Dogs; Carnivores or Omnivores?

Classification of the dog carnivore versus omnivore

Your dog is a carnivore, pretty basic right? Or… is your furry companion an omnivore? You look at a dog and may be reminded how dogs are descended from wolves which are scientifically proven and classified as carnivores. Young golden retreiver puppy on a blanket

Yet as we go to the store to buy dog food or research dog food online, we as consumers are starting to see more often that kibble companies are saying dogs are omnivores. This leaves the common consumer to ponder; what is the classification of the dog carnivore versus omnivore?

Unlike humans, dogs don’t produce the enzyme Amylase in their saliva but produce it strictly from the pancreas. This allows them to tolerate some carbohydrates in their diet. The dog body is built to be a carnivore. Downplayed carnivore anatomy of the dog is a key strategy for food companies.Young wolf puppies by their densite.  Instead, up playing that dogs can tolerate carbs just to make cheap dog food packed with carbohydrates while keeping the prices steep to line their pockets. Something doesn’t make sense there, so let's delve into this, shall we?

Anatomy, is it carnivore or omnivore?

Let's start with the canine anatomy and take a look at what makes up the physical characteristics that make it a carnivore. Sounds like a no-brainer doesn’t it? Dogs came from wolves right? This is true, the pet dog regardless of breed shares 99% of it’s DNA from wolves. Wolves actually come in several shapes and sizes just like our companion lap warmer.

Dog teeth Diagram

The skull and mouth

Just like the wolf, our dogs have pointy teeth meant for gripping and puncturing flesh from a prey animal( the canines) and tearing off chunks of meat to consume(Molars, premolars and incisors).Anyone who has owned a puppy and even more so those who raised a puppy that ended up being a mouthy adult, knows how uncomfortable it feels when their furry companion gets rough and nippy. The dog’s mouth structure and even the way the jaw muscles attach from jawbone to the very back of the skull are all anatomical signatures indicating a carnivore. It is pretty hard to ignore the mouth of a dog when we see them on the street or meet our neighbor’s new rescue.

The Gastrointestinal Tract

Drawn image of canine anatomy displaying the short GI tract.Looking internally the digestive system of our beloved pets have short GI(gastrointestinal) tracts in comparison to body length. Herbivores have a system that is about 10 times the length of the body stretched out where the carnivore is much more compact. In relation to this the carnivores stomach acid is highly acidic to quickly break down proteins and fats for the body to use or store where herbivores have long systems to let the vegetation slowly ferment in the gut system before the body can even begin to break it down for use.

Circling back a moment to the fact that dogs produce the enzyme amylase in their pancreas. If dogs are carnivores why would they produce it? For this let's take a look back to wolves since our best friend descended from them and share 99% of the same DNA. Researchers looking at wolf scat(feces) have found that over the summer period wolves consume various vegetation along with a much larger variation in animal species including small prey species.

Carbohydrate toleration

This may point to why carbs may be more tolerated in canine diets in addition to a few mild mutations for domestic dogs allowing the pancreas to produce more amylase than wolves when carbohydrates are present in the digestive system. However, when a wolf pack takes down a large ungulate(hoofed animal) for a feast, researchers have observed the rumen(fermentation portion of the stomach) is left behind with all of it’s contents along with larger bones and hair.

Looking deeper it is found that both wolves and dogs cannot ferment plant matter like herbivores and omnivores. The digestion of plant matter is harsh on the system despite the pancreas’s ability to produce amylase which aids in the digestion of starches. So since the anatomy between the external of the mouth and internal of the GI tract indicates carnivore what else is there to point that dogs need a biologically appropriate diet? So again, what is the classification of the dog, carnivore versus omnivore?

Let's compare…

Ok so there are indicators of carnivore anatomy in canines but lets have a small look at what an omnivore looks like to compare. Two examples would be pigs which are a more social omnivore and bear which are on the more independent end of the spectrum. Both of these animals have sharper teeth at the front and square rounded molars in the back meant for grinding plant material.

Picture of a wild boar skull.

Picture of a grizzly bear skull.

