Is a dog a carnivore or omnivore? What do you think?
It’s a debate which has become very muddy over the years, unfortunately in part from corporate-led marketing (aka “science”) with a conflict of interest (or in layman’s terms – driven by profit, not your dog).
In this article we’ll look at some fairly simple and logical facts which tell us what the biological make-up of our dogs really is.
As a fun exercise – write down on a piece of paper (or back of your mind) whether you think a dog is a carnivore or omnivore, and let’s see if you’re right.
Carnivore vs omnivore – what is the real question?
I was prompted to write this article having read a message from a person dictating I had no credibility to review pet foods because I refer to dogs as carnivores (or “essentially carnivorous”).
The person, who happened to be a professional in the veterinary industry, stated with utter certainty that a dog was an omnivore in the same manner a flat-earther would say “The Earth is flat”.
So, are dogs carnivores or omnivores?
There’s some very straightforward reasoning to help you decide for yourself whether your pet dog is an omnivore (like us) or a carnivore (like a cat, fox, or wolf). I’ll add some facts in the FAQ at the end, but will skirt over them where necessary as we go along.
Firstly, and most importantly, “omnivore” and “carnivore” aren’t buckets, more a sliding scale of what our anatomy dictates. If you consider us as omnivores, and cats as obligate carnivores (a cat depends entirely on meat for food, nutrition, and survival), where on the scale would you put a dog?
You see, the question isn’t “is a dog a carnivore or omnivore?”. The real question is “where on the omnivore to carnivore scale is a dog?”
I knocked up an illustration in Paint for us to ponder:
It seems clear to me dogs have more similarities with cats than us humans. You only need to look as far as their teeth and shape of their jaws to understand this. Knowledge of their digestive system and ability to absorb nutrients from meat far more efficiently than those from grains simply solidifies this (see the FAQ section on coefficient of fermentation).
Personally, based on my knowledge and reasoning, I consider a dog fundamentally a carnivore. The term “scavenging carnivore” often used with dogs is apt, and they will scavenge and eat foods which aren’t meat. Some of these foods are even beneficial to their health and well-being (so they’re omnivores, right..?).
But, facts are facts, they’re still much closer to cats on the omnivore to carnivore scale than they are to us humans.
So why is it many people so religiously believe dogs are omnivores rather than carnivores? There are many reasons for this, and sadly the pet food industry, pet food marketing, and “scientific research” (yes, those quotes are using irony) has convinced us something which is very dubious if we take the time to consider it for only 5 seconds. These are the same reasons we feed cats (obligate carnivores) corn and wheat, and pay for it in vet bills and heartbreak later.
Using my knowledge of dogs in comparison to humans, cats, wolves, and goats, this is my representation of where I believe dogs lie on the omnivore to carnivore scale, creatively engineered with Paint, Comic Sans, and Emojis:
Were you thinking the same..?
You may have noted the farmyard photo at the top of the page. If you didn’t, scroll up and take a look before coming back down here. Does it strike you as odd why the dogs are ripping apart that meat instead of eating the grass? Nope, probably not – dogs instinctively eat meat and we know it.
So what do you think? There’s still a fair bit more to this article, but if you’re about to head off for a surf then before you go let us know your thoughts in the comments below – Is a dog a carnivore or an omnivore?
Did you know a major factor in the “is a dog a carnivore or omnivore” debate is Mars, Nestle, and Colgate-Palmolive (yep, chocolate bar and shampoo companies)?
Sit tight, things will get a little bit more controversial from now on…
The influence of pet food marketing on the carnivore vs omnivore debate
Do you have a tin foil hat? Put it on…
It can never be underestimated how much influence pet food manufacturers have on a fundamental question such as whether a dog is a carnivore or omnivore. A dog food can be made from meat (expensive) or grains (very cheap), and the profit margin of the latter is the #1 reason almost every pet food on the market is made mostly from grains. If they’re not from grains they’re made from potatoes, tapioca, peas, or some other non-meat ingredient – anything but meat (read our reviews if you don’t believe me).
Most leading brands of pet foods are made by the same three incredibly powerful conglomerates – Mars, Nestle, and Colgate-Palmolive. Pedigree, Optimum, Royal Canin, Hill’s, Purina, My Dog, and so many others are brand names from these three conglomerates. I can stand in a pet food aisle in the supermarket and name every manufacturer, and it reads like “Mars, Nestle, Mars, Mars, Nestle”, and in your local veterinary practice it would be “Mars, Colgate-Palmolive”.
These conglomerates have created a very well oiled and extremely lucrative marketing machine, and they feed consumers whatever information they desire, for profit, and not necessarily your pet. It is, after all, just business…
If you don’t believe pet food manufacturers feed us whatever spin they want us to believe, then here’s a snippet from Google when you search for “Are dogs a carnivore or omnivore?”:
Even the statement “A Balanced Diet For Dogs Includes Grains” in the above image is dubious marketing.
