Dogs Are Carnivores

dogsarecarnivoresPhotos courtesy of National Geographic and Astrid Beutler, Thuringia in Germany

by Dr. Jeannie Thomason

I feel this bears repeating these days as so many people are treating their dogs like they are humans. I too love my dogs with all my heart and just like they are my children however, we need to remember they are not humans. Nor do they think like humans nor eat like humans. God created dogs to be carnivores to help keep nature in balance.

The assumption that dogs are omnivores remains to be proven, whereas the truth about dogs being natural carnivores is very well-supported by the evidence available to us.

Let’s start in the mouth.
Like humans, dogs have two sets of teeth in their lives. The 28 baby teeth erupt through the gums between the third and sixth weeks of age. Puppy molars. Puppy teeth begin to shed and be replaced by permanent adult teeth at about four months of age. Although there is some variation in breeds, most adult dogs have 42 teeth, with the premolars coming last, at about six or seven months of age.

As you look into your dog’s mouth, notice those huge impressive teeth (or tiny needle sharp teeth). These are designed for grabbing, ripping, tearing, shredding, and shearing meat (Feldhamer, G.A. 1999. Mammology: Adaptation, Diversity, and Ecology. McGraw-Hill. pg 258.). They are not equipped with large flat molars for grinding up plant matter. Their molars are pointed and situated in a scissors bite (along with the rest of their teeth) that powerfully disposes of meat, bone, and hide. Carnivores are equipped with a peculiar set of teeth that includes the presence of carnassial teeth: the fourth upper premolar and first lower molar. Hence, dogs do not chew, they are designed to bite, rip, shred, scissor/crush and swallow.

Canine teeth or as some people call them, Fangs are for grabbing and puncturing, incisors for nibbling, premolars for tearing, and molars for crushing (not chewing or masticating) bone — although our sweet, cuddly family dog may appear to be far more civilized than his wild relatives, he still has the same equipment for eating, grooming, greeting, and defense as his wild relatives.

Four premolars line each side of the upper and lower jaws in back of the canines. These are the shearing teeth, used to rip great hunks of flesh from prey animals. Although our pets no longer hunt for survival, our dogs can still eat in the manner of wolves – by grabbing the meat with the premolars and ripping it off the bone.

The top jaw has two molars on each side, and the bottom jaw has three. These are the crushing teeth, used by wolves to crack medium-sized bones like caribou or deer.

Their jaws hinge open widely, allowing them to gulp large chunks of meat and bone. The skull and jaw design of a carnivore is a deep and C-shaped mandibular fossa which prevents lateral movement of the jaw (lateral movement is necessary for eating plant matter). Yes, I emphasize the “gulp”.

Dogs do not “chew” their food. In the wild, resources are scarce, Carnivores are designed to be able to gorge and fast for this very purpose; as they are hard-wired for this no amount of thinking “he knows he gets fed twice a day” etc. will change the dog’s perspective. He may crunch down once or twice but the fact remains that he is just not designed to “chew” his food. Many people new to raw feeding freak out that their dog might swallow the meat and/or bones whole. YES, they will pretty much do that. They will tear large chunks of meat off the bone and then if the bone is smaller such as a chicken or turkey bone, they will crush the bone by chomping down once or twice to flatten or crush it and then swallow.

“Dogs do NOT produce the necessary enzymes in their saliva (amylase, for example) to start the break-down process of carbohydrates and starches; amylase in saliva is something omnivorous and herbivorous animals possess, but not carnivorous animals. This places the burden entirely on the pancreas, forcing it to produce large amounts of amylase to deal with the starch, cellulose, and carbohydrates in plant matter. The carnivore’s pancreas does not secrete cellulase to split the cellulose into glucose molecules, nor have dogs become efficient at digesting and assimilating and utilizing plant material as a source of high quality protein. Herbivores do those sorts of things” Canine and Feline Nutrition Case, Carey and Hirakawa Published by Mosby, 1995

Due to the lack of any salivary enzymes in the dog’s/carnivore’s mouth, food spends little time in the mouth, it is shortly swallowed and travels down the oesophagus. The oesophagus is a tube which runs from the pharynx (back of the oral cavity) to the stomach. The walls of the oesophagus are protected from damage by food by stratified squamous epithelium arranged in longitudinal folds, this also allows for expansion as the food travels down to the stomach. Food is passed down the oesophagus by peristalsis which is the contraction and relaxation of longitudinal and circular muscles, pushing food down to the stomach in wave-like motion.

