Are Dogs Carnivores — or Omnivores?

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Are dogs carnivores — or omnivores? The Great Debate goes on.
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When it comes to choosing dog food, it’s important to know the answer to that question.

So, if you’ve already been told dogs are indifferent omnivores with no natural preferences…

Or that they’re strict carnivores with an innate aversion to eating fruits and vegetables…

All scientific evidence clearly points to the fact that…

Dogs Have a Natural
and Undeniable Carnivorous Bias

From DNA studies, we know dogs evolved directly from the timber wolf somewhere around 15,000 years ago1.

And, of course, it should come as no surprise. Wolves are clearly carnivores.

So, by their very genetic pedigree, dogs also demonstrate similar and noticeable carnivorous traits. Their teeth, their digestive systems and their behavior clearly confirm this fact.

Yet dogs must also be recognized for their significant omnivorous ability. Their proven ability to digest carbohydrate-based foods has been known for many years.

After all, modern genetic research has proof that ten canine genes play key roles in starch digestion and fat metabolism.2

However, a dog still shows unmistakable evidence that its body is optimized for eating meat.

Dogs Don’t Grind — They Chop

For comparison, think about a typical herbivore — a dairy cow. Picture the way they “chew their cud”.

Cows chew widely from side-to-side. And they have broad, flat back teeth. And flat teeth are ideal for grinding grains and plant material into finer particles.

True omnivores (like humans) share this same combination of boxy back teeth and sideways grinding motion common to herbivores. Think of your own mouth and how you chew.

Dogs, on the other hand, don’t have flat teeth. Like all carnivores, they have narrow pointy back teeth.

Plus dogs can’t chew from side-to-side. Their jaws can only move in an up-and-down, chop-chop motion. It’s the perfect combination for cutting meat into smaller chunks.

No Salivary Amylase

Herbivores and omnivores possess one aid to digestion carnivores typically lack.

Carnivores do not produce amylase in their salivary glands.3

Amylase is a specialized enzyme most herbivores and omnivores produce in their saliva. It helps begin the break down of starchy carbohydrates into simple sugars — before they enter the stomach.

Although dogs do produce amylase, the enzyme is added further down the digestive tract — in the pancreas and small intestine.

Edited4

Digestive Anatomy

Since they consume fewer but larger meals, carnivores have bigger stomachs than their grazing, plant-eating counterparts.

What’s more, meat-eating animals exhibit a higher concentration of stomach acid. This allows faster digestion of animal protein.

And the stronger acid kills the disease-causing bacteria abundant in decaying meat.

What’s more, herbivores have an unusually long gastrointestinal tract — exceeding ten times the animal’s body length. Longer systems like this are needed for consuming a plant-based diet.

Welcome to the Age of Choice

Yet in spite of this natural carnivorous design, dogs have still managed to evolve over thousands of years — even surviving on the meat and non-meat scraps and leftovers of human existence.

So, over time, dogs have proven to be fully capable of thriving on a variety of foods.

Today, the dog food marketplace has become a living, breathing witness to the animal’s adaptive ability — and is abounding with an astonishing array of product designs.

Some favor meat. Some feature vegetables. And others are made almost entirely of cereal grains and beans.

So, how do you choose the right one for your pet?

The Bottom Line

Knowing that dogs are optimized for eating meat can make it easier to recognize better dog foods.

Even though dogs do demonstrate a notable omnivorous capacity, we believe it’s important to give preference to meat-based products. That’s because…

Whether you believe they’re carnivores or omnivores, dog’s possess an undeniable carnivorous bias

Meat-based dog foods are closer to a dog’s natural ancestral diet. They’re more like the real thing.

Footnotes

  1. Lindblad-Toh K, Wade CM, Mikkelsen TS, et al, “Genome sequence, comparative analysis and haplotype structure of the domestic dog”, December 2005, Nature 438 (7069): 803–19
  2. Axelsson E. et al, The genomic signature of dog domestication reveals adaptation to a starch-rich diet, Nature, 2013 Jan 23, doi: 10.1038/nature11837, Science for Life Laboratory, Department of Medical Biochemistry and Microbiology, Uppsala University, 75237 Uppsala, Sweden
  3. Animal Health Diagnostic Center, Cornell University School of Veterinary Medicine
  4. 11/17/2014 Removed: “So, without salivary amylase, a dog’s carbohydrate digestion can be decidedly more difficult.”
  • wolfdogged

    The majority of wolves (and high content wolfdogs) in captivity eat raw meat diets. Very few can stomach kibble, especially the ones laden with carbohybrates, which covers most kibble. Gives them severe diarrhea. Exceptions like Epigen and Orijen are tolerable because of their SIGNIFICANTLY lower carbohydrate content.
    Diet has only a little to do with why wolves live longer in captivity. Btw, feral dogs don’t live long lives either.
    There is a 3rd option, it’s called facultative carnivore.
    I absolutely agree that arguing carnivore vs omnivore is pointless. An example of an omnivore is a bear, which is considered an *omnivorous carnivore* of the taxonomic order Carnivora.

