Are Dogs Carnivores?

This very-excellent question can be answered differently depending on who you ask. When you go to a raw feeder, they will tell you that dogs are carnivores. If you ask your vet expert, they will tell you what vet school taught them, that dogs are omnivores. Different vets will give you other answers depending on the university where they got their animal medicine education.  If you ask a commercial food manufacturer, they will tell you something based on their marketing and company philosophy. The loose answer is that dogs are both carnivores and omnivores.

Let’s talk about dogs and cats side by side. Cats must have meat in their diet and are thus referred to as obligate carnivores. Some of the many nutrients needed by cats should only come from meat.

On the flip side, dogs do not need to have meat, and it is not absolute for them to have it. If you look at the dental and digestive information of dogs, you will be inclined to say that they are carnivores. Their tearing teeth are sharp, they have grinding molars, and their digestive system is significantly short digestive. All those details are associate with carnivorous predators, and they put dogs in the same categories as cats and wolves. However, that is where things change considerably.

The domestication of dogs has been alive for about 10,000 years or so. This association that dogs have with humans puts them in a position where they shared a diet. Before humans even started practicing agriculture, they had been engaging with dogs. The canines were eating food that was left over – grains, meat, and bread. Now, dogs can enjoy omnivorous foods and do not need meat to survive.

Dogs Can Eat Anything

If you left your dog unattended in your kitchen, you wouldn’t be surprised to find them having tasted everything. Dogs will turn bins over because they smell some food there – they live nothing behind, be it minerals, vegetables, or animals.

Studies conducted have it that dogs have evolved and developed a unique ability to break down starch. On the flip side, wolves are still in the same place. This is because of their extended and eternal stay out there in the wild. Starch digestion is actually a genetic thing for dogs – they have ten genes that break down fats and starch. The only thing they don’t have – when compared to humans – is salivary amylase, which is the enzyme that breaks down starch. The enzyme is in their gut.

Looking at the research findings, it is safe to say that your dog should eat a starchy diet. Also, it tells us that the people who say dogs don’t like carbohydrates are mistaken and their thoughts misplaced.

Everything about dogs and starch is believable. When the canines used to work on farms (before they became family companions), they survived on kitchen trimmings and bread. So, your dog is not obligatorily carnivorous. This implies that those commercial food companies that say dogs are wolves and should only eat flesh are lying in a very meaty way.

Now, it is time for you to get details about the dietary needs of a dog. Let’s go!

The Dietary Needs Of Your Dog

Now that you know that a dog is not an obligate carnivore, you must know its dietary needs. As a mammal that is carnivorous and it is omnivorous, its diet is specialized. Any dog owner who needs their canine to thrive must give the required proportions of each nutrient.

Dogs, Allergies, Et cetera

If you are an avid fan of dogs, you know how allergies occur. Your dog’s body will overreact to the protein in their meal – not the entire thing. The protein in the food concerned is what triggers such allergic reactions. For example, the proteins in wheat and corn can cause the histamines in dogs to start reacting. Dog food allergens are (in no particular order): beef, chicken, fish, lamb, corn, soy, wheat, chicken eggs, and dairy products. 

The one thing you may know is that allergens change as time moves. In the 80s, dog owners and vet experts took lamb meat as a novel protein. Owners whose dogs experience multiple allergic reactions were advised to feed their dogs with cooked rice and lamb meat. Now, we have many commercial dog foods that are based on mutton.

At the time, the market did not have any holistic or grain-free dogs. When the manufacturers saw the gap, they started making dog foods that had rice and lamb. Because they were new to the market, the food demand went up. In the last twenty years, the food has become too common such that many dogs are now allergic to mutton. Without a doubt, it is no longer taken as a novel protein – it is as common as dog food which is based on chicken.

It is in the same fashion that grain-free dog foods surfaced on the market. When the niche opened up, companies satiated the demand by making food based on a grain-free recipe. Vets also affected the balance of supply and demand because they recommended that owners get non-grain food.

These manufacturers didn’t think that grain-free dog food would have gotten so many people hooked to it. If you ask dog owners today, they will tell you that grain-free food is healthy for their dogs, even more, nutritious than meat-based food.

You should know that carbohydrates are not are low amounts in grain-free dog foods. However, manufacturers just choose to use different carbs. 

The Dietary Needs Of A Dog

Apart from this read, other sources have excellent reputations in terms of giving dog-related nutrition info. The NRC – National Research Council – usually puts many nutrient profiles out there for both cats and dogs at different life stages. Another reputable source is the AAFCO – the Association of American Feed Control Officials – that also produced cat and dog profiles that capture their nutritional needs in terms of reproduction and adult maintenance.

Whichever way you go about it, dogs will need different nutrients at different stages in life. In terms of calories, dogs will need them depending on their sizes, activeness, age, intactness (spaying/neutering), among other variables.

