Are Dogs Carnivores — or Omnivores?


Are dogs carnivores — or omnivores? The Great Debate goes on.
question mark
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.


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.


  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.”
  • Mary


  • Emma Bolderson

    Only humans created humans. God plays no part in what we do, nor does he want to.

  • Mary

    God created wild dogs/feral dogs and humans domesticated them and then created many different breeds but again, God created them because if He didn’t want them by mixing breeds and creating new breeds, they still wouldn’t be around. Just like God created all wild life, and human beings as well

  • Emma Bolderson

    God didn’t create them, humans did

  • coolmtnman

    the taurine in grocery store cat food has synthetic taurine added because the taurine is lost in the processing

  • coolmtnman

    plant eating mammals and carnivores evolved together. A true carnivore thins out the weak ,diseased, old and overpopulated. Dogs are not true carnivores and the healthiest dogs I’ve ever seen were fed a good quality plant diet. Cooked food doesn’t need to be chewed.

  • nickrin

    They were fed whatever was left over. The practice of feeding entrails was abandoned because of hydatid disease (Echinococcosis).

  • coolmtnman

    pre dogfood dogs were never fed meat but only bones and entrails

  • coolmtnman

    I’ve seen several well fed vegan dogs and they are healthier than any non-vegan dogs I’ve ever seen

  • coolmtnman

    Pre- dogfood dogs have never been fed meat but mainly the bones and entrails and whatever plant food the owners fed them.

  • Bela Animal Legal Defense

    That cat needs taurine and you are going to harm your cats heart and liver function by doing this as this is an undiputsble fact.

  • Bela Animal Legal Defense

    While it is true about the primary enzymes, the plant protein in vegan dog food is already “broken down” and much more digestible. they do have the ability to absorb plant protein and have amalayse in their pancreas. It’s an interesting discussion bc both sides have very valid points when you get past the insults lol.

  • Johnny M

    How about this review of 4 separate studies of vegetarian diets in dogs that concludes “a significant and growing body of population studies and case reports have indicated that cats and dogs maintained on vegetarian diets may be healthy – including those exercising at the highest levels – and, indeed, may experience a range of health benefits.”

  • Johnny M

    Sorry, what science is inescapable? The science that says “A significant and growing body of population studies and case reports have indicated that cats and dogs maintained on vegetarian diets may be healthy – including those exercising at the highest levels-and, indeed, may experience a range of health benefits.”?

  • Mary

    So because you people might actually believe dogs are omnivores when they are “Not” God created them(and if you are a non-believer, then Mother Nature) as CARNIVORES. Just because the last 80+ years the PFI & allopathic vets have brain washed you into believing dogs can “survive” on GARBAGE dry kibble & most canned foods including plant matter/veggies, or that raw fed dogs (& cats) can eat vegetables and some will “survive” but not most, doesn’t mean you turn a carnivore into a vegan!! That is cruel. And surviving on grains, carbs is all BS from the PFI. Our dogs & cats are getting sicker & sicker at younger ages(over vaccines also account for this along with toxic poisonous HW pills and chemical flea tick & mosquito products) & they are dying younger as well.
    Before the PFI industry became larger in the late 1950’s, even farm dogs who were fed scraps of meats/fats/organ meats mainly liver, lived LONG vital & healthy lives, they weren’t vaccinated either or given these other toxic drugs.
    What people tend to not even realize or know, is that the “normal” life span of dogs & cats BEFORE the PFI became involved being fed complete raw diets, not over vaccinated(shit they were rarely vaccinated at all) and now PFI adding all these veggies into the diet(even some pre-made raws are being made incorrectly with adding veggies to their products when vegetables actually “over work the pancreas to produce more enzymes to break down all the cell walls, carbs etc”
    Small breed dogs & cats normal life span was & still is when fed complete raw diets primarily from herbivore/ungulate animals and not over vaccinated, not fed toxic HW pills, etc:
    mid 20’s! Many have made it to late 20’s. Heck even my own neighbors cat was NEVER vaccinated and fed complete raw diet its whole life and lived to 30yrs old!!!
    Medium to large breeds is actually late teens(some medium breeds have lived to early 20’s) I have friends that have had large breed dogs live until they were 19yrs old totally vital & healthy, never saw a vet, only vaccinated 1x including rabies,(some had their dogs spayed/neutered but allowed the dog to grow to full growth at least 2yrs before spay/neuter) and only time was ever ill was the last week of their lives when they were dying(some allowed the dogs to pass at their home in loving environment)
    X-large breeds is actually early to mid teens. I not only have friends with X-Large breeds, I also know Natural Rearing breeders, and my friends have more friends and know more NRB of these large breeds—they have lost Mastiffs & Great Danes at 15yrs & 14yrs!! and still have several alive and doing unbelievably well at 14yrs & 13yrs—they were weaned onto complete raw diets as puppies and NEVER vaccinated ever. I don’t know about you but I grew up around Great Danes, and although very well loved, nicely taken care of, several actually grew up on Cape Cod with tons of daily exercise on the beach, but were fed garbage dry kibble & canned foods(some were over vaccinated as well) and they never made it beyond 9yrs old(most were only 8yrs)
    So just because a dog can “survive” on grains, carbs, “starches” which many veggies are starch veggies that all turn to sugars, doesn’t mean they live long “vital & healthy” normal life span lives. And yes, I’ve seen some posts below on how the oldest vegan dog lived til 28yrs old. Never says how many times that dog was at the vet because it was “sick” I”ve seen many dogs & cats, even kittens & puppies, that their vegan & vegetarian owners were turning “carnivores” into the same life style they choose to live, and they ended up at deaths door at the ER’s, and although given IV fluids, the vets even didn’t pursue and drugs(thank God!) and fed them complete raw diets and most of them fully recovered because they were not getting the nutrients necessary for their “carnivore” bodies!

