The question of whether dogs are carnivores, herbivores or omnivores can be relevant when deciding what food to feed a dog.
In this guide, we look at what various sources have to say about the topic.
(NOTE: this is a general information guide only, and is not professional advice, or a substitute for professional advice. A qualified vet or animal expert is the only person qualified to give you expert advice in regards to your pet/s)
Summary – Are Dogs Omnivores, Herbivores Or Carnivores?
Dogs are not herbivores
Many sources indicate that dogs are omnivores
But, several sources also indicate that dogs lean towards a carnivorous bias
Some of this might have to do with that fact that dogs evolved from carnivorous mammals
There’s a range of factors that can be considered in assessing whether a dog is omnivorous, or a carnivore, such as behavior, anatomy, nutritional, physical [and] feeding preferences of dogs, and not just where dogs evolved from
In terms of diet – a qualified vet is the only person to advise on a diet for an individual dog
Some sources say dogs have an adaptive metabolism and are perfectly capable of surviving on a grain based diet, in addition to the idea that there are too many issues related to sourcing meat proteins to make [a meat based diet] feasible (vetstreet.com)
Other sources also say that dogs can easily utilize vitamin A and D from plant sources (vetnutrition.tufts.edu)
Other sources say dogs should be fed a meat based diet in line with their ancestral or natural diet
Dogs As Omnivores (With A Carnivorous Bias)
Dogs are considered to be omnivores with a carnivorous bias
[Some veterinary schools teach that] pigs and dogs — like people — are omnivores
A close look at the anatomy, behavior and feeding preferences of dogs shows that they are actually omnivorous — able to eat and remain healthy with both animal and plant foodstuffs.
Wolf subspecies (including wolves, dogs, dingoes, and coyotes) eat some plant matter, but they have a general preference and are evolutionarily geared towards meat.
The term “opportunivore” may best describe the dog’s natural desire to eat whatever is available — plants as well as animals
[Dogs are evolved from wolves who are clearly carnivores … but have significant omnivorous ability … but have a body that is optimized for eating meat]
Dogs are omnivores, and they have the ability to transform certain amino acids, the building blocks or protein, into others, meaning that dogs can get all the amino acids they need while avoiding meat.
Factors To Consider In Assessing Whether Dogs Are Carnivores Or Omnivores
There’s a range of factors to consider.
Hillspet.com for example points out that you have to look at behavior, anatomy, nutritional, physical [and] feeding preferences of dogs, and not just where dogs evolved from.
Some of the relevant and specific factors might include:
The shape of dogs’ teeth – dogs have both sharp and pointed like carnivores at the front of their mouth (for meat), and flat molars at the back (for bones and plant like material)
Jaw motion – dogs’ jaws move only up and down, and not side to side like a cow for example (dogfoodadvisor.com)
Gastrointestinal tract and intestines – short like carnivores and better suited to meat consumption (wikipedia.org). But other sources indicate ‘Dogs have a small intestine that occupies about 23 percent of the total gastrointestinal volume, which is consistent with other omnivores’ (hillspet.com)
Genes, and ability to digest carbohydrates easily – have 10 genes that are responsible for starch and glucose digestion (wikipedia.org). Studies suggest dogs’ ability to digest carbohydrates easily may be a key difference between dogs and wolves (wikipedia.org)
Enzyme/Amylase production – ability to produce amylase, an enzyme that functions to break down carbohydrates into simple sugars – something that carnivores lack (wikipedia.org). Carnivores do not produce amylase in their salivary glands … Although dogs do produce amylase, the enzyme is added further down the digestive tract… in the pancreas and small intestine (dogfoodadvisor.com).
Vitamin production – Dogs can create vitamin A from betacarotene found in plants (hillspet.com)
Adaptation throughout history – dogs have adapted throughout history to survive on both meat and non meat foods and leftovers fed to them, or left discarded by humans. It wasn’t until the mid 1800’s that foods made specifically for dogs started emerging
Nutritional requirements – Strict or true carnivores, such as cats, have a higher nutritional requirement for taurine, arachidonic acid, and certain vitamins [whilst] Omnivores, such as dogs and people, don’t have higher requirements for taurine and certain vitamins and can create their own arachidonic acid from vegetable oils (hillspet.com)
Protein & amino acid requirements – Compared to animals that are true carnivores, dogs produce more of the enzymes needed for starch digestion, have much lower protein and amino acid requirements, and can easily utilize vitamin A and D from plant sources, just as people do (vetnutrition.tufts.edu)
Coefficient of fermentation – cats are carnivores … and the coefficient of fermentation is similarly low in both dogs and cats (vetstreet.com)
Wolves’ eating behavior – some sources indicate that in the wild, wolves consume the stomach contents of plant eating animals, while other sources say this is a myth
Dogs have many traits that suggest they are carnivorous – such as their teeth, their innate behaviors, they can survive a long time between meals, and flexibility in metabolic pathways (vetstreet.com)
Where Have Dogs Evolved From?
Modern dogs evolved from a line of carnivorous mammals called “canids,” after the characteristic shape of their teeth
… dogs evolved from primarily carnivorous organisms (Carnivora)
Prior to being domesticated, dogs, being canines, fended for themselves and survived on a carnivorous diet
Dogs are classified as members of the family Canidae and the order Carnivora
Guide About Dog Food, & Nutrition For Dogs
1. Strauss, Bob. “40 Million Years of Dog Evolution.” ThoughtCo, Feb. 11, 2020, thoughtco.com/prehistoric-dogs-1093301. Available from https://www.thoughtco.com/prehistoric-dogs-1093301
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