Carnivores or omnivores?

A subject that always sparks a good debate :slight_smile: Please let us know what brings you to your conclusion.

Just voted omnivores because although dogs are primarily meat eaters, they also can make use of other food such as grains, vegetables, fruits etc. I don’t agree with it but I understand that some folk who are vegetarian feed their dogs a similar diet. I have to confess that I do get rather confused when it comes to dogs utilising carbohydrates (grains etc) because some say they can’t and some say they can. :-\ Although I am feeding mine raw food at the moment, I am beginning to wonder and am now not sure that the domestic dog needs this kind of high protein diet. I know ‘ancestral’ is the buzz word of the moment as dog food companies are jumping on the band wagon of claiming that their products mimics the food of their predecessor, the wolf but our pet dogs do not live (in the wild) as they did.

I voted omnivores, but would like to qualify that: for my money dogs are omnivores with a strong preference for meat.

I base that on my observations of many dogs, but it also makes evolutionary sense to my mind. Whether we’re talking about wolves or about early dogs scavenging from and sometimes being fed by people, the meat they needed would not always have been readily available, so it would be beneficial to prefer it and eat it immediately when it was, while being willing to eat whatever they could get when it was not, leading to the evolution of an animal that does best on a diet with a high meat content but which is able to digest other foods, and indeed needs a certain amount.

I voted omnivore purely based on observation. My dog will nibble on grass everyday, just a little, like she is getting something from it. It doesn’t make her sick in small quantities. She will pretty much eat anything though including non edible stuff so I might be making a big assumption.

For tea she had two chicken wings and some left over brown rice. Funnily enough she ate the rice first. Probably because she could trough it fast ::slight_smile:

1 Like

My understanding was that dogs have no requirement for carbohydrate, being adapted to be capable of obtaining all the energy they need from meat, but that they are capable of utilising some carbohydrate. In other words, they don’t need any but they are cabable of digesting some…

I’d be interested to learn from David if I have that right.

1 Like

To my mind, dogs are scavengers. I think they can thrive on most diets, although I do believe that meat should always play a major role.


As usual, George, spot on.

Dogs can do fine on a 0% carb diet but they can also do just as well on a diet with moderate or even high carb levels.

The interesting thing with carbs is that dogs are only really good with them when they are cooked and wouldn’t pick up unprocessed grains or raw potatoes ‘in the wild’. This suggests that the dog’s capacity to process carbs has only developed since being domesticated which backs up Dottie’s theory that dogs are, contrary to the current fashion, no longer wolves.

Of course, nothing in dog food is black and white and the counter argument is that wolves would have had access to semi-processed carbs via the stomach contents of their prey which explains why dogs, unchanged from their carnivorous ancestors, can tolerate small amounts.

Since the vote is going all one way so far, I feel the need to play devil’s advocate. Here’s the definition of carnivore from Princeton University:

A carnivore is an organism that derives its energy and nutrient requirements from a diet consisting mainly or exclusively of animal tissue.

Note ‘mainly’. Most dog owners agree that dogs do best on a high meat diet so doesn’t that make them carnivores?

1 Like

Thank you for that explanation David - much appreciated.

George - I too thought that carbohydrates are of no use to the dog but I have also read that there are some nutritional elements in them that they can utilise. I can see why they may be of use in respect of making them feel sated, and in providing fibre. Maybe they are not all bad, although possibly some forms are better than others.

Psychedelic - I agree about the scavenger element of dogs. Having had dogs for many years, I have tried different types of food and tbh, broadly speaking they seem to have done OK on whatever I have chosen. I can only remember two of them that may have had some sort of intolerance/allergy. With my current ones, the middle one doesn’t do well on James Wellbeloved; she can tolerate it but her coat and skin seem to be affected negatively. I recall trying Burns some years ago but after a while they were all scratching. This stopped when I changed food. I have heard other folk complaining of this but of course things may have changed now. The company is certainly a lot bigger and has many more options in terms of products. As reported elsewhere, the biggest problem I have these days is weight control and (interestingly) this may have come about since I became more diet savvy and started to give them better quality, higher protein/fat food. It’s not due to over feeding because I always start at about two thirds of the lower RDA.

In a normal, healthy dog, I think it can be difficult to say for certain it is better on this or that food - it can be subjective. That is why I am not always influenced by individual reviews of a product. At the end of the day, each dog is different. Most will do OK on whatever they are given, as long as it contains a reasonable quantity of good quality meat. However, some dogs are fed on diets that are not mainly meat, particularly kibble which has a high carbohydrate content (in excess of the meat) and seem to live perfectly healthy lives. Some years ago I had a spell of feeding Chappie complete and/or tinned. I didn’t know anything about nutrition then and was too busy working etc to even give it a second thought. I cannot remember the dogs doing badly on it and they all lived to a reasonable age. A couple have died of cancer but they were older dogs anyway. I feel that Princeton University’s definition of a carnivore does not quite match up to my understanding of the essential nature of our domestic dogs.

1 Like

Nature article in Nature 23rd Jan 2013 titled “The Genomic Signature of Dog Domestication Reveals Adaptation to a Starch-rich Diet”. E Axelsson is presumably being referred to.
The article refers to scientific research into the canine genome:
"a variety of genetic changes that may impact brain development and function, they identified changes in three genes that play a key role in starch digestion and absorption. One of these genes, AMY2B, encodes pancreatic amylase, an enzyme that digests starch into glucose in the small intestine. Wolves only have two copies of AMY2B (one on each copy of chromosome 6), while domestic dogs carry 4-30 copies, suggesting that domestication has improved dogs’ ability to digest starch.

