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Canine Nutrition


Dog food companies would like you to believe dogs, like us, are omnivores but Dr. Hendriks has a different idea. What do you think and why? Your comments welcomed.





compiled by Delilah Penn


Are you curious about whether a dog is carnivorous (meat) or omnivorous (meat/veggies) you will be interested in what I found because my dogs eat EVERYTHING!


Dogs are classified as members of the family Canidae in the order Carnivora, the name leads you to believe they are carnivores, right? The name doesn’t necessarily mean they eat meat. Dogs are mostly considered omnivorous; because they can eat and stay healthy with animal and plant foods (per the internet/dog food companies).



We’re taught cats are carnivores; cows are herbivores; and pigs, dogs and people, are omnivores (meat and veggies).


I found out about a 2013 Nutritional Conference where 300+ researchers and veterinary professionals presented a strong argument that dogs really are carnivores, huh?? Here we go…


If we were to rethink the idea that dogs are not omnivores, listen to Dr. Wouter Hendriks of Utrecht University’s veterinary school in the Netherlands. He laid out a convincing argument in favor of canine carnivorous-ness (meat-eaters) at the Nutritional Sciences Symposium in Portland, OR. He said “dogs still have plenty of traits that are 100% carnivorous.


But how can that be? We’ve been studying the dog’s nutritional needs for a very long time. Here are examples of animals that look and act like carnivores or are “dog-like”. Are they carnivores, omnivores or what?


Wolves. They eat plant-eating animals (herbivores) and the first thing they eat from the downed animal is its stomach contents and viscera {Ref a} (the internal organs in the abdomen, ie; intestines). The stomach contains the vegetation that the herbivore eats. Researchers have also said wolves eat grains too; our dog’s wild ancestors ate plenty of grains including berries. Leaning toward Omnivore?


Dr. Hendriks’ conclusion is that it is a myth that wolves eat stomach contents first. Researchers have concluded that wolves are clearly carnivorous. Current research of wolves demonstrates that foraging is a tiny part of a wolf’s intake and that wolves tend to leave stomach contents behind after a kill. When they searched for the source of “wolves feast on stomach contents”, they come up empty.


Coyotes. Eat a wide variety of foods including small mammals, amphibians, birds, fruits and the feces of herbivores.



Panda Bears. Also in the order Carnivora, consume bamboo leaves. Herbivore…


I agree, the term "opportunivore" describes the dog best or mine at least (is that a real classification?) they will eat whatever they come across, plants, animals, etc…


A true carnivore, like cats, require taurine (an amino acid), arachidonic acid (a fatty acid), and certain vitamins (niacin, pyridoxine, vitamin A), which is abundant in an animal’s proteins and fat, they have to have it to be healthy.


Omnivores don't require high amounts of taurine and other vitamins. Dogs can create their own acids from vegetable oils they eat. Dogs can create vitamin A from beta-carotene found in plants. Dogs can digest almost 100% of any carbohydrates they consume {Ref b}. Dogs have adapted to eating grains and vegetation. It was recently found that dogs are different from their wild cousins in that they have three genes related to starch and glucose digestion.


There are other behaviors and physical aspects that separate omnivores and carnivores.


Conventional thinking: dogs have molars with flat surfaces designed to grind up bones as well as fibrous plant material. Dr. Hendriks states that dogs’ teeth are adapted to a carnivorous diet (teeth for tearing muscle and molars for crunching bone to extract marrow).


Conventional thinking: Go by intestine size. Because meat is easier to digest, the intestinal length of carnivores like cats is shorter, taking up about 15%. Dogs, like other omnivores, fall somewhere about 23% of the total stomach area. {Ref c,d}


A dog’s stomach is only slightly longer than the cat, so it again makes sense that dogs might be classified as omnivorous.  Plant material is more difficult to break down, so herbivores have much longer intestinal tracts. Dr. Hendriks’ rebuttal to this idea is that when you figure in the wider girth of the feline intestine, the total volume of dog and cat's intestines they are quite similar.


He further states that when we compare animals' gastrointestinal systems, maybe we should not compare intestinal size, length, and girth, but look at the “coefficient of fermentation.” Herbivores have a high ability to extract nutrition from plant matter as the result of their ability to ferment it. Herbivores have a high coefficient. Carnivores aren’t equipped to ferment food and have a low coefficient. By the way, it is equally low in both dogs and cats.


