Are Dogs Omnivores?
There is a constant argument that rages on as to whether dogs are actually full carnivores or are they omnivores that can eat meat?
All of a dog’s anatomical attributes lend it to be considered a scavenging carnivore.
However, in general terms, this idea may well be slightly short-sighted as they can also survive quite easily on a plant-based diet if they needed too.
One way we can look at what dogs are supposed to eat is by looking closely at their anatomical and physiological features and also what nature has given them in order to survive to the very best of their abilities.
Dogs come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes and along with specific breeds but generally, the anatomical structure has barely changed over thousands and thousands of years.
The natural and wild survival traits may have lessened somewhat over that time but there are still many attributes that our domestic dogs retain and have in common with their ancient ancestors.
Nature has given our dogs an incredible tool in which 33% of their brain is dedicated to following.
The ability to smell and follow a scent is absolutely vital for a dog to be able to survive if they have to be able to track and kill their own meals or indeed scavenge a kill by another predator.
The ability to recognize a scent is exceptional and with 300 million olfactory receptors compared to our 5 million, they are simply in a different league than most other animals when it comes to scenting ability.
A dog can quickly use their nose to gain a huge amount of information about their environment, what other species of animals have been there and if they are still near.
They also have the ability to run at speed with their nose close to the ground, just a few centimeters, in order to track the scent of their quarry even if that prey has long since passed by.
It’s why the Police and Customs officials the world over use dogs to catch criminals and sniff out drugs, explosives, and bodies on a daily basis. There is simply no other animal that can do it as well whilst working alongside humans in a harmonious way.
I remember once on a TV show where an expert explained a nice way of thinking about how powerful a dogs nose was. He said, if you can smell a bolognese sauce cooking you would instantly recognize it and say “Oh, that’s a pasta sauce” A dog would be able to smell and isolate in their brain every single ingredient inside that sauce perfectly.
They would be able to smell the meat, the seasoning on the meat, the tomatoes, the herbs, the onions, the garlic….everything!
That is pretty impressive, don’t you think?
Our dogs have a pointed dewclaw on each of their front legs on the inside inner aspect.
It only really comes into contact with the ground when they are running fast and this can be a hazard for Greyhound and Whippet owners who know the sound of their dog’s yelping when they tear one!
It is also a stabilizer for faster running dogs so it is useful and also when a dog is eating a raw bone that they need to grip in their paws, the dewclaw acts as a sort of digging thumb to control the item somewhat.
The dewclaws role is vital as it stabilizes the lower leg and in particular, when a dog is cornering at speed (Greyhounds). It also prevents the muscles of the limbs from twisting when it comes into contact with the ground and this can be particularly important when a dog is chasing prey at speed over uneven ground.
Carnivores generally have very big jaws in relation to the size of their heads.
Although they have reduced facial muscles to allow for the opening of their mouths, the primary muscles that operate the jaws are the large, developed temporalis muscle on their heads.
This muscle combined with the powerful neck and shoulder muscles that a dog possesses can overpower and hold their prey, crush bones and have the strength to carry away their quarry to be eaten elsewhere where it may be safer for them to feed.
Dogs’ teeth are probably the biggest clue as to what they are designed to eat.
A bit like a Swiss Army knife, each group of our dog’s teeth have a specific task or role in feeding.
From the capturing, puncturing and devouring the food, the teeth all have their own jobs.
None of the teeth we see in our dogs really have the function of eating or grinding cereals for instance.
Incisors are the small teeth that we see at the front of the mouth and they are used to nibble and strip away sinew and meat from the bone
Canine teeth are also referred to as Fangs or Cuspids and they are the long pointed teeth used for holding and puncturing flesh.
There are two Canine teeth in the upper jaw (maxilla) and two in the lower jaw (mandible).
They are single-rooted teeth and the top canine teeth are generally tend to be longer and more pointed than the lower canine teeth.
Premolars are designed to crush and slice due to their uneven surface and scissor-like actions.
They also have a Carnassial which is a big premolar and this is really a heavy-duty crushing tooth for big bones and meat and you will often see your dog tilt it’s head on one side when it needs to access this part of their mouth to gain plenty of purchase when gnawing on a formidable bone!
The top jaw has two molars on each side and the bottom jaw has three which are used for crushing.
In the early days of hand feeding your dog or a rescue dog in particular, always loosely hold the treat, biscuit or tidbit.
This is because the dog can snatch and accidentally nip your fingers and it can really hurt!
An open hand approach is best and lay the treat on your palm and the dog will easily take it without an issue!
Dogs don’t have any sort of side to side action in their jaws like we do. So unlike us and other herbivores, they can’t grind their food before swallowing it.
They have simple hinge joint jaws and that has a chomping up and down motion which can manipulate their food and this is how they can crush the items easily because of the power they possess in their jaws.
They also do not possess any salivary amylase which is a specialized digestive enzyme that the herbivores and omnivores produce in their mouth which when added to the chewing and grinding action of the molars, it starts to break down starch carbohydrate foods and this enables easier and safer swallowing.
A dog’s esophagus is capable of allowing the passage of quite large chunks of meat, the size of which would easily choke us, straight down and into their stomachs.
Because our dogs don’t have the grinding or saliva tools that we have, they need to be able to break down that food in their stomachs instead.
Stomachs and Digestive Tract
Dogs have a short digestive tract so that they can easily expel waste quickly and this is vitally important if they been eating food that has been covered in bacteria.
