Dogs: The Accidental Omnivore

Choosing a dog food is difficult, because there are so many options available.  Pet stores teem with commercial dog diets, each claiming to be “the best dog food.”  If that is not enough, the internet and bookstores are full of information on various home prepared diets, each of which also claims to be “the best.”  With so many conflicting opinions and claims, it can be hard for concerned owners to know which food to choose.  The truth is that there is no one holy grail of dog foods.  Some foods, of course, are better than others.  However, the perfect food for one dog might not work at all for another.  For this reason dog owners need to educate themselves about the nutritional needs of dogs, and use this information to select the food that best suits each individual dog.

Carnivores or Omnivores?

…dogs are carnivores by preference and omnivores by necessity

Are dogs carnivores or omnivores?  The answer to this question is, of course, important when considering various dog diets.  If dogs are carnivores, they need meat based diets.  If they are true omnivores, however, they can thrive on more varied diets.   The best contemporary evidence suggests that domestic dogs evolved from wolves about 15,000 years ago.  Wolves are obviously carnivores.  They are pack hunters, thriving on meat based diets.  Modern dogs, however, are not wolves.  Over the course of their evolution from wolf ancestors, dogs coexisted with humans, eating scraps.  The dogs best able to survive on human scraps were those that could tolerate diets that included meat, grains and vegetables.  These more omnivorous dogs were the ancestors of modern domestic dogs.  So, while dogs are not pure, obligate carnivores like cats, they are also not true omnivores like humans.  Instead, dogs are carnivores by preference and omnivores by necessity.

It is important to keep in mind that just because dogs can survive on an omnivorous diet does not mean that they will thrive on it.  Consider the teeth of a domestic dog.  With prominent canines and surfaces adapted for tearing, these are clearly the teeth of a meat eater.  In truth, domestic dogs are genetically very similar to wolves.  This means that most dogs will thrive on a diet that is closer to that of a carnivore than that of a true omnivore.