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.”
  • 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.

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