Carnivores have a highly elastic stomach designed to hold large quantities of meat, bone, organs, and hide. Their stomachs are simple, with an undeveloped caecum (Feldhamer, G.A. 1999. Mammology: Adaptation, Diversity, and Ecology. McGraw-Hill. pg 260.).

The carnivore stomach is not only a sterilizing chamber, due to the low pH (high acid content – HCL) but it is also the initial site of protein digestion, primarily by pepsin – secreted by the epithelial lining of the stomach

God designed the dog’s stomach acids to be much stronger than ours and they are designed for digesting large lumps of meat and even good size pieces of RAW bone.  The ability of the carnivore stomach to secrete hydrochloric acid is exceptional. Carnivores are able to keep their gastric pH down around 1-2 even with food present. This is to facilitate protein breakdown and to kill the abundant dangerous bacteria often found in decaying flesh foods.

The stomach volume of a carnivore represents 60-70% of the total capacity of the digestive system. Because meat, bone and fur is relatively easily digested, their small intestines (where absorption of food molecules takes place) are short — about three to five or six times the body length. Since wild carnivores average a kill only about once a week, a large stomach volume is advantageous because it allows the animals to quickly gorge themselves when eating, taking in as much meat as possible at one time which can then be digested later while resting.

They have a relatively short foregut and a short, smooth, unsacculated colon. This means they are designed to have food pass through quickly.

Vegetable ,plant matter, grains and cooked foods however, need time to sit and ferment and be broken down. This equates to requiring longer, sacculated colons, larger and longer small intestines, and occasionally the presence of a caecum. Dogs have none of these, but have the shorter foregut and hindgut consistent with carnivorous animals. This explains why plant matter comes out the same way it went in; there was no time for it to be broken down and digested (among other things). Some educated people know this and will try to tell you that this is why vegetables and grains should be pulverized or pre-processed for your dog to get anything out of them. Even if they are pulverized, the dog’s digestive system is not designed to extract enough nutrition from them to amount to enough to make it worth while feeding them at all.

The small intestine joins to the large intestine, which consists of the under-developed caecum, the colon and the rectum. Again, In carnivores the caecum has no function (as it is used in herbivores/omnivores, their much more developed caecum is used as a site of bacterial fermentation of plant matter).

Coefficient of fermentation.

Herbivores have a high ability to extract nutrition from plant matter as the result of their capability to ferment it, and therefore they have been found to have a high coefficient of fermentation. Carnivores however, aren’t equipped to do this and therefore have a low coefficient of fermentation.

The large intestine (colon) of carnivores is simple and very short, as its only purposes are to absorb salt and water. It is approximately the same diameter as the small intestine and, consequently, has a limited capacity to function as a reservoir to hold and ferment/digest vegetable matter, grains or cooked food. The colon is short and non-pouched. The muscle is distributed throughout the wall, giving the colon a smooth cylindrical appearance. Although a bacterial population is present in the colon of carnivores, its activities are essentially putrefactive.

Experts agree that wolves only eat the stomach contents of their prey when the prey is quite small and it gets consumed as a result of eating the entire animal (like a rabbit for example).

L. David Mech, is considered the world’s top wolf biologist. In his book, Wolves: Behavior, Ecology, and Conservation (2003) he and other contributing experts compiled over 300 years of research and observations of the wild canine. An excerpt from this informative work clearly portrays the natural, instinctive eating behavior of the carnivore. “Wolves usually tear into the body cavity of large prey and consume the larger internal organs, such as lungs, heart, and liver. The larger rumen/intestines [one of the main stomach chambers] is usually punctured during removal and its contents shaken out or spilled. The vegetation in the intestinal tract is of no interest to the wolves, but the stomach lining and intestinal wall are consumed, and their contents further strewn about the kill site.

The Kerwood Wildlife Education center (Hunting and Meals pages) describes the eating habits of the wolf as: “The wolf’s diet consists mostly of muscle meat and fatty tissue from various animals. Heart, lung, liver, intestines and other internal organs are eaten. Bones are crushed to get to the marrow, and bone fragments are eaten as well.” The only part consistently ignored is the stomach its self and its contents. Although some plant matter (not vegetables) is taken separately, particularly berries, Canis Lupis doesn’t seem to digest them very well.