Wolves only have two copies of AMY2B (one on each copy of chromosome 6), while domestic dogs carry 4-30 copies, suggesting that domestication has improved dogs’ ability to digest starch. "
To me that means that many if not all dogs can thrive on a diet that includes some starch whereas wolves, and indeed cats cannot. Dogs have been more selectively bred than any other animal and I would suggest that this means some breeds raised in conjuction with humans such as the inuit may have a different dietary tolerance than lapdog breeds fed in the royal courts.

1 Like

Chris I read a similar report, was probably same one lol.
Omnivore vote here.
Dog do voluntary eat fruits and vegies

Seeing as Panda (our rotund dog) has just ate the ham out of my sandwich and left the bread, I have voted carnivore - this has to be the the most scientific test surely?


Hmm, you’ve succeeded in making me cross with myself now, I should have asked you define your terms before replying…



How do we define ‘mainly’. More than 50%? In that case I’m changing my vote, dogs are carnivores…

Or are wolves omnivores, since they choose to eat fruit, esp berries, and insects as well as meat? (carni-insecti-frugivorous, perhaps? No, omnivorous is easier to say.)

Wolves and dogs have meat (mainly), fruit, and insects in common as primary foods. Dogs eat veg and leaves, along with cereals, as primary foods; wolves eat partially digested cereals, veg and leaves in the gut of their prey.

Now I look at it like that, there really isn’t much difference between wolves and dogs…

Whereas cats, for example are true carnivores…

So I’m changing my vote back again, but saying wolves are omnivores too…

I think.


Get off the fence George ;D


My 4y/o rescue lab x beagle bitch MUST be part goat since she eats just about everything food related. We have no problem with the odd peeling dropping on the floor - in fact, we’ve yet to find a food she won’t eat.
She’s also good for cleaning up spills - tea, coffee, milk, squash etc!
My 8y/o choccie lab is a bit more fussy - he doesn’t like carrot peelings, lettuce (who does?) or raw broccolli (although he loves it cooked!)
And we’ve never had a problem.
I suspect the reality is that our dogs are much like us, we all need a well-balanced diet, some meat, some veg.

1 Like

Dogs must be the most variant species on the planet, the research shows wide variation in the genes identified as enabling the processing of starch. Some dogs look very wolf like while other breeds most definitely don’t and have jaw structure that would make tackling meat like a preditor or scavenger difficult. Logic says that if through selective breeding we have produced huge variance on the outside that there is equal difference inside. My current guess is that wolfie breeds from high meat eating/restricted diet human groups such as the husky need a lot of meat whereas Cavaliers and Peke’s kept in high status human groups don’t. As Marie Antoinette said, “Let them eat cake.”!


Oh dearie me, the Little Cav is the picture of health on his 85% meat, ~2% carbohydrate diet…

I can only conclude that I am of a low status human group.


1 Like

Carnivores but over the years they have evolved to live with humans ,so will eat anything now

Cats are obligate carnivores, without meat they will die, dogs are not obligate carnivores, but they do best on a carnivorous diet.

They are able to digest some amount of starch, but due to the absense of salivary amylase all this digestion is done by pancreatic amylase and excess starch can overburden the pancreas leading to pancreatitis, insulin resistance and eventually diabetes.

Their shorter GI tract (though longer than a cat) is best able to digest meat and fat.

they are certainly able to survive on a diet with less meat and more plant material, but they do not thrive on it and since their bodies produce their own carbs by converting protein and fat, they don’t need any in the diet at all.

A typical wolf diet would be about 14% carbs (from fruit and veg rather than grain) and with the genetic changes in dogs they can cope with maybe 20-25% carbs in the diet reasonably well, but not the 50% found in many dog foods.

I see evidence of this freqently with dogs switching to a high meat content food and owners are amazed at the improvement in their condition, even though they already believed they were in a good condition. Provide the right building blocks and the body will generally take care of itself.

the nutrients in foods are generally used for core processes and muscles first and once these have been satisfied any remaining nutrients can be used by the extremities, ie skin, hair and nails, and that is why the improvements are generally so noticeable. Many toxins are often also disposed of through hair shedding so some poorer foods also create additional moulting.

Also interesting is that the main change made for a specific puppy or senior food is to increase the protein content as the adult foods often don’t have enough protein for those life stages, where with a high meat content, high protein food the nutrient levels are already sufficiently high and one food can be suitable from weaning through adult to old age, surely suggesting the more carnivorous diet is better.

So my opinion is that they are Carnivores, but with a limited omnivorous capacity.

Also interesting is that the main change made for a specific puppy or senior food is to increase the protein content as the adult foods often don’t have enough protein for those life stages

I think the canine genome project has clarified the issue, in as much as we now know for sure that in most dogs there have genetic mutations to enable the digestion of carbohydrates (it appears that some, including the Siberian Husky and Dingo do not have the adaptation) It is, it is said that it is down to these changes that dogs have done so well living with and scavenging/sharing our food

It also seems possible, according to those interpreting the canine genome data, that dogs did not actually descend from wolves but that both dogs and modern wolves descended from a common ancestor

Science Daily - January 16, 2014 - Genomes of modern dogs and wolves provide new insights on domestication

Dottie - I was interested in your comments about JWB and Burns, numerous people have said their dogs have done well on them and I should try them. Neither suited mine, JWB gave both my dogs loose stools (a Harrier and a JRTish) and Burns gave the Harrier loose stools and he lost weight even when I almost doubled the volume I was feeding. I have also read of other dogs developing itchiness on JWB