Can Dogs Eat Cat Food?

No, never, not even a bite!

I've been researching and studying canine nutrition for years to ensure my dog has a healthy, long life. I earned my Bachelor's Degree cum laude from the Mississippi University for Women with a major in paralegal studies and a minor in business administration.  I've raised two children who have become upstanding, contributing and successful citizens. Overall, I consider myself a highly intelligent woman.

A woman who made a foolish mistake. A mistake that cost $90.00 and six weeks of agonizing worry. A mistake that could have had long term damage undermining years of healthy food.

                                                                                                        Image: Alex Studio / via Shutterstock

                                                                                                        Image: Alex Studio / via Shutterstock

A Little Background

Six weeks ago Kirby had some blood pulled to test for heartworms.  We live in Mississippi so it's a good idea to do this every few years. We decided to go ahead with a full blood workup since he has had a strange phenomenom the past few years. The skin on his belly and groin area turns almost black for a period of time then back to its normal color. The skin itself remains soft. The black in his coat has faded as he's aged but also darkens for a time.  

The First Round of Blood Work

The test results literally floored me. His heart, kidneys, liver, and pancreas were in optimal health but the readings for Total Protein, Albumin, Phosphorus, Magnesium, Potassium, Cholesterol, and Triglycerides were way too high.  

Here are the results to Kirby’s blood work. There are a lot of abnormalities to the chemistry, but most of that can be contributed to the lipemic blood. The fatty blood caused the cells to hemolyze (break down) more than normal and sitting on the fat for 2 1/2 days was not good for the blood. It is normal for glucose and chloride to decrease in shipment. Those two readings need to be taken immediately. His in house glucose reading was 65. Electrolyte/mineral imbalances can point to metabolic disorders, such as hypo- or hyper-adrenocorticism (Cushions or Addisons). The type and amount of imbalances are not correct for either of these diseases. Increased Mg, K and P can be from the hemolysis of the lipemic blood or over-supplementation. Over-supplementation seems unlikely if you are using a good quality multi- vitamin/mineral made for dogs. His diet could be causing the Mg, K and P increases and his diet is definitely causing his cholesterol and triglyceride increases. The main liver enzyme I look at is ALT and it is normal. AST, ALP, TB and GGTP can signal damage to the liver among other things. Decreased amounts are insignificant. Increased amounts will be attributed to the hemolyzed blood. The only CBC abnormality is increased monocytes. This increase is very common and can be caused by stress during the blood draw. About 1/3 of normal dogs have monocytosis. I suggest we decrease the fat intake in his diet. Less meat, less treats, whatever it takes to get his lipemia under control. Do this and in 6 weeks, we can retest his blood and see if the lipemia and electrolytes are improved. We need to do this blood work one weekday morning, so the blood can go out that morning and be read the next morning. It usually is ok for blood to be 2-3 days old as long as it is spun and separated, but the fat in the blood did not allow the serum and blood to separate as well as it should and led to increased hemolysis.
— Dr. Rita Morris, D.V.M.

Suddenly I was doubting everything I knew. Was all my hard work in vain?  Maybe homemade wasn't as healthy as I thought? Maybe I needed to look further into adding supplements I considered overkill? Most of all I was filled with a gut wrenching fear. Was Kirby ill? Would that sweet boy suffer from some dreaded disease? Would I lose him way too soon?  

A few days later a little bell went off reminding me of the cat food. We have two cats who eat dry commercial cat food which Kirby LOVES. I know it's not good for him so the cats are fed in the washroom. The cats have free access since they can fit through the cathole at the bottom of the door.  I just thought it was so cute how Kirby would think I didn't see him whenever I was doing laundry or the door was open. He would grab a mouthful and then take off running.  I immediately moved the cat bowl up onto an upside down bucket so Kirby couldn't reach it.

The Next Six Weeks

His vet suggested I continue feeding him homemade sticking to low fat. I stopped giving him his daily multi vitamin and Rejeneral since they could be overloading his body.  (I've read reports stating people don't need a daily multi-vitamin which does make me wonder if dogs do). During this time I re-evaluated all of his meals discovering most were low fat. We also cut back on his treats using teeny pieces for his training sessions.

The Second Round of Blood Work

His vet said results can change a little due to stress and not getting to the lab right away so we decided his blood would be drawn on a weekday morning. I dropped him off on a Thursday morning. Handing him to Dr. Rita broke my heart hearing him whimpering all the while not taking his eyes off mine as she turned to carry him down the hallway. I promised I'd be back and quickly left.  They said they let him hang out in a cage near the front so they could talk to him to calm him. I was told they tried to play with him a few times but all he would do was run to the front door and start scratching to be let out.  I resisted the urge to call to check on him but did leave work early to pick him up.  

Friday evening my phone rang as I was driving home. Seeing the vet's number I pulled over terrified to answer, knowing I had to.  They had the test results which it turned out were damn near perfect with the readings falling in the required ranges.  I thanked God that the Kirbster was a healthy boy! 

His glucose was low but she said they knew that can happen during the shipping so they had checked it while he was there with normal results.  The only concern is the high triglycerides. Triglyceride levels normally increase after a dog eats but then return to normal between 3 to 10 hours later. If levels remain high after 12 hours it could mean Hyperlipidemia (excess fat molecules in the blood), Hypothyroidism, Cushing’s Disease, or Pancreatitis. Some dogs may have genetic conditions that predispose them to elevated triglycerides.

His vet said the blood work ruled out all of these so we're maintaining his homemade meals and treats with a bully stick or salmon skin chew thrown in now and then.  He's also back on his daily multi-vitamin. Thankfully, and despite my mistake, Kirby is a healthy dog.

Bottom Line

#1 - Cat Food is very high in fats and protein and when ingested by a dog, particularly in large amounts or on a regular basis, can lead to potentially deadly pancreatitis.  

#2 - I should always practice what I preach.  Those small bites can really add up. I pay attention to his daily caloric intake of food and treats but totally dropped the ball on the "stolen" cat food. Kirby looks and acts like a healthy, energetic dog so in hindsight I'm very relieved this scare happened when it did so I had the opportunity to correct it as opposed to down the road when it could have been too late.

Note: We may never know what is causing the strange phenomenom of his skin and coat darkening.