Are Dogs Carnivores?

Perhaps you’ve heard that dogs are carnivores or perhaps that they’re omnivores. Which one is it? Well, it depends.


Dogs require a meat-based diet, so they shouldn’t be exposed to health risks with alternative diets after all, right? It’s true that without proper care and planning, alternative diets can be harmful to your dog. Plant-based diets, for example, can be life threatening to your dog unless they are provided with essential vitamins and nutrients as supplements since these are often lacking on a vegetarian diet.


More importantly, how well can dogs tolerate insect-based diets? Do insects provide the right amount of protein, iron, and nutritional value to keep my dog happy and healthy?

Historical Overview

Man’s best friend has been with us for a long time. Dog domestication may have started as long as 30,000 years ago, which means that they’ve had plenty of time to learn about humans, as well. This includes our dietary habits. Why does it matter? Back in the Late Stone Age, dogs likely dined on whatever scraps of meat we would throw away. In exchange for our generosity, they would help us in tracking and hunting.


What were humans like back in the Late Stone Age? Evidence shows that these hunter-gatherer humans consumed a vegetal diet, and possibly had used flour to develop some sort of unleavened bread as well. Nevertheless, meat was most likely the primary source of nutrients for both humans and dogs.


If this is accurate, then both human and dog diets have evolved over the millennia to tolerate plant-based diets and grain rather than a strictly carnivorous diet. Those pointing to the wolf origins of modern domesticated canines often point this out to support the idea that dogs are natural carnivores. The debate between carnivorous and omnivorous (for dogs) is a matter of debate.


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Omnivores vs Carnivores

Perhaps the most common response to the question “Are dogs carnivores?” is that they’re omnivores just like humans. Plenty of evidence and arguments support this, but many still debate that they are naturally carnivores.


Here are a few points to consider in the debate:

Enzymes

Every creature has evolved to digest food in the most optimal way, and this is most evident in the gastrointestinal system. Plant-based diets include plenty of starch and cellulose, which the body needs to break down with the help of salivary amylase. This enzyme is found in the saliva of herbivores and omnivores and assists the body in breaking down the starches and cellulose.


Cats and dogs do not produce salivary amylase, which is similar to other carnivores. This doesn’t necessarily mean that they can’t eat plant-based food; it just means that they naturally prefer to eat meat-based diets since it’s easier to digest.

Gastrointestinal (GI) Tract Length

Intestines are important for all animals to help break down food and to excrete it as waste. Herbivores and carnivores have significant differences here too. Herbivores need to break down starch and cellulose, as mentioned previously, which can be more taxing than a strictly meat-based diet.


Consequently, herbivores tend to have long and winding gastrointestinal tracts. Humans more closely resemble herbivores, which have GI tracts that are about 10-12x their body length.


Cats and dogs, on the other hand, resemble carnivores with far shorter GI tracts that don’t need to (and have difficulty in doing so) break down plant-based foods. The average length of a dog’s GI tract is 0.6m.

Dentition

Teeth are another way of identifying carnivores from herbivores. Carnivores have evolved to bear sharp incisors and tight interdigitation so that they can penetrate their teeth into flesh and bone, hold it in place securely, and to tear it apart with little mechanical grinding into smaller morsels. 


Conversely, herbivores have evolved to have incisors that are better at mowing blades of grass as well as a flexible tongue that can more easily move fruit, vegetable, and grain towards the flatter molar teeth for mechanical grinding. 


Humans have teeth that more closely resemble herbivores (our incisors aren’t as scary as most other animals, to be fair). Cats and dogs have carnivorous teeth.

So, are Dogs Carnivores or Omnivores?

Much of the evidence regarding their anatomy suggests that dogs are indeed carnivores, but many claim that they’re not obligate carnivores (their protein needs to come from meat) like cats are. Instead, dogs are scavenger carnivores. They would prefer meat scraps discarded by our hunter-gatherer ancestors, but they’ll eat vegetables and grain too if they’re hungry.


The claim that dogs are omnivorous is also strong. Dogs are able to consume meat and plant-based foods, and their ancestors, wolves, are known to also consume grain found within the stomachs of their prey. Technically speaking, this makes them omnivores.


The bottom line is this: dogs prefer meat, but they don’t require a completely meat-based diet in order to survive.

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Vegetarian and Insect Based Diets

Why does the debate over carnivore vs omnivore matter? Well, as with humans, it’s important that dogs are getting a completely nutritious diet at the end of the day.


When people decide to go vegetarian/vegan, they do so for all sorts of reasons. Regardless, their body requires plenty of vitamins and minerals that may be lacking since they are cutting meat out of their diets. Modern-day veganism is possible due to the modern food and supplement industry which provides vegans with plant-based everything, from ‘burgers’ to multivitamins that ensure that they can live a healthy and happy life.


With dogs, it’s fairly similar. You can’t (well, you really shouldn’t) swap your dog’s meat for soybean and expect everything to go well. It probably doesn’t work like that for humans, and it definitely won’t work for dogs. Plenty of planning and preparation are required to introduce your dog to a vegetarian diet.


This means consulting with your veterinarian for dietary options that are nutritional and to your dog’s liking (if he doesn’t like it, he simply won’t eat it). There are some vegetarian diets that are effective due to innovations in the alternative dog food industry which weren’t readily available decades ago, so that’s an option.


The risk with strict plant-based diets, however, is that even with proper planning a lot can go wrong. This is why we advocate for insect-based diets instead. Much of the protein and iron content of meat is readily available in insects, and that’s been known for quite a while now. Insects are a lean and efficient source of micronutrients for dogs, and they’re far more sustainable and eco-friendly than meat from livestock.


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Is an Insect Based Diet Safe for My Dog?

Insect-based dog food is a growing niche in the UK and worldwide (for the time being, not so much in the USA due to FDA regulations). Innovative and eco-friendly dog food from Bug Bakes are part of this growing trend, with cricket and mealworm food and treats that are safe and healthy for your dog.


Much of the research on the health benefits of edible insects indicates that it’s a safe alternative, especially when it comes to crickets and mealworms which have been studied in the past decade.


As a note of caution, long-term historical research trends leave some unknowns such as the presence of potential allergens in novel proteins. This means the feed source and manufacturing processes involved are of utmost importance with any new protein. Nevertheless, insect-based dog food commercially sold in the EU must meet EU regulations pertaining to zootrophic disease transmission.


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Treat Your Dog With Bug Bakes Today

Your dog needs to eat healthily, and meat-based diets can provide him with the nutrients to maintain healthy growth and strong bones. The problem is that meat-based diets are ravaging the environment and they’re incredibly unsustainable.


Swap his meat with an insect-based diet and see the benefits for yourself. Try a free taster bag today to see if he likes it (we’re sure he will).