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Are Dogs Omnivores or Carnivores?

From Merriam Webster:
noun | om ni vore | \ʹäm-ni-vȯr\
1 : an animal that eats both plants and other animals

noun | car ni vore | \ʹkär-nə-vȯr\
1 : any of an order (Carnivora) of typically flesh-eating mammals that includes dogs, foxes, bears, raccoons, and cats; broadly : a carnivorous animal

By the strict definitions above, dogs are indeed omnivores, since they have subsisted on eating both meat and vegetation for centuries. But are they truly omnivores by design, or only as a means to survive on the food we have been providing; in other words have dogs merely adapted to eating fruits, grains, and vegetables, or are they a necessary part of your canine friends diet? Let's explore this further.

The Dogs Teeth are for Ripping, Not Chewing

Dog head showing teeth

Just have a look at your dog's teeth, especially the molars! Or you can also look at the picture provided. Notice how even the molars and premolars are shaped, all pointy? Compare that with a true omnivore (you). See how your molars are almost flat in comparison? This becomes important in light of the next item

Now, grind your teeth...notice how your lower jaw goes from side to side, as well as up and down? Well, a dogs jaw is not capable of the side to side motion, only the up and down. If the dog cannot grind its teeth, it is also incapable of grinding vegetation to the consistency needed to readily digest that vegetation, especially given the shape of its molars. Think about this the next time you are eating your salad.

So a dog can rip and tear into the toughest of meats, and chomp any non-weight bearing bone to usable pieces, but she cannot chew if she wanted to! Advantage: Carnivore

A dogs digestion starts in the mouth

All animals produce thousands of enzymes to aid in producing necessary chemical reactions. These chemical reactions can be broken down into two groups, metabolic and digestive. Digestive enzymes are produced primarily in the pancreas. The primary digestive enzymes and their functions are:

  • Protease - breaking down protein
  • Lipase - processing fat
  • Amylase - digesting carbohydrates

While most animals produce Amylase in their saliva, dogs do not! Amylase is indeed produced by the pancreas, but the food a dog eats does not encounter these enzymes until the partially digested food reaches the small intestine. Could it be that nature did not intend the dog’s diet to contain carbs? It certainly appears so! Advantage: Carnivore

The Rest of a Dog's Digestion Story

The entire length of a dog’s digestive tract is approximately 7 times her body length. Compare that to an herbivore, with a digestive tract of 25 times their body length, or even longer! Digestion of vegetation takes a lot of time and more processes to break down the cellulose covering that vegetation has.

Prior to reaching the stomach, most herbivores have chambers containing microbes to break down the plant matter into a more digestible form. The dog does not have these chambers. The stomach of the dog does not do any digestion, it merely introduces a strong hydrochloric acid, which dissolves the food and liquefies it, in preparation for sending to the small intestine as ‘chyme’. Only food that is dissolved can be digested.

The small intestine is where the process of digesting the food really happens. Shortly after entering the small intestine, bile from the liver and gall bladder and enzymes from the pancreas is introduced. The bile serves to emulsify the fat to allow it to be dissolved, and therefore digested. From there, enzymes from the pancreas break down the proteins in the food into amino acids, and the fat is broken down into fatty acids. Both the amino acids and the fatty acids are then absorbed through the intestinal walls into the bloodstream. What is left after the digestive process is passed to the large intestine for dewatering and eventual excretion through the anus.

Notice that we did not discuss what happens to the carbohydrates in our discussion of the small intestine? That is because most of the carbs are passed to the large intestine. While Amylase is indeed produced by the pancreas, there are no enzymes that can break through the cellulose walls of the plant cells, so digestion and conversion of the plant material into proteins cannot occur.

The dog’s digestive tract is extremely efficient for utilizing proteins and fat from meat, but almost powerless when it comes to plant materials, again due to the cellulose walls of the plant cells. Advantage: Carnivore


After looking at the structure of a dog’s teeth, the composition of her saliva, and the workings of her digestive tract, it is easy to conclude that the dog was created to be a carnivore. However, they can, and do process plant material, just not as efficiently. If you are determined to feed plant material to your dog, help her out by weakening the cellulose walls, either by pureeing or by cooking the fruits and vegetables prior to feeding. Note, however, that cooking vegetables and fruit will also remove much of the nutritional value!

Visitor Comments

This is your chance to add your feedback. Do you have other ideas to prove one way or the other that a dog is a carnivore? Do you have any questions on what we covered? Please add your feedback here.

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