  • wolfdogged

    You’re absolutely correct.
    Here’s an updated list of the TRUE obligate carnivores. Felines (all cats), hyenas, civets, all weasels – includes ferrets, and all pinnipeds – includes seals, walruses, otters, etc.

  • Noelani Bluemist

    Felines are not the only obligate carnivores.. :-D
    I got 30 ferrets that would get very sick if I fed them any plant based food..

  • wolfdogged

    Haha USA Dog Treats
    It really seems that you have no idea at all of what it is you posted means, actually!
    The “generalized” paragraph accompanying each link (says exactly the SAME for all animals on that list) is simply explaining the process by which the saliva is excreted and then to which enzymes are present. That’s where the white and green colored boxes comes into play in the diagram. The green boxes contain the active enzymes for each animal. If you’ll notice the only animal in their list with a green box highlighted for AMY1, to have sufficient salivary amylase, is humans.
    http://www.genome.jp/kegg-bin/show_pathway?org_name=hsa&mapno=04970&mapscale=&show_description=hide

    You may wonder why domestic cud-chewing cattle, pigs, etc (on their list) do not have the green boxes also highlighted to show AMY1 is present. This is because the amount of AMY1 they produce is minimal.

    Among domestic livestock, amylase is most abundant in the saliva of pigs. In contrast, the amount of amylase present in human saliva is about 100X’s that present in pigs.

  • USA Dog Treats
  • Dog_Obsessed

    It takes a fairly large amount of chocolate to kill or seriously sicken a large dog, especially if it is milk chocolate. Pet MD makes a chocolate toxicity calculator: http://www.petmd.com/dog/chocolate-toxicity

  • Dog_Obsessed

    Wait, doesn’t a scavenger eat already dead things?

  • wolfdogged

    ~~So, without salivary amylase, a dog’s carbohydrate digestion can be decidedly more difficult.~~

    Who exactly decided that nonsense? The raw food propaganda artists, obviously! Tsk Tsk for those who swallow that bunk without question.

    True CARNIVORES are all the mammals in the taxonomic order Carnivora. (Yes there are some animals that are also carnivorous outside this order). However, not one single mammal in this order has salivary amylase. Bears also eat plant matter, yet no salivary amylase. Not even bamboo-eating panda’s have salivary amylase.

    Dogs are facultative carnivores. Carnivores with omnivorous potential if circumstances demand. Meaning they primarily require meat protein as their main source of food, but their digestive systems can also handle moderate amounts of fibre and carbohydrates.

    Omnivorous carnivores (omnivore) such as bears are opportunistic, general feeders not specifically adapted to eat and digest either meat or plant material exclusively.

    Felines are the only true obligate carnivores.They cannot digest plant matter.

    Giant Panda Genome: Answers About the Carnivore that Eats Plants
    http://promega.wordpress.com/2010/01/29/giant-panda-genome-answers-about-the-carnivore-that-eats-plants/
    See also: The Panda that eats MEAT! Panda caught on camera eating dead antelope.
    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2079320/Panda-caught-infra-red-camera-tucking-dead-antelope.html

  • Roy McLemore

    First off how did a discussion about dog food turn into a debate about evolution? Now for the fact that you called me stupid because I believe in God, when the fact is (and let’s just stick to facts no assumptions) that Darwin claims that all life came from one simple organism which reproduced and over time became the complex life forms we have today. Oh and by the way Darwin ASSUMED (remember we are sticking with facts not assumptions) that the simple organism came from a lightning bolt that struck a pool of just the right chemicals to form it. Now later in life after much contemplation on the matter Mr Darwin says “that nature does not jump.” Now the FACT is that all the major animal groups suddenly appear in the forms they are today, not slowly and steadily like Mr Darwin predicted, but in evolutionary terms almost instantly so then that means nature not only jumped but made one huge leap. So just that you understand that means he contradicted himself.

  • theBCnut

    Sorry, maybe I’m dense tonight. The article is about dogs. Humans are omnivores. How can an omnivore be more omnivore than the omnivore that it is? I’m lost…or did you mean that we’re more herbivorous than we are led to believe?

