diet requires some nutrients that can only be found in other animal flesh. The term “obligate” refers to the fact that cats must follow a carnivorous diet to get the nutrients they need

This separates them from other carnivores and omnivores who can eat some degree of plant matter for their nutrients. This also means that cats, due to their nature of getting their resources from meats, cannot make some amino acids and vitamins that other animals can get from plants. If meat is not supplemented into their diet, cats will have a nutritional deficiency.

Dog food certainly has a fair bit of meat. After all, dogs like meat, and because dogs are omnivores, most dogs will need some degree of meat in their food. However, dogs also source some of their nutrients from plant materials, since that is what their digestive system can absorb. 

This can take form in corn, soybeans, cereals, and other forms of gluten-free grains. The exact composition of dog food will vary by brand, but this is a general fact between dog food brands. 

As omnivores, there are some nutrients that dogs can only get from the plant matter included in their food. While this is going to be absolutely helpful for dogs and their diet, the plant matter in dog food is simply wasted space and the potential cause of digestive problems for cats. 

Supplementing Food Cats Need in an Emergency

Can cats eat dog food in an emergency? They sure can, but you should use the time that they take to eat the dog food to try and find a way to supplement the rest of the nutrients that your cat will need. 

Depending on the situation and why it may be considered an urgent situation, you will have two options:

You could choose to get cat food delivered or you could pick it up from the store for your cat to have when you come back. Or, you could prepare some meat for the cat to eat. 

How to Prepare Meat for Your Pet Cat

preparing meat for your cat
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You should take some degree of care when preparing meat for a cat as their digestive systems are a little bit different than a human’s. Cats, while they can eat it, shouldn’t be fed raw meat on the regular because of the dangers of infection. 

In a true emergency where a cat may be starving and you will take it for an exam after it has had some sustenance, it may be worth the risk, since an infection’s damage will not be immediate. However, if you have the time to prepare some cooked meat for your cat, you should do that. 

When cooking meat for a cat, you will want to minimize or completely avoid the use of seasonings, herbs, spices, salts, oils, fats, and so on. Cats often cannot digest these, and for most cats, the taste won’t really matter as much as eating the food. 

The meat should be prepared as plainly as possible, and if the cat is particularly hungry, you should wait for the meat to cool down before serving it up to the cat so the cat doesn’t burn its mouth. 


While the combination of dog food and cooked meat isn’t going to be ideal for cats, and it is not entirely sustainable, in an emergency, it will give the cat the nutrients it needs to get through the situation so you can continue caring for it. 

The best thing you can do, when faced with this kind of trouble, would be to purchase some cat food anyway and keep it in storage for this kind of emergency in the future, although the dog food will suffice for a single meal or two. 

As long as your pet dog doesn’t get too upset about it…

Editorial Team

When we aren't scooping up droppings to ensure a luxurious litter box experience for our fur babies, we are writing all sorts of stuff about cats for your enjoyment and knowledge.

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