You might think the answer to the question of, “Are dogs carnivores or omnivores?” would be clear. In a nutshell, carnivores eat only meat, while omnivores eat both plants and meat. Herbivores on the other hand, eat only plants.1
It would be natural to assume a dog would be a carnivore, but it’s not that cut-and-dry. Some experts believe dogs are strictly carnivores, while others believe they’re omnivores, since their digestive tract can process plant matter.
So which side is right and why should you care? Here’s a look at the evidence on both sides. If you agree with one side or the other, it might just make you rethink the food you’re giving your dog.
Are Canines Omnivores Or Carnivores? Your Dog’s Teeth Could Provide Clues
There’s a reason why your dog’s teeth are made the way they are. Horses, cows, and other herbivores have wide, flat molars. That helps them grind plant matter so they can properly digest it. Their incisors pick up grass, for example, and their tongue pushes it to the back of their mouth for grinding.2
Carnivore teeth, on the other hand, are made for tearing meat. The chunks then go to the stomach to be digested. Dogs have long, sharp teeth for tearing. They don’t grind the meat. These teeth just break down bites of meat so they can be swallowed. Humans, who are omnivores, have teeth closer to those of herbivores.3
Cats Are True Carnivores. Dogs? Well, It’s Complicated.
So, judging by teeth alone, you’d think dogs are carnivores. But how do you account for the fact that some manufacturers make vegetarian food for dogs? If this animal has to have meat, how could it survive on this type of diet?
With cats, it’s easy. They are known as true carnivores. This means they couldn’t survive on a plant-only diet. Cats have to have certain amino acids, such as taurine, in order to live. Taurine is only found in meat, not plants. However, coyotes and wolves, close relatives to the domesticated dog, get their essential nutrients from plant materials they often consume while foraging.4
As a result, some experts label dogs as “scavenger carnivores” rather than true carnivores. So when it really comes down to it, dogs can thrive on a plant-based diet, however, there are some dogs who may prefer to eat meat.
Digestive Systems And Dog Food: Your Dog’s Diet And Gastrointestinal Tract
Another clue as to whether dogs are carnivores or omnivores lies in the digestive tract. Dogs have a relatively short gastrointestinal (GI) tract, which includes the large intestine and small intestine. This is more characteristic of a carnivore. Humans and herbivores have a longer GI tract. Longer tracts are needed in order to properly digest plant material.5
Cats, who are true carnivores, have a GI tract of between 12 and 15 inches. The average dog’s GI tract is about 24 inches. Humans, on the other hand, have a GI tract of between 20 and 40 feet.
Humans, of course, are typically much larger than cats or dogs, so that has to be taken into account. But even so, size alone doesn’t completely explain why a human’s GI tract is exponentially longer than that of a dog – up to 20 times as long.
Evolution And Adaptation: Essential Nutrients And Nutritional Requirements For Domesticated Dogs
The ingredients in dog food must obviously contain nutrients your dog needs in order to be as healthy as possible. Some of the most important nutrients are proteins, fats, carbohydrates, and fiber. Here’s a look at why they are such critical components to any healthy diet.
- Proteins – Protein is key to building organs, hormones, tissues, and cells. Of course, animal meat is a great source, but vegetables contain protein as well.6,7
- Fats – Fats provide energy for your pet. They also help form cells and produce hormones that make it possible for your dog to absorb vitamins. Fats also help keep a dog’s coat shiny.8
- Carbohydrates – Carbs also provide energy. In addition, they play a role in making sure the digestive system works properly.9
- Fiber – Fiber helps to supply energy to young dogs. It also helps ensure proper intestinal functioning. Grains are high in fiber, as are beets – a common ingredient in dog food.10
Can Your Dog Thrive On A Plant-Based Diet?
Vegetarian diets can provide an ample amount of protein. This is important because protein is key when it comes to supplying the amino acids canines need to metabolize their food properly.11
So can a dog eat a plant-based diet and still be at his or her best? Indeed they can. As long as dogs eat a healthy diet consisting of high-quality, plant-based food, they can live long, active lives.12
What Do You Think?
Dogs may, in fact, be omnivores – after all, they can thrive on a diet made up chiefly of plant-based foods. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean they are herbivores. So when it comes to deciding on whether to feed your dog a meat or a plant-based diet, it really all comes down to your dogs needs and your preferences.13
No matter where you fall in the omnivore/carnivore debate, there’s one thing that’s certain: You and your vet always have the best interests of your dog in mind. Talk to your vet about your dog’s diet. See if your vet recommends you stick with that diet or change it to something else.
Disclosure: The Ultimate Pet Nutrition team creates these articles as a way to provide you with the latest information on health and nutrition. Unfortunately, we cannot make specific product recommendations for our website visitors, such as “Nutra Thrive” or “Canine Boost” Please consult with your healthcare provider to determine the best products for you.