  • Amy

    The article points out carnivorous vs. omnivorous characteristics. Considering the very long length of the human’s digestive tract, our PH level and our body’s aversion to an acidic environment, the low acidity and high alkalinity in our saliva, as well as the way we metabolize cholesterol in small amounts.

  • theBCnut

    How do you mean that, since humans are completely omnivorous?

  • Amy

    This research makes me begin to believe that humans are perhaps much more omnivorous than we are led to believe…

  • zardac

    A scientific theory isn’t a guess.
    It’s an explanation supported by evidence, observation, and experimentation.

    It can be overwhelming evidence…but if you’re seeking proof, go to the liquor store.

  • Kevin Weinberg

    LOL. You believe that the reason women feel pain during childbirth is because a talking snake told one to eat an apple.

    And now you’re laughing at evidence-based scientific claims that use the forces of Natural Selection, Mutation, Gene Flow, and Genetic drift to explain the diversity of life?

    All while you ACTUALLY believe, you **ACTUALLY** believe, that a TALKING SNAKE is the reason why it hurts when women have babies?

    Oh, you creationists. All so stupid

  • kfmush

    My dad once had a girlfriend who’s newfoundland (big dog, but she was a runt for her breed) ate more than 20 lbs of chocolate halloween candy, wrappers and all in a single evening and wasn’t phased. Of course this was all Snicker’s and Milky Way and what not – cheap American chocolates with very little cocoa.

  • kfmush

    Sounds a lot like the medical community for humans. Kid acting up? Take it from the doctor with Shire pharmaceutical advertisements all over his office that the kid needs Adderall.

  • summer

    what about lions? maybe I came from a lion. if I came from a monkey why am I so freakin white?

  • summer

    was it a cockroach??

  • summer

    he below is right. I thought I came from a fish??

  • summer

    u fool. if we evolved from monkeys there would be no monkeys.

  • Andrea Bodnar

    Thank You NSXk..etc!
    I feed raw frozen beef, trachia, bone and tripe,l and also chicken or pork shoulder from the supermarket. I also give wild alaskan salmon oil. she is doing great. I’ve been feeding this for 1.5 years now.

  • LabsRawesome

    I agree. I use a kibble with only 17% carbs. There are a few decent ones.

  • disqus_NsXk2VlHov

    To answer your question: Vets get very little education on nutrition. This is similar to your GP, who you certainly wouldnt ask for a specific and detailed dietary plan (for your lifetime). You would ask a nutritionist. When people ask their vet for nutritional advice it is for day in and day out pet feeding which makes it even worse. Secondly, there are a few brands that are closely involved with vet schools and clinics. They provide tokens, posters, sponsorship, educational items etc etc as a means of influencing young vet students. It is not direct, but it is ever-present in most western vet schools. This is a very logical marketing plan because many of these vet students eventually ending up feeding/selling/recommending the product to future clients. Feed prey model and your dog wont have any deficiencies.

    Remember the scientific fact, also stated by the AAFCO: DOGS HAVE 0% REQUIREMENT FOR CARBOHYDRATE. Kibble is 30-70% carbohydrate. High carbohydrate diets are linked to countless diseases in humans. They are simply a CHEAP energy source for pet food.

  • Kenneth Ty Morris

    One cigarette won’t kill you either. Just a thought.

  • Antonio Fisher

    Aimee, again trust me I’ve had my fair share of lectures on this subject and at the end of the day it’s still considered a theory (guess), no conclusion as scientists have agreed there’s no actual proof. Also keep in mind while many will acknowledge the fact we share 99%MtDNA with chimps we share over 90%MtDNA will ALL other mammals including rats (hence the reason most laboratory testing is done on animals like rats/dogs etc) before certain drugs are pushed into the human population. Again interesting opinions on the subject and I still will have to choose to disagree that any of my ancestors evolved from a primitive ape. But if someone feels closely related to apes they are def entitled to their oppinion as well.

  • aimee

    The apes – chimps, gorillas,etc. are not our ancestors. They’re our cousins. We split off (evolved) from a common ancestor. The fossil and genetic evidence indicates that humans and chimps (with whom we share almost 99% of our DNA) shared an ancestor between 5 and 6 million years ago.

    There is no innate ‘urge’ to evolve. Evolution requires a push (natural selection). The selective pressures on the ancient ancestors varied from one population to the next. Thus, one group evolved human characters. Others didn’t. Selective forces are somewhat random. Thus, not everything evolves in the same way.