He further points out that many of dog’s behaviors are carnivorous in nature. Like digging. Dogs like wolves dig to hide parts of their meal to eat later.


Dogs, like many large mammalian carnivores, were able to survive long periods of time between meals. Today they have adapted metabolically to make up for the feast-or-famine lifestyle because dogs are domesticated. This has allowed them to cope with life as an omnivore. Dogs have adapted well but that doesn’t mean they aren’t carnivores.


It is believed dogs have lived beside humans for fifteen thousand years, they’ve evolved genetically and neurologically but so have we. We’ve changed from a hunter-gatherer diet to one that reflects an agrarian condition.


Dogs just so happened to adapt (results of living with humans) allowing them to eat grain-based dog food as most dogs do. (It doesn’t make it great for them to eat mind you.) Dr. Hendriks offered this in his final statement, “it helps to improve our understanding of the dog’s digestive physiology and metabolism and may contribute to the ongoing optimization of foods for our pet dogs.


This doesn’t mean you will take grain-based diets away from your dogs but knowing what a dog’s ideal diet might look like as a carnivore makes us more aware of what they should be eating.  Click for ii References and Information Re; Are Dogs Carnivores Or Not?


Comments have closed but here are a few selected ones: subscribers told us if they thought their dog has evolved into an omnivore like the dog food companies would have you believe or if the dog still a carnivore as Dr. Hendriks points out?


Charlene Shuping - My Dachshunds will dig their own carrots and parsnips and eat them in the garden. My dogs eat apples but leave the core. Our Danes will eat the tomatoes, peas and green beans right off the plants and all will eat grapes in the vineyard with absolutely no health issues. I use NO pesticides! Bet the grocery store can't say that and we NEVER feed store grapes, ever! I have found bird feathers from the Dachshunds catching a bird and eating the meat. Both breeds love peanut butter sandwiches on whole grain bread and we feed sick dogs rice gruel, pumpkin or squash. We feed raw chicken and some quality kibble. We can't open a tin can or jar of food without a dog waiting to get their share.

     I think we, as humans, try to "decide" what is best when the dogs actually will let us know what is acceptable as food. If left to be wild I believe dogs will eat what is acceptable to them and that may not be what we, as human, would wish to consume. Sometimes we try to out think our animals. We have had Danes live to 12-13 yrs and Dachshunds 14-15 years. Must be doing something right?


Carole - I live on a fifty-acre farm that has wild persimmon trees and blackberry bushes. They can smell the ripe persimmons and beat me to the fruit as well as the berries. When I grew melons, they would go into the garden and smell the melons. They would not touch them unless they were ripe. Now who taught them that? I didn’t. They dine on calf and kid poop. When fed whole prey they eat the stomach and intestines. So I put them in with coyotes as far as food preference.

     I really don’t feel dogs are descended from wolves nor us from apes. We may be from the start of the same gene pool but I think wolves and apes went one way and dogs and us the other way.


Mccumberhaus Kennels - We now have proof that canines accompanied the first migrant humans over the Siberian land mass post-ice age. (10,000 years ago) The logical answer is in the study of our own species (which used to be herbivores) but later developed into carnivores as the effect of higher protein(s) produced a higher functioning brain (and also some believe more aggression as well). The early canines were very similar to the coyote.. The coyote's digestive system seems to be capable of processing every last bit of protein, animal or plant.

     The early canines ate fish, plants, bones, birds, and anything that was available. My dogs eat vegetables as well as protein today, so I have concluded the canine still is an omnivore.


Teri Kahn - Cats are obligate carnivores and dogs are facultative carnivores. This means a cat must have meat to survive and a dog does best on a meat diet but can metabolize some plant materials. An omnivore eats both meat and plants and can survive on either. But, dogs cannot survive on a meatless diet, as demonstrated by the ingredient in commercial canine vegetarian diets: taurine. Taurine is an organic compound, found in meat and fish, that assists in heart function, eye health and promotes a healthy immune system to fight infection and disease. This is why people (vets) who promote veggie diets for dogs always couch their promotion in the phrase "with supplements", which happen to be found only in meat. EST 1998 © Feb. 2021



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