Photo by Lenstravelier on Unsplash
By Brad Clarke
If a cat and a dog are part of your family unit, you may find that they enjoy sharing their things. Perhaps you have found your cat snuggled up in your dog’s bed or your dog playing with your cat’s favorite toy. While sharing their space and belongings is likely harmless, and even downright adorable, it can become an issue if they start sharing their food, especially if your cat has already gotten a taste for your dog’s food.
When you consider how dog food is made and the ingredients, it may seem harmless to let your cat take a few bites of your dog’s food, but it can lead to long term health problems for your cat and even your dog.
Below we discuss the ways in which allowing your cat to eat dog food can be harmful and ways you can keep your cat from snacking on your dog’s food.
Dog food and cat food is formulated for their specific biology. When pet food is created, they take into account the types of nutrients cats and dogs need to be healthy. When a cat eats dog food, they are ingesting food that was literally not made for them.
Cats require specific nutrients in their food to keep them healthy. They need taurine and arachidonic acid that is not always present in dog food or not in measured amounts the way it is in cat food.
If your cat continuously eats dog food, especially in place of their own food, they may experience nutrient deficiencies which can cause health problems. Symptoms of nutrient deficiencies include:
- Sunken eyes
- Loss of appetite
- Decreased skin elasticity
- Dry mouth
- Elevated heart rate
If your cat is displaying one or more of the following symptoms above, make an appointment with your cat’s vet as soon as possible.
A Hungry Dog Can Be an Angry Dog
You may find that your dog is a passive pup and may not mind his feline companion eating their food. However, some dogs will engage in resource guarding when they feel threatened.
A dog that resource guards may covet possessions or people as their “belongings” that no one else can have, and there are some dogs that will resource guard their food if they feel their meals are in jeopardy.
When a dog resource guards, they may display the following behaviors:
If your dog engages in resource guarding their food from your cat, your cat may be on the receiving end of your dog’s anger. This can result in injuries to both your cat and dog if one of both of them become aggressive in response to the cat eating the dog’s food.
How to Stop Your Cat from Dining on Dog Food
If your cat has already started chowing down on the puppy’s portions, try some of the following tactics to discourage the habit and keep them eating from the correct bowl.
One of the best ways to discourage your cat from eating your dog’s food is through training.
If you see your cat approach your dog’s food bowl say “no.” If they stop or move away from the dog bowl, reward them with a treat. The treat can be hand fed or placed in the cat’s bowl.
The training must remain consistent to be the most effective. You will have to keep a watchful eye on your cat while your dog is having their food to make sure to quickly and consistently provide a correction.
Separate Them During Mealtimes
If your cat and dog eat their meals in the same room, it may be time to separate them.
Move your cat’s bowl or dog’s bowl to an entirely different location in the house. This may require you to close your dog or cat in a room while they eat. This can be accomplished by simply shutting a door while they are eating.
Putting distance and/or a barrier between your cat and dog may discourage your cat from seeking out the dog’s food. Be mindful of the barrier’s height, as cats are often expert jumpers and adroit problem solvers.
If you don’t have the space to separate your pets during mealtimes, staggering when they eat is a great solution. Feed one pet at a time and watch while they each take their turn eating.
If your cat approaches your dog while they are eating, implement the training technique discussed above. When your pets are done, immediately pick up their bowls and put them in a location where the cat cannot get to them. They should know that they are not permitted to investigate or interact with the dog’s bowl under any circumstances, even if it’s empty.
Make Sure Your Cat Likes Their Food
If your cat has suddenly developed a taste for your dog’s food, it could be because they are no longer interested in their own food. Like us, cats have preferences when it comes to the food they like. They may not like the taste of their own food or have grown bored of it over time.
Consider buying the brand of cat food your cat typically eats in a different flavor or try out different brands of food. Make sure to consult your vet to help you pick out which brand of food is best for your cat if you decide to switch.
You could also try a different type of food. If your cat has been eating kibble, maybe it’s time to try wet food. Consider what they’re eating now to help decide if wet food or dry food is a better option for you.
While it may not seem like a big deal to let your cat have some of your dog’s food, it can lead to problems down the line. Your cat may suffer from nutrient deficiency if they continue to eat the dog’s food. Your dog also may start to display aggressive tendencies in order to protect their food from the cat eating it.
There are ways to ensure that your cat no longer eats the dog’s food. You can train your cat to stay away from the dog’s food by reinforcing the desired behavior with treats that are appropriate for them. You can also separate your cat and dog during mealtimes or stagger when they eat to try to deter your cat from sneaking bites of your dog’s food. Finally, you can experiment with new flavors or brands of cat food so their own food is exciting enough to keep them from snacking on your dog’s food.
If you follow one or more of the steps above, you can be sure that your cat will no longer be tempted into eating dog food and will keep their sights on their own bowl.