If you have a dog, you know that there are few things that they like more than pieces of meat, but they also like to steal just about any other kind of food off the table, causing many people to be confused about whether they are a carnivore or an omnivore.
The short answer is that dogs eat like omnivores, but whether they are carnivores is more complicated. Keep reading as we dive deeper into the debate to help you learn more about your pet’s eating habits.
Why Your Dog Might Be an Omnivore
Unlike their grey wolf ancestor, the modern canine will seek out food made from plants to eat, mostly in the form of human food. Scientists believe that dogs first evolved when food waste from human settlements first became available more than 13,000 years ago. Since dogs can digest this food, which is often high in grains, many people believe them to be omnivores.
Amylase is an enzyme that breaks down starch and other foods besides meat. You can find it in human saliva, but you won’t find it in carnivores, like cats or grey wolves.
Why Your Dog Might Be a Carnivore
Although dogs make amylase, they produce it in their stomach instead of their saliva like humans do, which makes it less effective because it takes much longer to come into contact with the food. Some scientists believe that dogs developed the ability to digest grains when interacting with humans, to help them when food was in short supply.
Herbivores have flat teeth, carnivores have sharp teeth, and omnivores have a mix of the two. Dogs have mostly sharp teeth that help them tear through flesh and muscle and crunch bone to get to the marrow inside. They do have a few flat teeth, called molars, but a dog’s jaw cannot move side to side to grind food, so the molars help shear the food instead.
If you watch your dog closely, you will notice a few carnivorous behaviors. For instance, dogs like to go after bone marrow and dig holes to bury their food so they can retrieve it later. They also have powerful noses that help them find and track prey over long distances.
A dog’s metabolism can withstand long periods without eating, which is common for carnivores that struggle to find prey, unlike omnivores that eat several times each day and herbivores that eat constantly.
Is My Dog an Omnivore or a Carnivore?
While much research still needs to be done, many experts consider dogs to be facultative carnivores, which is similar to but still different from obligate carnivores like house cats. While the cats only eat meat, the dog prefers meat but will fall back on other foods if there is none around.
Should I Change My Dog’s Diet?
While lean and even raw meat diets are becoming more popular, many experts agree that a balanced diet containing meat and plant ingredients is best for your pet to help ensure that they get all the required nutrients. Feeding a meat-only diet to a dog can result in a calcium deficiency and other problems. Choose a commercial dog food that lists real meat, like chicken, turkey, lamb, or beef, as the first ingredient.
While many people consider dogs to be omnivores because they seem able to digest plant and animal food, recent research suggests that they might be better classified as enhanced carnivores that developed the ability to digest plant matter over time, likely in response to close habitation with humans. Several traits of canines back up this theory, like their sharp teeth, predatory behavior, and ability to go a long time without eating. However, veterinarians still suggest feeding your pet a balanced diet of meat and plants to ensure that they get the necessary nutrients for optimal health.
Featured Image Credit: Dmytro Zinkevych, Shutterstock