  • Antonio Fisher

    Jess you make a great point but your last sentence “Since there are still gaps in the evolution theory we will never know what’s true” this is the main reason I don’t fully accept evolution as oppose to species adaption. So the biggest question again would be why aren’t monkeys evolving into people today?

  • jess

    I feel that dogs arent obliagted carnivore so they need the vitamins and minerals found in plant and fruit

  • jess

    Natural selection is completely random. Evolution didnt happen in a linear format it was more like a tree with tons of branches sticking out everywhere. So at the base it would be the common ancestor of both monkeys and humans but then after different species or groups get transfered around the world different needs arises and new adaptation and mutations are being made. Since there are still gaps in the evolution theory we will never know whats true..

  • theBCnut

    The only discourtesy deleted by moderator here is you because you haven’t learned how to use the English language to express yourself, all you’ve got is profanity and snide remarks. Try explaining your views instead of attempting to insult others. BTW, to have a conversation about a topic does not in any way imply that you believe in said topic. You know what they say about assume. My point was that selective breeding is not the same thing as whatever kind of evolution you want to believe or disbelieve in, unless you think selective breeding is the definition of evolution.

  • Antonio Fisher

    The debate over carnivore versus omnivore is pointless as the dog is neither. There should be a 3rd option (scavenger). The dog is 100% scavenger just like the wolf, hyena, pigs, buzzards, coyotes etc. He’s always had the ability to survive on pretty much any diet regardless of quality and ingredients (hence the reason for the short digestive tract). This is the same reason a wild wolf can live twice as long in captivity and transition from his normal diet in the wild to eating a processed kibble (dog food) while in captivity without having to take the millions of years of evolution for his stomach to adjust.

  • Antonio Fisher

    While I don’t agree with the name calling, I do agree w/ your points about somethings. Evolution theory is not as sound as it was thought to be 30 years ago. Reason being you have to ask the question is people came from monkeys why didn’t this occur with all monkeys, were the other monkey’s genetically inferior or mentally slower than the ones that supposedly made the transition. The same question for dogs and wolves, if all dogs came from wolves why didn’t this naturally occure with the entire wolf population and why aren’t these type of changes still occuring today?

  • Ken

    So your dumbass believes in the outdated Gradual Evolution Religion instead of the more modern Punctuated Evolution Religion? LMAO! Never has 1 kind of animal changed into another kind of animal. You can have all the faith you want in your Evolution Religion but that NEVER happens in real life.

  • Ken

    Your great grandmother was a monkey? LOL. Another brainwashed idiot who thinks fish can magically shape shift into non-fish. The Faith Based Evolution Religion is laughable. Personally, I think walnut trees shape shifted into ants and then ants into rabbits and then rabbits into dinosaurs. LMAO!

  • thinker

    Mr./Ms. Ignorant,

    We and the monkeys came from a common ancestor.

  • Pattyvaughn

    The dose for milk chocolate is 1 ounce per pound of body weight, so an 80 lb dog would have to eat 80 oz of milk chocolate to get a fatal dose. The purer the chocolate, the lower the dose, but it is still more chocolate than most dogs are likely to get.
    With grapes, they are not sure what causes the problem and some dogs are much more sensitive than others. A friend of mine had her kids play catch the grape with their dog. They figured she ate around 6 grapes. She is an overweight 50-60 lb dog and she was sick for a week. Other dogs have had much higher doses and shown no effects at all. Either some grapes are not poisonous and some are or it is a substance that is applied to some grapes but not all or some dogs are more susceptible to them than others.

  • Cassb007

    Fascinating comments, thank you. I’ve been told all my life that chocolate has an enzyme that kills dogs. Yet, my ridgeback devoured a chocolate, in our absence, and was perfectly fine. She also ate grapes and raw carrots, by a cider, and again, was fine. I would be never porpisy risk it, but I’ve been told many times about digs eating solid chocolate without affect. So.. Is it a myth? Is it a genetic predisposition? Is it a matter of their current state of health? Is it a difference among breeds, size, age, gender, geography, environment, type of chocolate? I’m so curious!

  • Crazy4cats

    You might have, sweet cheeks, but I didn’t!!!! LMAO

  • LabsRawesome

    LMAO. No, we did not.

  • Bob

    Its hard to believe that we came from monkeys too, but that’s life sweet cheeks.

  • Andrea Bodnar

    Here’s my question: If dogs are carnivores, ( as I assume based on my research) then why do vets always seem to complain that an all diet made up or raw meat, bone, and organs, with occasional fish, eggs and fish oil, may not be nutritionally balanced?
    Also when I go to the vet, what test do I ask for to see if this diet is lacking in any nutrients?