In addition to the skulls having differences in tooth shape and uses taking a look at the back end of the skulls there isn’t much of a spine or ridge down the back or in the pigs case, a total lack of one. This spine which is seen in carnivore skulls allows the strong muscles of the lower jaw to attach farther back letting the animal have a more powerful grip which is needed in the case of hunting. Bears and pigs spend a lot of time foraging roots and plant material leaving less of a need for strong powerful jaws to open wide and clamp down on a running prey animal. And for comparison sake lets have a look at a human skull since humans are also omnivores.

Picture of the mouth portion of the human skull.

Behavior of a carnivore

Physical characteristics of the dog are not the only tell tale signs of them needing a diet more modeled after the one of their wild counterparts. Behavior indicates dogs evolved to be hunters.

Domestic dogs

Image of a chihuahua barking on a gravel road.Everyone has awareness of “that dog” who takes a bone or treat and tries to nose empty air over it. What about that dog which takes it and stashes it away under their bed perhaps even your own sleeping space. The dog who is always digging holes in the backyard putting all of his toys in there. These little ‘quirks’ of our pets are instinctive behavior. Instinctive to cache away meaningful things to the dog for safekeeping and later use. How about that time when your neighbor’s pack of chihuahuas become a chorus of yips, yaps, and yelps? The moment one sounds the bugle of a stranger nearby everyone is singing along. While dogs are a lot more vocal than wolves the behavior for a rally is still the same.

The wild cousins

Wolf carrying the hind limb of a deer.Wolves before a hunt often take part in a group chorus session with lots of romping around and excited energy. This is displayed in our cuddle buddies. Except they aren’t gathering to raid your fridge or attack the canister which holds all your dog food. The social behavior helps connect members together and gets everyone on the same page with the same energy level. Wolves even often hide away portions of meat or a bone to pick at later between hunts. These instinctual behaviors exist for the social group to stay connected and work together to bring down the prey. For wolves it’s an elk or caribou for our family pets it’s the Frisbee or the tug-o-war rope toy.

What about omnivore behavior?

I gave several examples of behaviors that could be taken as carnivore but what about omnivore behavior? For a comparison, let's consider pigs and bears again for a moment. Both of which are true omnivores comparing the behaviors to those I had expressed as carnivore in nature. Both animals are foragers for the most part. Poking around in the dirt for seeds and mushrooms, digging down for roots and hunting around for fruit-bearing plants.

The pig is more social and has herd behavior to keep the group alive and thriving. Swine work together to forage. Raiding nests for eggs, hunting insects, and invertebrates. Pigs have been known to kill and eat the young of other species for a tasty snack. Bear, however, are much more independent only coming together to breed, or a sow raising cubs. Spending a lot of time digging around for plant matter but some subspecies actively hunt down other animals. Most notably the polar bear for seal or the brown bear and grizzly bear for salmon. Even the more timid black bear will take on fawns and moose calves or other small animals as an opportunity arises. This is clearly defined omnivore behavior.

Tamed collared wolf mid-catch of a tossed treat.

Classification of the dog; carnivore versus omnivore and relation to nutrition

From the anatomy and behavior of the canine, we can clearly identify that our companion is, in fact, a carnivore. If anyone feels otherwise please speak up and let’s have a conversation. Following the view that our dog needs meat this should be cause for concern to what we feed the pet. The moment someone decides to own a pet they assumed responsibility for that animal. The canine body is not equipped to live healthily on modern canine diets.

Just how perverted can the dog food world get? Well.. when you have the option to feed your dog feathers such as what a very well known Big Kibble company is offering for sale. Red flags should not only be waving but flying off into space. Taking this into account just what is it that we need to feed dogs? The answer is both simple and complex.A weimaraner eating from a carcass.

What should we feed dogs?

Dogs need meat, this should be the basis of the diet as meat has both protein and fat in it. These alone are enough to give our pets the daily energy amount needed to exist and even thrive. The best part is different meat types have different nutritional values in them. The nutritional needs of the canine body are covered by choosing various animal proteins.

Image of Alex's black labrador Brukor looking happy with a tennis ball balanced on his face as he sits.. - Classification of the dog carnivore verses omnivore


This blog was used with permission from Alex from her own blog The Archaic Diet.