Can You Use Dog Products on Cats, and Vice Versa?

April 1, 2015

By Linda Cole

It may not seem like there would be a problem using dog products on cats, or vice versa. If a shampoo or skin medication is safe for dogs, it should be alright to use on cats as well – right? Not always. Some products can be interchangeable, but it depends on the product. It’s important to read labels to make sure it can safely be used on both species.

Flea and Tick Control

If you have both dogs and cats in your home, it’s essential to use only flea control formulated for each species. It might be tempting for people with multiple cats to use a dose of flea control for large dogs and divide it as evenly as possible between their cats. However, that can have life threatening consequences. Never use a flea control made only for dogs on cats. The physiologies of dogs and cats are different, and using flea control made for dogs can be lethal for cats. A feline’s metabolism is more sensitive than a dog’s, and even allowing your cat to have close contact with or groom a dog that has recently been treated with flea control can be harmful for kitties. It’s extremely important to carefully read the label before using. If a flea control is safe for cats, it will say so on the label. If in doubt, don’t use that product on your cat.

There are some flea products that are safe to use on both dogs and cats. Always monitor your pet, especially sick or senior pets, for any adverse reactions after applying flea control. Talk to your vet before using any flea control on pregnant or nursing moms, and young kittens or puppies. Most flea controls made for cats won’t harm dogs, but the cat product has a different growth inhibitor for fleas and most likely won’t be effective on canines.


There is a difference between shampoos made for dogs and those formulated for cats. Some dog shampoos have ingredients in them that are safe for use on dogs, but could be toxic when used on felines. Flea shampoo made for dogs should never be used on kitties because insecticide used in dog shampoo to kill fleas can have life-threatening consequences for cats. Some shampoos can be used on both dogs and cats, but it’s important to read labels before buying a product to make sure it is safe to use on cats.

Pet Food

Cats are obligate carnivores, which means their main food source needs to be meat. Their teeth do not have a grinding surface to crunch up large pieces of CANIDAE dog kibble and could cause a choking hazard. The nutritional needs of dogs and cats are also different. Pet food is formulated to meet the specific balance of essential amino acids, protein, taurine, fatty acids, vitamins and minerals for dogs and cats. Feeding a cat a regular diet of dog food can cause her to become malnourished and create other health concerns because she isn’t getting the balanced nutrition she needs to stay healthy.

A dog that eats cat food on a regular basis is getting too much protein. This can affect his health and cause medical issues like pancreatitis, which can be painful and life threatening. Canines that eat cat food (both canned food and kibble) are also at risk of developing gastrointestinal issues, tend to be heavier, and can have bouts of diarrhea or vomiting. If a dog or cats eats a small amount of each other’s food, it likely won’t cause a problem.

Heartworm Prevention Medication

Heartworm disease is a potentially life threatening condition that can be prevented. An infected dog can have long-lasting damage to their lungs, arteries and heart, even after receiving treatment to get rid of the parasites. The disease is more subtle in cats and harder to diagnose, and there is currently no FDA approved drugs for treating heartworm in cats. How the disease affects dogs is very different in how it affects cats, and medication to prevent heartworm in dogs should not be given to cats, or vice versa.

Read the Label

Some products formulated for use on dogs may be harmful on cats, and some products made for cats may be not as effective on dogs. If a product is safe to use on both, it will say so on the label. Read before buying, and if you aren’t sure a particular product is safe to use on a dog or cat, check with your vet before using it.

Top photo by Jinterwas/Flickr
Bottom photo by Ali Leila/Flickr

Read more articles by Linda Cole

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