  • Mary

    Dogs are NOT omnivores they are carnivores, true carnivores. It is how their bodies are designed. Go and study the anatomy & physiology of canines and felines and then show me where they are omnivores.
    It is a very RARE case that a dog would live that long and I also wonder how many times it was at the vet’s office. I’ve seen “vegetarian/& vegan” fed dogs & cats, end up at the ER because they were so depleted of protein/nutrients they require in their bodies from lean muscle meat/fat/organ meats including liver! and the vets instead of just giving them IV fluids, or even any “drugs” they actually started to feed them raw meat diets, and that was all it took to totally improve their “poor” health from being fed a damn vegan/vegetarian diet.
    Listen I was a vegetarian for many many years because I love all animals so very much, but I did NOT turn my dogs & cats into vegetarians because they are true carnivores(cats are actually obligate carnivores)
    So yes, for people that are doing this to their dogs &/or cats, that is actual animal cruelty and they don’t deserve to have an animal. I wouldn’t bring it to a shelter because they will be fed GARBAGE dry kibble & most canned foods are GARBAGE as well, but I”d find a good rescue or a nice loving family that would feed a species appropriate complete raw food diet

  • Mary

    Exactly. I’m so tired of vegans and vegetarians turning their CARNIVORES into vegans or vegetarians. They will NOT live normal vital & healthy LONG lives. She doesn’t deserve to own a dog or cat when they decide to do this to them. Sure there will be some dogs & cats that will “survive” but they won’t “thrive”

  • SeatanMan

    Deposit the animals at an animal shelter, that are looked after and cared for just because you don’t believe in their diet? Yes, let’s inundate shelters with more animals because you don’t believe in what they’re being fed. The oldest living vegan dog lived to 28 years old, and because dogs are omnivorous, they can thrive on meat-free diets. In fact, some dogs are ALLERGIC to meat and are forced to become vegetarians. It is much better to give a diet consisting of fresh foods, pulses etc, than kibble, which at best may have 5% of poor-quality meat, which has been cooked at temperatures up to 1000 c, taking away any nutritional properties.

  • Silas

    Just a quick note: Both of the responses to this comment seem to think that the comment originator (Madeline Cohn) is herself saying that she is vegan and makes her dog/cat eat the same way. Even if we eschew our reading skills and ignore the rest of the comment (as appears to have been done), surely you realize that there’s no such thing as a dog/cat, right? It’s one or the other, not some monstrous thing that requires a slash. Thus it must be merely an example.

    Communication, people! It’s important.

  • Penny Cleven

    I’m sorry, but this is animal abuse. feeding a cat a vegan diet goes against their biological needs. Your cat may be healthy now and it may take a couple of years for the results of this diet to make themselves known but that day will come. I have one cat that kills and consume mice(she lives indoors) we have an old house so the rodents get in. the other cat doesn’t have much interest in hunting…. they both started on regular kibble as kittens, two years ago we switched to raw and haven’t looked back… diet influences behavior, on kibble my older cat was very grumpy, depressed and 4 pounds overweight…. plant based diets may be fortified with the things a nutrient profile says they need, but form is just as important as quality and plants based foods do not provide readily available nutrients that the body can use… If you want to be a vegan have at it, if you want to share your life with a cat or a dog please understand MEAT must be part of their diet. Otherwise get a rabbit or other herbivore for a pet.