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Are Dogs Considered Carnivores?

↯ Key takeaway points

  • Dogs belong to the Order Carnivora and are classified as carnivores in taxonomy.
  • There are debates among veterinarians on whether dogs are obligate carnivores or if they can get nutritional effects from grains.
  • Dogs have carnivorous traits such as teeth designed for tearing meat and a natural behavior of hiding food, suggesting they are carnivores.
  • Dogs have characteristics that suggest they can consume non-meat products, such as the ability to digest carbohydrates and process nutrients from plants.
  • Dogs' diet has evolved from being strictly meat eaters to opportunistic carnivores that eat what is offered.
A pet lover passionate about educating readers about animal health and care. Love reading studies and recent research.
Zoo and wildlife doctor in veterinary medicine passionate about animal welfare and preventive medicine.
Published on
Thursday 25 August 2022
Last updated on
Monday 31 July 2023
Are Dogs Considered Carnivores
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In taxonomy, dogs belong to the Order Carnivora. They are one of the 200-plus species of carnivores in the animal kingdom. So, it’s easy to assume they are meat-eaters. But, most dogs love fruit treats like frozen watermelon. Others go frenzy over some cheese bites or peanut butter.

Their reaction toward these non-meat treats may get us confused over their diet. So, are dogs carnivores

Are Dogs Considered Carnivores? 

Well, before deciding on whether dogs are carnivores or omnivores, let’s backtrack a bit to basics. What are carnivores? Carnivores are organisms that eat the flesh of animals. They are mammals that are considered predators because they prey on other animals. Yet, this meat-eating capability is not the main reason that they are classified as such. It is because of their specialized set of teeth. So, not all are exclusively eating meat. Some carnivores eat vegetables, too, like bears. 

In fact, carnivores are further categorized into hypercarnivores, mesocarnivores, and hypocarnivores. Hypercarnivores need more than 70% meat in their diet. They are also called obligate carnivores, and a common example is cats. Mesocarnivores, like coyotes, eat 50-70% meat. Hypocarnivores, like bears, need only 30% of meat in their diet. So, they eat mostly vegetables. 

In this context, there is no doubt that dogs are carnivores. But which of the three types of carnivores do dogs belong to? I guess the clearer question is: are dogs obligate carnivores? Do they need to exclusively eat meat for optimal health?  

This is why there are debates between veterinarians on this topic. Some say, unlike cats, dogs don’t need as much taurine from meat. So, they are not obligate carnivores because they can get nutritional effects from grains. But, some argue that feeding dogs food low in taurine can cause heart ailments in dogs. So they must be fed with meat. 

So what is the evidence for these points? Let’s dig further. 

Evidence That Dogs Are Carnivores

Most raw meat feeders will agree that dogs are carnivores. They believe that this is the natural diet of dogs. Not only that, they have certain characteristics that suggest dogs are carnivorous. Let’s examine these traits below: 

  • Dogs’ teeth are carnivorous in nature. They have strong jaw muscles that can tear meat. They also have sharp teeth that can break bones to extract the marrow. 
  • Digging is a natural behavior of dogs. This action suggests they hide food for future ingestion. This is an instinct of most carnivores
  • Dogs can live without food for a long period. 
  • Dogs have flexible metabolism that can adjust depending on the availability of the food. This relates to the predator lifestyle. So, if there is prey, they can feast. But, they can also survive famine. 

According to Dr. Wouter Hendriks, these natural characteristics of dogs are proof they are carnivores. They share these traits with other carnivores like wolves. Dr. Hendriks also added that dogs and cats have a low coefficient of fermentation. He says it’s not about comparing the length or volume of the intestines. It is about the ability of the stomach to ferment plants to extract nutrients. 

Are Dogs Omnivores?

Despite the validity of these points, the fact remains that most dogs nowadays don’t only eat meat. They also consume grains and other non-meat treats. This raises the question: are dogs omnivores?

Omnivores are creatures that consume both plants and animals. Humans are considered omnivores, and due to our close relationship with dogs, we have shared our diet with them. Dogs began scavenging food from early human settlements and, over thousands of years, they have adapted to the food we prefer. Not only that, but their physiology has also evolved and adjusted to the available food sources.

While dogs do exhibit carnivorous traits, they also possess characteristics that suggest they can consume non-meat products. Let’s explore some of these traits:

  • Dogs are able to digest carbohydrates. Enzymes help digest the food that we eat. Amylase, for example, is a type of enzyme found in human saliva. This helps soften the food so it becomes easier to digest in the stomach. Now dogs have this enzyme in their stomach. This means they are able to digest carbohydrates as we do. 
  • Dogs’ intestines have changed. Their intestines are slightly longer than wolves. Compared to cats who are obligate carnivores, dogs’ intestines occupy 8% more volume. This difference allows dogs to digest plants more than other carnivores.
  • Dogs’ bodies can process nutrients from plants. Dogs can extract beta-carotene from the plants they eat. They are also able to process fatty acids and convert them to nutrients for their bodies. 
  • Dogs’ teeth are designed for both meat and plants. Dogs have sharp canines to rip meat apart. But, they also have flat molars to chew plants. This ability is essential before digestion for optimum nutrients. 

Dogs’ diet has changed along with their evolution from wild wolves to becoming family members in our homes. From being meat eaters, they have adapted and become opportunist carnivores, eating what is offered. Whether this diet is optimal for their health is still up to more studies and debate.  

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