Cats vs. Dogs Food Obsessions Uncovered: New study

When it comes to yummy foods, a new study reports that cats and dogs have very different preferences:  According to research into the dietary habits of America’s two most popular pets, dogs gravitate toward high-fat food, but cats pounce on carbohydrates with even greater enthusiasm.


Dogs prefer to eat fat, and cats surprisingly tend toward carbs


The study sheds new light on optimal nutrition for the animals and refutes a common notion that cats want and need a protein-heavy regimen.  Findings were published this month in the Journal of Experimental Biology.

Study methods overview

The research involved monitoring 17 healthy adult dogs and 27 cats over 28 days and used four types of food that were designed to taste equally good; with flavor out of the equation, the animals could make macronutrient choices based only on what their bodies were telling them they needed…

The animals studied could choose among high-fat, high-carbohydrate, high-protein and balanced foods. Each day, dogs had an hour to eat all they wanted up to a predetermined caloric intake — that is, they could get all the calories they needed for metabolic requirements and to maintain weight, but no more.

The cats in the study were likewise not allowed to overeat, though even if given unlimited access to food that tastes how they like it, cats tend to eat in a weight-maintenance way by adjusting their intake based on the food’s energy density. In the study, cats had 24-hour food access up to the point of hitting their caloric threshold.

Food container placement for both dogs and cats was changed daily to guard against “bowl position bias” affecting the results…

Overview of findings

Results showed the cats on average chose to get 43 percent of their calories from carbs and 30 percent from protein.

Dogs on the other hand went for 41 percent fat and 36 percent carbs.

Not a single dog or cat chose to get the highest percentage of its calories from protein.

Conclusion from study findings

“The numbers were much different than what traditional thinking would have expected. Some experts have thought cats need diets that are 40 or 50 percent protein. Our findings are quite different than the numbers used in marketing and are going to really challenge the pet food industry.”

-Dr. Jean Hall, researcher and professor, Carlson College of Veterinary Medicine at Oregon State University

Disclosure: The Pet Nutrition Center of Hill’s Pet Nutrition, Inc., supported this research


Journal Reference:  Jean A. Hall, Jodi C. Vondran, Melissa A. Vanchina, Dennis E. Jewell. When fed foods with similar palatability, healthy adult dogs and cats choose different macronutrient compositions. The Journal of Experimental Biology, 2018; jeb.173450 DOI: 10.1242/jeb.173450