Dogs can eat and sometimes do, absolutely anything that can get their paws on.
They can eat some really quite revolting things, things that would make us seriously ill or indeed kill us.
An example would be raw chicken. A dog can easily eat raw chicken and indeed on a raw diet, they enjoy it and it is very good for them.
If we tried it, it would most likely kill us!
Dogs have an incredibly strong stomach acid which has a pH balance of around 1. A human should have a pH balance of around 7.4 so you can see, a dog’s tummy is hugely acidic.
To give you some idea of how strong their stomach acid is, it is comparable to the acid you find in a car battery!
It needs this strong acid to break down bone, proteins and also to protect against the bacteria on a scavenged food that they might eat. The acid will dissolve or kill the bacteria that could make them ill.
The walls of a dog’s stomach are covered in a thick mucosa that keeps all of this nasty acid inside and also to literally stop the stomach dissolving itself!
Dogs produce amylase in their pancreas which is then passed into their bloodstream to also assist in digesting carbohydrates.
Processed dog foods can contain high amounts of carbohydrates in their recipes.
Over the years dogs have developed into being able to eat more carbohydrates and in comparison to their ancestors, the Wolves, they can digest it easier and this can lead to some owners opting for a less meaty and more vegetable-carbohydrate diet.
It is important to remember that we need to be feeding our dogs what is good for them and not what is good for us.
Our diets are different through choice and we must always make good choices for our dog’s health.
If you are ever in doubt about what to feed your dog, then talking to your vet should certainly be your first port of call or take a look at this great article we did on dog food and the kinds and it will give you a better insight to making sure you are doing best by your dog.
Dogs still exhibit some of the behavior traits of their ancient ancestors and certainly, in certain breeds this is particularly noticeable.
Man has taken advantage of these natural behaviors and over the last few hundreds of years been able to benefit from them in roles where the dog is actually working alongside the person.
This can be in jobs like herding sheep, tracking and or bringing down prey and assisting in the recovery of shot down game birds.
Huskies, for example, are perfect long-distance pulling dogs and love the cold. In fact, the colder the better for a Husky!
Many dogs are also keen diggers and will bury food and in particular, bones as if they are storing them for a time when they think food may be scarce.
All of a dog’s senses are heightened, eyesight, hearing and as we have already touched upon, smell.
These heightened senses are so that they can continually analyze their surroundings, who or what is approachable along with sources for food.
The strong prey drive is still very noticeable today in the traits of Terriers and Gun dog breeds like Retrievers, Hounds, and Labradors.
These are dogs that use their enhanced senses to smell, hunt and chase prey instinctively.
If a dog is given free rein to explore an area you would be surprised at how long they take actually investigating the area using their senses in order to gain the information they need.
In some cases, if you ever take your dog to a fenced exercise compound you may well see them opting to trot around the perimeter of the compound firstly, looking, sniffing and working out if there are any exit routes.
This is primal and all part of their fight, flight or freeze mentality and by looking for an exit route and committing it to memory, it’s a way of them knowing they can get away from trouble should trouble to occur.
They will also experiment with other foodstuffs too and this can be concerning when they are likely to come into contact with wild foods like berries, grasses and other kinds of herbs whilst they are foraging around.
On occasion, my dog has had a grumbly tummy making all kinds of noises in the home and the first thing he has done when out for a walk is to chomp on some grass.
This can actually help settle and unsettle tummy and dogs are pretty adept at the whole self-healing thing and have been known to eat certain grasses, berries and nuts to actually neutralize any parasites in their stomachs and the aid the expulsion of the waste as quickly as possible.
Dogs are particularly keen on droppings of confirmed herbivores like sheep, cows, horses, deer, etc so it’s not unusual for them to eat that kind of thing on a woodland walk.
Fermented grass and hay are other things a dog will chomp on and it does actually provide enzymes, fiber, moisture and it can have probiotic qualities that actually help your dog’s gut.
What Are Our Dogs?
You already know so much about your dog and you know the skills they are born with and how they can use them to see further than we do, smell much better than we do and hear so much better than we do too.
They have these natural talents that are quite incredible when you think about it. They can do jobs for us, really help us as humans to live a better and more fulfilling life and also have great senses of play and fun.
It’s important that we reward this by giving our dogs a varied and interesting diet. It’s simply not good enough to give them a couple of bowls of uninteresting dry food every day and think that is OK.
It’s not OK!
How would we fair as humans if every day we were given two or three bowls of Cornflakes or some such cereal and cold water as a diet?
Sure, we would survive but it would be boring and questionable in terms of food content.
Give Your Dog Great Food
- Dry kibble is perfectly fine and cold freshwater is vital. But mix it up a bit….
- Add some fresh meat, chicken and some fish to your dog’s diet too.
- Some steamed vegetables ( broccoli, carrots and green beans are best) added into the kibble make a lovely nutritious addition and dogs love them too.
- Give them good quality treats along the way too. Not too many, but they need variety.
- Large raw neck bones from cows (uncooked) are a brilliant thing for a dog to spend 2 or 3 hours gnawing on and your butcher usually has these and they usually get thrown away so get to know your butcher and ask for some (they are usually free or very cheap)
- Try to make mealtimes more fun for your dog by using a variety if you can and this will enhance your bond with them as well.
Add this kind of good quality fuel to your dog’s diet along with regular quality exercise and you are well on your way to providing a safe and happy environment for your dog to become the dog that you always wanted them to be and for them to physically reach their potential.