The vital nutrients that your dog needs are water, minerals, vitamins, carbohydrates, fatty acids, and proteins. Don’t say that dogs need carbs; just keep taking on this read line after line.


You must agree that carbohydrates are the most controversial nutrients among humans, a view that seeps into the healthy lives of our dogs. The energy which your dog uses to play, run, and cuddle comes from fats, proteins, and carbs, which are the main food groups. Energy is vital for dogs and is even needed more by growing puppies. Also, dogs that are either nursing or pregnant require it. Work, guard, and hunting dogs also need the energy to do their work.

Many people have it in mind that the calories in fats give some energy to dogs – and they are true. However, most of it comes from carbs –starches, dietary fibers, and sugars.

When you look at the labels in commercial dog food, you will find carbs in the form of legumes, grain/cereals, and others like veggie matter. Some carbs like fructose and glucose (the absorbable kind) do not need enzymes – they are directly taken into the body.

The digestible kind of carbs can be broken down with ease in the dog’s GI tract by enzymes. The fermentable carbs (some dietary fibers and starches) will pass through the ileum and jejunum to the colon. There, microorganisms help in fermentation to make them shorter-chain fatty acids.

Studies have it that the fibers given by fermentable carbs may boost the dog’s immune system and help in blood glucose regulation to prevent diabetes. Others like cellulose, which is a non-fermentable fiber, do not give energy, but they can help overweight dogs since they are low in calories. They make dogs feel full, meaning that the overweight dogs go slow on their eating.

Fatty Acids And Fats

In your dog’s dieting plan, fats come from the ingredients like canola oil, flaxseed oil, and others from plant seed together with animal fat. Dog owners work their way around avoiding fat in their diets, but they shouldn’t transfer that mentality into their dogs. The good fat sources will contribute positively to the health of your dog.

Those fats provide a reserved energy source that is used by your dog when all the energy from the proteins and carbs is depleted. Actually, they give over twice the energy that carbs and proteins do.

Your dog needs some essential fatty acids but can’t make in its own body, and fats come in to fill that gap. Fatty acids can be equaled to amino acids (building blocks of proteins); they are the parts that make fat blocks (together with glycerol).

Fatty acids usually help in carrying vitamins K, E, D, and A, which are fat-soluble. If you’re asking about the other vitamins, they are water-soluble, and the dog won’t need fatty acids for its absorption. On top of that role, fatty acids help develop the dog’s nerves, muscles, tissues, and cells.

They also help produce hormone-like items – prostaglandins – that help pregnant bitches by regulating labor, reducing inflammation, and regulating blood clots and blood flow. In the world of nutrition and dietetics, fatty acids are described as polyunsaturated fats.

Omega Fatty Acids

You probably know omega-6 and omega-3 as they are the most popular fatty acids. More to that is this: they can be broken down into specific fatty acid types. Look at the following table:

Omega-3 Breaks Down Into:Omega 6 Breaks Down Into:
Alpha-linolenic acidEicosapentaenoic acidDocosahexaenoic acidLinoleic acidGamma-linolenic acidDihomo-gamma-linolenic acidArachidonic acid

For you to say that your dog eats a balanced diet, it needs those essential fatty acids. If you look at many commercial dog foods, you will see that there is more Omega-6 than Omega-3 fatty acids. One time, animal nutrition experts thought that the best Omega-6 to Omega-3 ratio was 15:1. Now, recent studies have the rate between 10:1 and 5:1.

The one ‘child’ fatty acids which are essential for dogs is EPA or Eicosapentaenoic acids. To get EPA, your dog needs Omega-3, which comes from herring and salmon (or fish) oils and flaxseed. The sources of Omega-6 acids are corn or soybean oils, sunflower oil, pork fat, and chicken and other fowl fats.

Omega-9 also exists, but it is less popular as it is not taken as an essential fatty acid. It is found in vegetable oil and animal fat, but that does not matter because the dog’s body can make it.

The fats which commercial dog food manufacturers use are easy for the dog to digest. They also help improve the smell and taste of food, making it delectable for the dogs. Moreover, the fats help keep the dog’s coat and skin healthy, supple, and shiny – all these are important for breeding as they ensure that the offspring has an impressive pedigree. Otherwise, the pups born would have skin issues – from dryness and dullness to itchiness.

As a pet owner planning to feed your dog with good sources, you should know that fats are different and thus unequal. If you’re picking out a bag of dog food based on fat content, you should pick that which has a named fat source, like sunflower oil or chicken fat.

Cholesterol does not go unmentioned when people are talking about fats. Dogs, however, do not have any issues eating food that has high levels of it. But, obesity is an issue of concern among pets. So, if you’re getting dog food and are concerned about the fat content, anything between 10 and 15% is good. A growing pup, a nursing bitch, and an active dog can eat up to 20 percent in fat. Obesity and overweight problems are not even a matter of fat content in food; they come from an imbalance between feeding and exercising.

