Are Dogs Carnivores? Here's What New Research Says

2. The wolf myth. Wolf researchers have concluded that wolves are clearly carnivorous. The current literature demonstrates that foraging is a tiny percentage of a wolf’s intake, and that wolves tend to leave stomach contents behind after a kill. Furthermore, a literature review in search of the source of the idea that wolves feast on stomach contents came up empty. Dr. Hendriks’ conclusion? It’s a myth. It’s not based on systemic observation.

3. Dogs have adapted well… but that doesn’t make them carnivores. In the fifteen thousand years it’s now believed dogs have lived beside humans, they’ve evolved. So, too, have humans. We’ve shifted from that Paleolithic, hunter-gatherer diet to one that reflects an agrarian condition.

In the case of dogs, we’ve found a few genes that reflect this adaptation. So, too, have we found genes that indicate a neurologic adaptation to cohabitation with humans. But just a few genes’ difference is regarded as an adaptive shift to a condition. These alone can’t possibly alter the entire digestive evolution of a species.

Indeed, dogs still have plenty of traits that are 100 percent carnivorous:

  • Dogs’ teeth are adapted to a carnivorous diet (for tearing muscle and crunching bone to extract marrow).
  • Many of their innate behaviors are carnivorous in nature. Consider digging, for example. Like wolves, dogs dig to hide parts of meals for future ingestion.
  • Dogs, like many large mammalian carnivores, are metabolically able to survive for long periods of time between meals.
  • Dogs have a lot of flexibility in metabolic pathways to help make up for a feast-or-famine lifestyle and a wide range of possible prey.

The result of these findings, argues Dr. Hendriks, is that the dog is undeniably a true carnivore. The dog just happens to have an adaptive metabolism as a result of living with humans for millennia. That’s why the dog is perfectly capable of eating a grain-based diet, as most commercially fed dogs do.

Why It's Important

But the issue is this: Just because dogs are a domesticated species with an adaptive metabolism that allows them to cope with life as an omnivore doesn’t mean they’re not true carnivores.

Accepting “this explanation derived from feeding ecology,” offered Dr. Hendriks in his final statement, “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.”

But that doesn’t necessarily mean we’ll be moving away from a grain-based diet for most dogs anytime soon — in fact, most will probably never experience the potential benefit of what may be a more biologically appropriate diet. There are simply too many issues related to sourcing meat proteins to make that feasible.

Nonetheless, knowing what a dog’s ideal diet looks like is the foundation of any nutrition program. But whether creating a diet based on the ideal is doable or not is another issue altogether.


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