  • Pattyvaughn

    Evolutionist have had to embrace natural selection, because at least it can be proven. Otherwise they have a very pretty theory, but nothing else. And as evolutionists will tell you, evolution takes time, natural selection can happen in an instant.

  • Danny Bowen

    Evolution is a larger theory.. which includes all of the above. genetic mutation is one way to evolve.. the other way can be through “natural selection”.. natural selection can mean, some animal likes you and spreads the seeds.. so you evolve.. or.. you have thicker fur, so you survive.. and others die.. It’s less about genetic mutation, and more about survival of the fittest.

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  • Pattyvaughn

    You just said they are the same and then gave an example of how one involves a mutation and the other involves breeding for specific genes that are already present, proving that they are not the same thing. Evolution involves nonfatal gene mutations. Selective breeding happens in the wild, when an environment and specific circumstances become the selectors for the genes that are already present. A lot of people do not seem to understand the difference, but if the gene already exists for the trait, then it is selective breeding that brings out the trait, not evolution.

  • Matt Davis

    I’ll help clear this issue. Yes selective breeding and evolution are exactly the same. The only difference is that in evolution, the “selector” is the environment. For example, look at the huge muscular cows (blue belgium). One cow at one point had a mutation in a gene that made it VERY muscular. Humans selectively bred that cow so now they all have this mutation. That’s an example of selective breeding with a mutation involved.

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  • DogInaHumanSuit

    Dog’s didn’t evolve ‘directly’ from the timber wolf. Most breeds evolved from the same ancestor as the timber wolf. A small detail, but an important one. Some dog breeds, like most canaan dogs, actually came from a separate species then the grey wolf all together. Newer research is showing that some dog breeds even started evolving along side, not from, the wolf. With so many different breeds, and no documentation of their history, it’s impossible to pin point one specific ancestor to all dog breeds. Also, most ‘ancient’ looking breeds, like spitz, can not be proven to be any older then modernized breeds like lab, and appear to have been derived outside of the wolf range, meaning, they very likely have little, if any, wolf genetics.

    It’s a common and not very important misconception to say dogs evolved from wolves, but it’s an annoying inaccuracy.
    Other then that, this article did make a few good key points.

  • Pattyvaughn

    In selective breeding man can’t breed for a trait that isn’t genetically there already. Selective breeding is also what happens in the wild when the strongest survive, the trait was already there.
    Evolution would be when the wolf and bears common ancestor split off to specialize or when the llama ancestor became a camel.

  • Pattyvaughn

    In selective breeding, the genes for the trait are already there, just not necessarily expressed. In evolution, a mutation changes the genes to something that was never there before. Mutations are usually fatal, which would be one reason why evolution is actually a very slow process.

  • Shawna

    Wow, that’s a good question..
    I think one way they are different would be that in selective breeding they are breeding for a specific trait — flatter face, smaller, longer nose, friendlier disposition or whatever. In natural evolution the healthiest, strongest, fastest etc would survive to breed.

  • D.H.C.

    General curiosity, how would selective breeding and evolution be different?

  • Pattyvaughn

    So in your view are selective breeding and evolution the same thing?

  • B Tog

    The link between wolf and dog is settled, proven science. Evolution can work in both small steps and big steps, depending on what segments of the DNA are affected. In the case of dogs, one alteration from wolves involves Neoteny, aka, juvenilization. Most dogs retain the characteristics of wolf puppies–large eyes, floppy ears, etc.–throughout their life. We brought corn from being a tiny, multi-colored, mealy-tasting starch to an large, uniform, ever-sweet starch in a matter of a few hundred years. Doing the same sort of transformation over 15,000 years? No problem.

  • alphadogfood.com

    All dogs evolved from Timber Wolves? Why not foxes, coyotes or other smaller canines? I just find it hard to believed that a chiwawa comes from a wolf.

  • InkedMarie

    Dogs love pb. Mine do but I stopped, I think of the mess I cleaned up & can’t do it!

  • Frank J. Casella

    Macadamia – that is it, now it comes back to me. Thank you Hound Dog Mom! Whew!! It would’ve probably come to me at 2am … ha!!

  • Frank J. Casella

    Good point. You wonder why they put pb in those treats in the first place??

  • Hound Dog Mom

    Peanuts/peanut butter are safe for dogs – not the healthiest food for them but they love it. I work at a shelter and we give the dogs kongs with peanut butter at night before we close. You’re probably thinking of macadamia nuts – they’re toxic to dogs.