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Carnivore Diet for Dogs?

By Liam McAuliffe Updated on

Dog food is just about as controversial a topic as human food. And it is subject to the same misinformation, emotional biases, and profit motives. So, let’s cut to the chase and get one thing straight–dogs are, in fact, carnivores. Therefore a carnivore diet for dogs is the optimal way to feed them. 

In this article, we’ll explore the science showing that dogs are carnivores and offer tips and recommendations on how to feed your pooch the food they’ve evolved to thrive on. 

Dogs are “Facultative” Carnivores

Studies on the feeding ecology of wolves indicate that wolves are true carnivores. This means that they eat freshly hunted meat and only a negligible amount of vegetal matter. Dogs are direct descendants of gray wolves with nearly identical digestive systems.

Grey wolf eating meat in the forest

As true “Facultative Carnivores,” the category in which humans belong, dogs thrive on animal products. However, they can survive, but not thrive, on supplemental plant foods only when fresh-killed and scavenged meat is unavailable. 

Let’s take a look at a few key pieces of evidence supporting the view that dogs are carnivores. 

Amylase Enzyme 

Amylase enzyme is used to break down starches and carbohydrates before they reach the stomach for further digestion. 

Herbivores and omnivores secret amylase through their saliva, but carnivores, including dogs, only have amylase in small amounts in the small intestine. 

Because dogs lack salivary amylase, their bodies have to work harder to digest and use carbohydrates. 

Consuming plant matter also causes your dog’s pancreas to struggle to increase levels of amylase to help digest starch, cellulose, and carbs. 

Dogs Do Not Need Any Carbohydrates Whatsoever

Like their fellow carnivorous humans, dogs require zero carbohydrates. That’s right, carbs are considered a non-essential nutrient, meaning neither you nor your pet needs it. 

In a 2006 committee on Animal Nutrition, the National Research Council released “Nutrient Requirements of Dogs and Cats,” in which they stated that a dog’s health and vitality do not depend on dietary carbohydrates.

Shape of Jaw and Teeth

Strong teeth, dog dental hygiene

Dogs and other carnivores have no flat grinding teeth. They are sharp and long for killing prey and tearing meat. 

Dogs do not have grinding teeth used to process plant matter. 

Canine jaws only chew in an up-and-down motion–they do not move from side to side like cows. 

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The Canine Digestive System is Designed for Meat

Dogs in the wild, like our ancient human ancestors, evolved on a feast and fasting cycle. They feast on fresh meat when killed or scavenged and fast between hunts. 

Accordingly, carnivores, including dogs, have large, elastic stomaches, high stomach acidity, and short intestines. 

Large stomachs accommodate an abundance of fresh food. High stomach acidity kills toxic meat-born pathogens. Short intestines are better for breaking down highly bioavailable animal fats, proteins, and micronutrients.

Dogs also have the classic carnivore unsacculated (smooth) colon. Short, smooth intestines allow for fast expulsion of leftover bacteria.

dog and orangutan digestive systems diagram

Source:Comparative physiology of digestion J. FurnessJ. CottrellD. Bravo, Published 2015, Biology

By contrast, herbivores and omnivores have small stomachs and long intestines because plant matter (grass, leaves) is abundant. Yet, it requires a long time in the digestive tract in order to ferment into fatty acids. 

Notice here that even herbivores consume a high-fat, low-carb diet; they just have to make the fat themselves. In contrast, carnivores get it from the bodies of other animals. In both scenarios, the diets of carnivores and herbivores are around 70% fat. 

Consuming a bunch of fibrous plant matter without the proper digestive system results in gastric issues. Dogs also lack the bacteria in the large intestine required to turn cellulose into usable fatty acids. So, just as with their fellow human carnivores, fiber for dogs is useless, irritating junk. 

What this all boils down to is you should only feed your dog meat. Anything else is completely unnecessary and can stress their organs, dilute their digestive enzymes, and irritate their carnivore-optimized intestines. 

This outlook is reflected in the following study from 2015. 

In this study, researchers concluded that dogs and wolves are carnivores. Accordingly, “the nutritive characteristics of commercial foods differ in several aspects from the dog’s closest free-living ancestor in terms of dietary nutrient profile, and this may pose physiological and metabolic challenges.” 

Meat Provides All Necessary Nutrients

Animal products are the most nutrient-dense foods on earth

The “gold standard” frozen raw all-meat dog foods that include bone marrow and organ meats will exceed all essential and beneficial nutrient requirements. 

Lamb, beef, chicken, and fish are loaded with healthy fats, complete proteins, vitamin B12, vitamin A, vitamin C, Thiamin, Zinc, Copper and Manganese, Pantothenic Acid, Iron, Phosphorus, Folate, B6, and Selenium.

Nutrients in raw ground beef–keep in mind these recommended daily values are for much larger humans.

NutrientAmount per ½ lb (80/20) Ground Beef%RDV
Fat25.9 g
Saturated Fat9.8 g
Monounsaturated Fat11.5 g
Protein40.2 g80%
Riboflavin0.3 mg17%
Niacin8.7 mg43%
Vitamin B60.6 mg32%
Folate16.4 mcg4%
Vitamin B124.3 mcg71%
Pantothenic Acid1.2 mg12%
Iron41.7 mg23%
Magnesium4.1 mg9%
Phosphorus337 mg34%
Potassium566 mg16%
Zinc9.5 mg64%
Selenium32.5 mcg46%
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Kibble vs. Raw Food

Very well trained dog.

A Dogrisk metabolomics study was recently undertaken to better understand how canine health was affected by different food types.

The study found that dogs fed a diet of dry kibble underwent significant metabolic stress

Kibbel-fed dogs also showed elevated levels of homocysteine, a marker for inflammation. 

Whole food diets boost immune function and reduce inflammation.

This is no surprise when considering how humans (also carnivores) face similar stress and inflammation from genetically misaligned processed and plant foods.

Carnivore Diet for Dogs: The Bottom Line

All evidence tells us unequivocally that dogs are carnivores. As carnivores, they thrive on a carnivore diet, while non-carnivore and processed foods cause metabolic stress and inflammation. 

We know that dogs are carnivores by looking at a number of factors. 

  • The eating habits of their direct ancestors–wolves.
  • The absence of salivary amylase
  • The shape and function of teeth and jaw
  • The length and morphology of their intestines
  • Stomach acidity

Just as with our own human bodies, when we feed our dogs fresh animal products that closely mimic how they would eat in nature, we put them in the best position to live a long, healthy life. 

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