While cats and dogs are both furry and lovable, the two animals have different nutritional needs. Canned food designed for dogs has a different balance of nutrients, vitamins and minerals than food made for cats. While it might seem tempting to feed Fido and Fluffy the same food, it isn't recommended -- the nutritional excesses or deficiencies created by an incorrect diet can harm your pets.
Why Can't Dogs & Cats Eat the Same Food?
Carnivores vs. Omnivores
Cats are obligate carnivores who require a diet of meat to survive. Dogs, on the other hand, are omnivores who can survive on a diet that includes meats, plants and grains. Because of this difference, cats need higher amounts of protein and fat in their diet than their canine counterparts. Canned cat food must be 26 percent to 30 percent protein and 9 percent fat at minimum to meet the nutritional needs of our feline friends, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Dogs' food needs to be 18 percent to 22 percent protein and 5 percent to 8 percent fat.
Essential Amino and Fatty Acids
Unlike dogs, whose bodies can synthesize the essential amino acid taurine, cats need to ingest it to maintain their health, according to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign's College of Veterinary Medicine website. Canned dog food doesn't contain taurine -- Fido doesn't require it. That means that if Fluffy is eating Fido's diet, her body won't get the essential amino acid. Without it, she could experience heart and respiratory problems, even blindness. Another vital ingredient in cat food is the fatty acid arachidonic acid, found in animal-based proteins. Foods that follow the recommendations of the Association of American Feed Control Officials include both taurine and arachidonic acid in cat foods but not in dog foods.
Vital Vitamins for Cats and Dogs
Both cats and dogs need vitamin A in their diets to support healthy eyes, tissues and skin. Unfortunately, a kitty's body can't convert vitamin A from plant-based beta carotene the way a dog's can. Instead, our feline friends need preformed vitamin A, which is provided in organ meats like liver and included in canned food designed for them, but not for dogs, according to petMD. Canned cat food also contains five times more of the B-vitamin thiamine than dog food because of a kitty's larger need for it. A deficiency of thiamine in a cat's diet can lead to seizures, neurological problems, loss of appetite and death.
Feeding Considerations for Canines and Felines
While the occasional nibble of Fido's canned dog food won't harm Fluffy, long-term feeding of the incorrect diet can be dangerous for her, warns WebMD. Not only is canned dog food nutritionally deficient for cats, it contains more carbohydrates, which can lead to diabetes. Canned cat food can be more palatable for a dog, tempting to chow down on it. While feline food will meet Fido's nutritional needs, its higher fat, protein and calorie content can lead to gastrointestinal upset, obesity and life-threatening pancreatitis if it's fed long-term, advises petMD. For the safety of both your pets, feed each one a species-appropriate diet.
By Susan Paretts
petMD: The Differences Between Cat Food and Dog Food
U.S. Food and Drug Administration: Selecting Nutritious Pet Foods
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign College of Veterinary Medicine: Don't Feed Your Cat That Dog Food
Banfield Pet Hospital: Differences Between Cats and Dogs
WebMD: What You Need to Know About Feeding Your Cat
petMD: Why Dog Food Is Not for Cats ... and Vice Versa
WebMD: Slideshow: Foods Your Cat Should Never Eat
About the Author
Based in Las Vegas, Susan Paretts has been writing since 1998. She writes about many subjects including pets, crafts, television, shopping and going green. Her articles, short stories and reviews have appeared in "The Southern California Anthology" and on Epinions. Paretts holds a Master of Professional Writing from the University of Southern California.