Are Dogs Omnivores?

Have you ever stopped to think about what is in that giant sack of dog food you bring home? Many people are cluelessly feeding their dogs whatever it is that comes out of that bag without question. But what are dogs truly meant to eat?

Are dogs omnivores, carnivores or herbivores? Anyone who’s ever dropped a salad green on the floor of their kitchen can be sure most dogs are not herbivores.

To be sure though, we look at what a dog’s diet should ideally look like.

What is an Omnivore?

Before learning if dogs are omnivores, let’s look at exactly what an omnivore is. An omnivore is a creature that can survive by eating both plant and animal matter.

The most common omnivore you probably know is yourself! Most humans survive on an omnivorous diet. Though some humans prefer to be vegan and will not consume animal products. Interestingly, some people have even adopted a carnivore diet and will only eat meat. These different diets are usually a choice made for health or well-being reasons.

Humans, pigs, birds, and even ants live mostly on an omnivore diet. This allows these creatures to eat meat when available but also be adaptable when there are other food sources present.

What is a Carnivore?

The name carnivore comes from the Latin “caro” which means meat or flesh. So a carnivore is a creature that survives mainly on the flesh of another animal. An interesting thing about carnivores is that they have a short digestive tract.

Carnivores are unable to break down plant cellulose. This means their digestive system doesn’t need extra contact time to break it down because they are literally incapable of doing so.

Carnivores you are probably familiar with are simply cats. All forms of cats, including domestic cats, live on a carnivorous diet. Carnivorous plants, like the Venus flytrap, is another creature that lives on mainly flesh.

We know dogs love to eat meat, but they’ll also eat plants. So are dogs omnivores or carnivores?

Are Dogs Omnivores?

Answering what a dog historically would eat is not as easy because there weren’t great records of the first interactions with dogs. But we can look at a dog’s physiology and learn a lot about them.

The first thing to note is that dogs have an intestinal tract that is slightly longer than that of a cat. Because meat is easy to digest, the intestinal length of a cat is short. If a dog’s intestinal tract is just a bit longer, it makes sense to say that they probably survived on meat, but still needed to be able to digest plant material as well.

We also must remember where dogs come from. A dog’s ancestor would be wild wolves. While no one wants to get caught by those sharp teeth, wolves would also eat plant material as well. Berries would be a sweet treat to a hungry wolf, and they would also be known to eat grain that they would find in their prey’s belly.

Dogs also do not produce salivary amylase. This is an enzyme that omnivores and herbivores produce that aids in breaking down starches and sugars before it even hits the stomach. The interesting thing though is that dogs do produce amylase in their small intestine, so they were likely digesting grain as well.

Are Dogs Carnivores?

Dogs do have a few traits that would point to them being purely carnivorous. For one, they have pointed teeth. Most plant eaters have flat teeth that can be used to smash and crush plant material. Feel around your mouth. You’ve got pointed teeth upfront and flat teeth in back. A dog only has pointed teeth to tear flesh and crush bone.

Dog’s behaviors are also carnivorous. Consider a dog’s digging behavior. This is a call back from when a wolf would have to dig and hide part of a meal to save for later.

Dogs can also survive a long time between meals. Most other carnivorous mammals must also survive a long time between meals. A lion might not know the next time they are going to eat!

It seems like a dog can eat either way, but are dogs omnivores or carnivores?

What Should a Dog’s Diet Look Like?

Most scientists agree that dogs look to be adaptive carnivores. What this means is that dogs historically would have been carnivores just like their wolf ancestors. Due to the relationship that grew between dogs and humans, their diet has changed. Dogs are easily able to eat grain and plant material because they have been adapting to it for thousands of years. But is this the best?

Because dogs are not “true carnivores” like the cat, they can eat plant material. But most veterinarians agree that dogs should have a diet that leans mostly toward meat.

A dog’s diet should contain:

  • Carbohydrates
  • Protein
  • Fat
  • Vitamins and minerals
  • Water

Dogs can eat a diet of anywhere from 30-70% carbohydrates. These carbs can come from corn, rice, wheat, barley, oats or even potato. Just remember that dogs have a harder time digesting grains, so try to keep these on the lower side.

Dogs also need protein and fats. Protein should be able 25% of their diet and fats should be about 10-15%. Obviously, if you’re feeding your dog high quality meats, they will be getting both fats and protein. Any good protein can be given to your dog, including fish, chicken, pork, beef, or lamb.

Dogs need minerals just as much as people do as well. Vitamin E and A are essential to maintaining good health. You can use fruits and vegetables to include this important part of their diet. Of course, ask your vet before you introduce new foods into your dog’s diet.

Do I Have to Make My Own Dog Food?

While making food for your dog can be wonderful and healthy, you can get store bought food that is just as good.

Brands like Taste of the Wild and Blue Buffalo have become very popular choices in the last few years. They offer dry foods that are great for your dog. Most brands use interesting sources for protein like bison or venison in their recipe. While possible, it would be difficult or cost prohibitive to try and replicate a similar food for your dog at home. Most brands also offer a grain-free option if you would like to remove simple carbohydrates from your dog’s diet.

Dogs seem to have developed from pure carnivores to adaptive carnivores with the help of man’s intervention. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it is important to keep in mind that we are responsible for making sure our dog gets the best nutrition we can possibly give them.

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