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Are Dogs Omnivores?
Dogs can be considered “opportunivores”
When we think of dog food, usually we’ll think of the kibble that we put out for our furry friends. Maybe an image of a dog chomping down on a piece of steak or a chicken breast pops into mind.
Rarely, however, will we think of foods like veggies or fruit and associate them with dog food. Yet contrary to popular opinion, dogs have been known to show a preference towards certain fruit like watermelons or bananas!
This leads us to the burning question on everyone’s mind—are dogs omnivores or carnivores? Well, let’s find out!
Table of Contents
How do dogs differ from wolves?
Sometime around 15,000 years ago a few grey wolves decided to diverge from the general evolutionary path wolves usually take. These few grey wolves came to be known as their own species. They went on to become some of the first domesticated dogs in the world. Canis familiaris or modern dogs are one of the most successful examples of the domestication process. In the wild, grey wolves or Canis lupus are generally carnivores. Their diet consists of large mammals such as deer or elk. They’ve even been known to nab bigger mammals like bison or moose!
Technically, dogs should be carnivores. First of all, they do belong to the order Carnivora, and secondly, they’re descended from wolves. So, why should they be any different?
Read more: How did wolves become dogs?
However, that first line of thought doesn’t hold a lot of water, especially when we consider other animals like pandas. Pandas are also proud members of the order Carnivora, yet they prefer munching on grass. Pandas are famously well-known bamboo (reminder: bamboo is actually a type of grass!) eaters who are also placed in order Carnivora.
Now to tackle the second question as to why exactly dogs deviated from wolves. This one is a bit of a thinker for scientists as current-day dogs are a bit more flexible in diet. They’re omnivores. This flummoxes scientists, especially since dogs don’t have all the features designed to support an omnivorous diet.
For example, let’s consider dentition as a feature.
A carnivore uses its teeth as a weapon as much as it does to eat. A wolf will use its teeth to catch hold of prey and strike at them. Then, the extra sharp and long canines help in shredding and chomping down on the meat. The molars and incisors are extra sharp in carnivores as well. All three of these teeth types are specifically adapted to ease the shredding and tearing of meat.
An omnivore, on the other hand, will have teeth specifically designed to facilitate a dual diet of meat and plants.
Let’s consider humans as an example here. Humans have a variety of teeth like incisors, canines, and molars. Each tooth has a special purpose. Incisors are used for biting down on a piece of food, canines are then used for tearing or shredding the food, and finally, the pre-molars and molars are used to grind down and chew on (masticate) the food before swallowing.
So, why did dogs end up adopting an omnivorous diet?
Have you ever tried feeding your pet cat carrots or beans? If you’ve tried, you know they turn you down with a look of disgust.
Dogs and wolves aren’t like this. This is because cats are obligate carnivores that only consume meat. They won’t munch on the occasional berry even if they’re starving.
Wolves, on the other hand, are mesocarnivores. They’ve been known to intentionally consume berries or grasses (like alfalfa).
It can be argued that since wolves were always mesocarnivores, it wasn’t a large leap from there for dogs to turn into full-blown omnivores. A lot of this change in diet also boils down to how far along the domestication process modern-day dogs are.
Dogs were the first animal in the world to be domesticated. Due to this reason, their dependency on humans as caregivers is incredibly high. In fact, the first “domestic” dogs in the world were feral dogs who fed off of scraps left behind by human settlements.
Imagine, on a certain day, the only scraps the human settlement had were grasses or fruits. The feral dogs would feed on those. Then again, the next day, if they came across scraps of meat, they’d feed on those. So, it is possible that based on resource availability dogs just learned how not to be picky eaters.
In essence, yes, dogs are omnivores. However, it makes more sense to describe them as “opportunivores.” From grey wolves to modern-day dogs like Labradors or German Shepherds, somewhere along the way dogs realized they’d meet their needs better on an omnivorous diet than a carnivorous one.
We can observe these changes in behavior even today. Present-day pet dogs or even feral dogs are highly opportunistic in nature. Even though most of them do still possess the carnivorous tendency to prefer meat, if they find that they do not have meat available to them they will gladly switch to fruits or veggies.
1. Dentition: The arrangement of teeth in a particular species or individual.
2. Obligate carnivores: Animals that have a diet comprised of strictly meat or flesh.
3. Domestication: Domestication refers to a process of selective breeding.
4. Mesocarnivores: Carnivores that eat flesh or meat as at least 50 percent of their diet but can also eat plant foods.
5. Alfalfa: A type of crop that is harvested and cultivated as hay.
Flesch Kincaid Grade Level: 7.6
What is a carnivore? November 6, 2018. https://australian.museum/learn/species-identification/ask-an-expert/what-is-a-carnivore/
Bosch, Guido. November 21, 2014. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/268743597_Dietary_nutrient_profiles_of_wild_wolves_Insights_for_optimal_dog_nutrition
Bradshaw, John. July 1, 2006. https://academic.oup.com/jn/article/136/7/1927S/4664714#163786381
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