Minerals And Vitamins

In nutrition, these can be said to be the most delicate of nutrients as they easily get lost when food is cooked in high temps. Because of that, commercial dog food manufacturers add minerals and vitamins. The companies that don’t add those nutrients either cook their foods in low temps or use other measures.

To know if you’re looking at a dog food brand with added minerals and vitamins to its food, you will notice details like amino acid complexes and chelated minerals. These are usually minerals bound to amino acids such that a dog breaks them down quickly as it eats.

Sometimes, these bounded minerals were included in the food that had large grain amounts. This is because grains have phytic acid, which is a component that affects the absorption of essential minerals like calcium, magnesium, and zinc.

Other Nutrients (Ingredients)

Besides the essential nutrients, there are others that manufacturers add to the commercial dog foods you see today. The main reason they get added is to aid in digestion. You can know the ingredients because many have scientific names like Enterococcus faecium or labels like fermentation products.

Probiotics And Enzymes

As a probiotic, Enterococcus faecium is common in many commercial dog foods. When consumed, its place of arrival is the dog’s tract. The organisms in the probiotics grow and assist in the digestion of the dog’s food. Other dog foods add prebiotics and probiotics as enzymes, while others add components that are supposed to give the food prebiotic and probiotic content.

The everyday prebiotic items that are likely to appear in commercial dog foods are beet pulp and chicory, and they appear in complete form.

A good number of foods do not bother adding special enzymes, prebiotics, and probiotics. You are likely to find them in the more expensive foods than in the cheap ones.

The debate among critics and dog lovers is about the effectiveness of those other nutrients, all called additives. For example, probiotics need to get to the dog’s gut in time to deliver the live organisms. But the organism needs to tolerate the high temps of manufacturing, bagging, and getting shipped. Then, they move to distribution centers, where they may stay for a couple of months. The argument is that probiotics may not benefit from the time the foods get to the dogs.

The Claim By Some Companies

Some manufacturers report that they use processing to ensure that the effectiveness problems are avoided. Since the information is still limited, you can’t believe them enough to buy their probiotic or prebiotic products.

The probiotic detail is a crucial one to consider when you come across food that makes that claim. It is better to add your enzymes or probiotics to the dog’s bowl than buy an expensive bag of food that may serve no purpose at all. You can use something like the whole yogurt that has live cultures.


Some commercial dog food manufacturers add taurine for better heart health, and others like chondroitin and glucosamine for joint health. For a long time, taurine has been seen as necessary for cats and dogs because cats have very little power in making it.

In the 1970s, animal nutrition research captured that the cats which did not get the needed taurine levels in their diet develop issues like tooth decay and blindness.

Dogs also experienced taurine deficiency because they depended on rice-lamb diets, vegan and vegetarian diets, low-protein diets, and fiber diets.

Today, many manufacturers add taurine to dog food. It is seen as a good nutrient for excellent heart health since it mitigates any heart infection risks. Some sources even suggest that taurine can take care of health issues like seizures.

Chondroitin And Glucosamine

To include these two ingredients as part of the recipe of a dog’s food is not that straightforward. This is because the FDA is not in the business of regulating the supplements. However, the federal agency will ask questions about a food product that makes wild claims like treating arthritis and such diseases.

Investigators and vets say that if you want to give chondroitin and glucosamine in sufficient doses, you will have to make the dog eat more than it can in one sitting. So, the best thing is to purchase the supplement online or from the nearby drugstore. As you buy, ensure that you pick the products from a reputable company. Do not trust any company quickly, and ensure that you do your research.

Many other additives are present in dog foods, but those are included based on a dog’s size, age, or exceptional circumstances. For example, docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) can be added to puppy food to help brain development.

As you look at the label containing ingredient details, you should try avoiding, if you can, vague or unnamed ingredients, added sweeteners, artificial preservatives, and colors, digests, added sweeteners, and meat by-products.

Final Words

Many owners will be delighted and excited about a food bag that has the label complete and balanced. If they don’t think about the individual ingredients and their contribution to their dogs’ nutrition, they may end up reducing the lifespan of their furry canine friends.

On the flip side, there are serious dog lovers and owners who demand quality food for their dogs. Apart from reading labels and checking ingredients, they also do background checks on companies and compare the percentage values. They do not fall for the complete-and-balance label as they want the best for their canines.

Other owners and enthusiasts who are skeptical about commercial dog food will opt out. Instead, they will go for raw or homemade diets because they can monitor and control all the ingredients that the dog consumes. The other reason is that they don’t like pet foods.

You are free to choose whichever feeding method you want. However, you should first educate yourself and get all the info you can on canine nutrition. You need to understand the specific needs of your dog (because breeds are different).

If you go for dog food recipes to prepare at home, do not forget that the end goal is to provide nutritiously healthful meals. Master the dog’s digestive system and then get along with the feeding business.

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