Real Talk: Are Dogs Carnivores Or Something Else Entirely? | Herepup
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Real Talk: Are Dogs Carnivores Or Something Else Entirely?

For years dog owners, nutritionists, and fanatics have been disagreeing on one very important thing about our beloved pets: What kind of nutrition is best for them. Are dogs obligate carnivores, or should we feed them something else? While some people believe dogs, descendants of wolves, are carnivores, others maintain that they are omnivores. There are even other owners who believe their dogs should eat meat-free diets.

So what is the truth? Unfortunately, there is no simple answer when it comes to these common questions: Do dogs eat meat? Are dogs true carnivores? The hard fact of this truth is that there is not one answer. Let’s take a deeper look at the history of domesticated dogs and what nutrition is most natural for them to eat every day.

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Can Dogs Eat Meat?

Yes, dogs can eat meat. The digestive systems are able to process a number of different animal proteins, including bones, organs, and more. Some dogs may have an allergy to a specific protein source (chicken is most common), but there are many different foods and diet alternatives in a variety of protein sources that dogs can eat.

Can Dogs Eat Vegetables?

Yes, dogs can also eat vegetables. While some vegetables are better for others than dogs, dogs are able to process a number of vegetables to get the nutrients that they need.

Are Dogs Obligate Carnivores?

An obligate carnivore is a “carnivore by necessity.” This means that they have to have meat in order to survive. Cats are obligate carnivores. Dogs are not.

So, Are Dogs Omnivores Or Carnivores? Which Diet Is Better For Them?

Are Dogs Carnivores

This is where the science gets complicated. The only for-sure answer is that dogs are not herbivores!

There are so many mixed messages from scientists, dog trainers, veterinarians, and pet food companies about the answer to this pressing question. Let’s break this down a bit more to understand why some people believe dogs are carnivores.

Why Do Some People Think They Are Carnivores?

There are a number of reasons that people believe dogs are carnivores, but most of those reasons are not completely what they seem.

Ancestry: People say that dogs come from wolves, so they must be carnivores. However, dogs have evolved over thousands of years, so this not necessarily true.

Taxonomy: Dogs are part of the same classification as other carnivores, like cats. However, they also share classification with bears, which are omnivores.

Intestinal Length: Some people point to the fact that dogs’ intestines are shorter than other omnivores to say they are carnivores. However, their intestines are still longer than true carnivores.

Body Type: People point to dogs bodies being built for tracking and attacking prey, but dogs also have flat molars that are made for grinding up plant material in the same way that herbivores and omnivores do.

There are more people that agree that dogs are not straight carnivores and that dogs can benefit from a diet rich in both meats and vegetables. Here’s a little bit more about why dogs are not, despite some people’s beliefs, carnivores: 

Are Dogs Carnivores Or Can Dogs Eat A Mixed Diet Of Meats And Plants?

Yes, they can eat a mixed diet.

Your dog does benefit from meat, but because they are not eating whole prey like their ancestors and have evolved quite a bit, they can actually get more nutrients by eating both meats and plants.

Dogs have the same protein (amylase) in their pancreas that we have in our saliva. This protein allows starch and plant materials to be broken down so that we (and dogs!) can absorb important nutrients that our body needs.

But Dogs Are Descendants Of Wolves, Right? Doesn’t That Mean They Need Meat?

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Dogs’ descendants (not only the wolf) were often carnivores, yes, but that does not mean that modern day, domesticated dogs are carnivores. Wolves even eat berries and other plant matter, so they’re not full carnivores, either. Do dogs eat meat? Yes. Is that the only place they can get essential nutrients? No; absolutely not.

It was proven in a study in 2013 that dogs have genes that show that they have adapted to be able to break down starch and a number of plant materials that wolves and other more carnivorous animals cannot process to obtain nutrients.

Dogs diets have adapted over time through their domestication. While a diet more heavy in proteins and meats may have been more appropriate for their ancestors, the biology of modern day dogs shows that they can process both meat and plant-based food, which is why you will see so many different dog foods on the market.

Yes, dogs benefit from meat, but they also benefit from vegetables and fruits.

So I Can Feed My Dog Carbohydrates?

While your dog can process starch, not every starch is created equally. Some sources of carbohydrates such as corn and soy are difficult for dogs to process because they don’t have enough naturally occurring proteins or enough length to their digestive system. This means they cannot get many nutrients out of the food, so it’s not very good to feed.

Feeding plants and vegetables that have more easily digestible carbohydrates is a better choice.

Can My Dog Be Vegetarian Or Vegan?

Since I’ve shown you that dogs don’t absolutely have to have meat, you might be wondering if your pet can be vegan or vegetarian.

Studies say yes! As long as your pet’s diet is balanced to include protein, vitamins, and nutrients, your pet can thrive. Protein does not have to come from meat! Just as humans can survive on meat-free diets by getting protein from beans, vegetables, and other sources, your dog can, too.

Wrapping This Up: Is A Dog A Carnivore Or Omnivore?

Are dogs carnivores? No, not 100%. Dogs can thrive on a carnivorous diet, but in most cases, they will benefit from a diet that is balanced to ensure they have the necessary proteins, amino acids, nutrients, and vitamins.

The best dog food brands provide a balanced diet for your dog so that they can get the full range of nutrients that they need, regardless of if that food is meant for carnivores or omnivores.

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Dr. Laura Harris is our resident dog health expert. She started to fact-check dog health-related information for HerePup during her internship and contributes since then. Her expertise is in dog nutrition, senior dog care, especially critical care medicine and internal medicine.

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