It’s not just Nestle Purina, it’s Colgate-Palmolive Hill’s, Mars Advance, Optimum, My Dog… they’re all well and truly in the “dog is an omnivore” camp, irrespective of their teeth, digestive system, ancestry, or clear-as-day behavioural traits.
How odd is that?
Well, odd, but perhaps not surprising from companies who sell “corn for cats”.
Not only do these conglomerates have a crazy amount of money to influence us as consumers, they likely own your local veterinary practice too.
It’s also likely your vet studied coursework provided to the university by those conglomerates, and learned in their final year of vet studies that Condition X requires a specific diet of Y, and Scientific Brand Z is formulated for this condition. They were possibly even taught by a lecturer on the payroll of one of those conglomerates.
Conflict of interest?
In the case of Mars, there’s even Mars Pet Care University which vets can study from. Universities need money, right, and pet food manufacturers are ready and willing to offer large sums of money in sponsorship. As I mentioned earlier, it’s just business.
Oh, and if your veterinary practice isn’t owned by a pet food manufacturer, it will probably be owned by a pet food retailer.
An infographic for you to share – how to decide if your dog is a carnivore or omnivore?
Right, I have a favour to ask. Putting together the reviews on this website takes me forever and a day. I rely on you guys as readers to get the word out, either by sharing or verbally telling people. In this instance I made something arty for you to share, use on your website (with a reference), or stick on the wall of your pet shop or veterinary practice.
Here you go, “Is Your Dog a Carnivore or Omnivore – The Definitive Test“
A carnivore vs omnivore FAQ
Obviously the carnivore vs omnivore debate is far from simple, and evidence suggests many non-meat ingredients can be of benefit to a dog (we discuss these in all our reviews), but here’s a few frequently asked questions with a no-nonsense answer:
How are dogs classified biologically?
Dogs are classified as order Carnivora, derived from Latin as carō (meaning “flesh”) and vorāre (meaning “to devour”). Placental mammals belonging to the order Carnivora are defined by their diet primarily of flesh.
What carnivorous characteristics does a dog have?
The dental structure, digest system, and behaviour of a dog are inline with a carnivore. The intestine of a dog is slightly longer than a cat as an obligate carnivore, but with a smaller girth than a cat the volume of the intestine is more similar to a cat than a human. The dental structure of a dog facilitates ripping and chewing of prey, and gnawing of bone.
What omnivorous characteristics does a dog have?
Dogs differ from their wolf ancestors with three genes which facilitate the digestion of non-meat ingredients inclusive of grain and vegetation. As scavengers they are often observed to eat non-meat foodstuffs if their environment offers little in terms of meat or prey.
Can dogs survive without meat?
The answer to this is yes. There are numerous dogs across the world on a vegan diet, and some within that population have lived to a reasonable age. This is possibly due to a diet which correctly caters for all required nutrition otherwise provided by a meat-based diet. It is alleged a Border Collie by the name of Brumble lived to over 25 (or 189 in dog years).
Do dogs have a similar coefficient of fermentation to a cat?
The length of intestines in a dog are generally longer than that of a cat, but as the intestines of a cat have a wider girth it is perceived the volume may be relatively similar. This suggests a dog is closer to it’s domestic carnivore counterpart than that of an omnivore.
Are dogs carnivore or omnivore?
Being of the order Carnivora, dogs are considered primarily flesh-eating placental mammals. They differ from their Timber Wolf ancestors by having three genes which aid digestion of grains and vegetable matter, and due to their ability to scavenge and eat non-meat foodstuffs are often considered omnivore. Their anatomy however is not dissimilar to cats as obligate carnivores, and facultative carnivore is more apt (a carnivore which will also eat non-meat ingredients in addition to animal food).
A final summary
Our reviews have a great deal of emphasis on a cat being an obligate carnivore and a dog being, well, pretty much a carnivore as well. This is in stark contrast to pet food companies who decade after decade pump out brand after brand of grain or potato-based dog and cat foods. Unfortunately the big pet food players also control most of the science around pet nutrition, and they’re very reluctant to release any science which hurts their almighty profit margins.
But if you find yourself wondering if pet food manufacturers and their reams of research are right, then ask yourself this – why do they market their grain or potato-based pet foods as meat, with succulent chicken or lamb in mouth-watering imagery on the front of every bag?
The purpose of the reviews on this website are to offer simple undisputable logical facts and hopefully trigger a thought process.
To end this dog carnivore omnivore rambling, I’d like to say thank you for reading, I hope it’s been an interesting read, and if it has…. please tell others, share the infographic, and read our reviews!
If you’re still confused with whether a dog is an omnivore or carnivore, then perhaps consider them a facultative carnivore – an animal which is essentially a carnivore, with a primary focus on a prey diet, but may also eat non-meat foods. Makes sense, right?
We hope you’ve enjoyed this article. Are dogs carnivores or omnivores?