Are dogs designated as carnivores or omnivores?

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There’s some debate about whether dogs are carnivores or omnivores, so some choose to refer to them as “carnivore/omnivore.”

Others even use the term, “opportunivore” (a word usually associated with “freegans”—people who rummage through dumpsters to look for food, furniture and other items) to describe a dog’s natural desire to eat whatever is available, including plants as well as animals.

So why are dogs designated “carnivore/omnivore” or even “opportunivore?”

First, it’s important to note that every single dog breed evolved from the wolf. They hunted in the forest and got their food from killing and eating other animals. A wolf is undoubtedly a carnivore; however, the wolf receives its primary source of food from other sources, such as lower forms of protein and plants, which is typical of an omnivore.

“Dogs actually have the metabolism, like humans that can adjust to various foods,” says Dr. Joseph Wakslag, DVM, Assistant Professor of Clinical Nutrition at the College of Veterinary Medicine, Cornell University. “Cats, on the other hand, are true carnivores. They cannot adjust their metabolism to a lower protein diet and have a higher protein requirement to maintain health.”

Many pet owners insist that their dog, despite how his metabolism can adjust, is still truly a carnivore, because:

  • Everything about a dog’s anatomy screams “meat-eater.” Their jaw and neck muscles are powerful and their jaws hinge widely, allowing them to gulp large chunks of meat and bone.
  • Their teeth are big and sharp (even puppy teeth are razor sharp) and allow for ripping, shredding and tearing; they have long canines ideal for catching and holding down struggling prey, and premolars and molars that are jagged and sharp and act like scissors. Because of this, dogs can only move their jaw up and down, but they cannot grind food like humans and other omnivore animals.
  • Their specific digestive system. Like all carnivores, dogs have a much higher amount of stomach acid to help counteract the bacteria found in meat. Unlike omnivores, dogs do not have the enzyme amylase, which is used to aid in the digestion of carbohydrates.

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