Thus, feeding dogs as though they were humans (omnivores) taxes the pancreas and places extra strain on it, as it must work harder for the dog to digest the starchy, carbohydrate-filled food, vegetables and cooked food instead of just producing the normal amounts of the enzymes needed to digest raw animal proteins and fats.

Our dogs do not have the kinds of enzymes or friendly bacteria that break down cellulose and starch for them as we humans/omnivores do. As a result, most of the nutrients contained in plant matter; even pre-processed plant matter are unavailable to dogs. This is why dog food manufacturers have to add such high amounts of synthetic vitamins and minerals (the fact that cooking destroys all the vitamins and minerals and thus creates the need for supplementation aside) to their dog foods. To compensate for this, the manufacturer must add a higher concentration of vitamins and minerals than the dog actually needs.

The result of feeding dogs a highly processed, vegetable and grain-based food is a suppressed immune system and the under-production of the enzymes necessary to thoroughly digest raw meaty bones. (Lonsdale, T. 2001. Raw Meaty Bones).

Dogs are so much like wolves physiologically that they are frequently used in wolf studies as a physiological model for wolf body processes. (Mech, L.D. 2003. Wolves: Behavior, Ecology, and Conservation).

Additionally, dogs and wolves share 99.8% of their mitochondrial DNA (Wayne, R.K. Molecular Evolution of the Dog Family).

This next quote is from Robert K. Wayne, Ph.D., and his discussion on canine genetics (taken from www.fiu.edu/~milesk/Genetics.html). “The domestic dog is an extremely close relative of the gray wolf, differing from it by at most 0.2% of mDNA sequence…”

Dogs have recently been reclassified as Canis lupus familiaris by the Smithsonian Institute (Wayne, R.K. “What is a Wolfdog?”(www.fiu.edu/~milesk/Genetics.html), placing it in the same species as the gray wolf, Canis lupus. The dog is, by all scientific standards and by evolutionary history, a domesticated wolf
(Feldhamer, G.A. 1999. Mammology: Adaptation, Diversity, and Ecology. McGraw-Hill. pg 472.).

Those who insist dogs did not descend from wolves must disprove the litany of scientific evidence that concludes wolves are the ancestors of dogs. And, as we have already established, the wolf is a carnivore. Since a dog’s internal physiology does not differ from a wolf, dogs have the same physiological and nutritional needs as those carnivorous predators, which, remember, “need to ingest all the major parts of their herbivorous prey, except the plants in the digestive system” to “grow and maintain their own bodies” (Mech, L.D. 2003. Wolves: Behavior, Ecology, and Conservation.).

However much, we humans have done to tinker with and change the dog’s body design (resulting in varying sizes and conformations), we have done nothing to change the internal anatomy and physiology of our carnivorous canines. “Dogs have the internal anatomy and physiology of a carnivore”. (Feldhamer, G.A. 1999. Mammology: Adaptation, Diversity, and Ecology. McGraw-Hill. pg 260.).

Some people are under the impression that the bacteria in raw meat may harm the dog, this simply is not the case.

Sadly, raw diets have also been blamed for causing things like pancreatitis and kidney disease, when in reality the underlying dis-ease was already there and is was simply brought to light by the change in diet and detoxing or going through a healing crisis.

Dogs are surprisingly well-equipped to deal with bacteria. Their saliva has antibacterial properties; it contains lysozyme, an enzyme that destroys harmful bacteria. Their short digestive tract is designed to push through food and bacteria quickly without giving bacteria time to colonize. The extremely acidic environment in the gut is also a good bacteria colonization deterrent. People often point to the fact that dogs shed salmonella in their feces, (but, then again, even kibble-fed dogs do this as well!) without showing any ill effects as proof that the dog is infected with salmonella. In reality, all this proves is that the dog has effectively passed the salmonella through its system with no problems. Yes, the dog can act as a salmonella carrier, but the solution is simple – do not eat dog poop and wash your hands after picking up after your dog.

As mentioned above, even kibble-fed (processed commercial diets) dogs can and do regularly shed salmonella and other bacteria. Most of the documented cases of severe bacterial septicemia are from kibble-fed animals or animals suffering from reactions to vaccines.

Commercial pet foods have been pulled off shelves often because of bacteria AND molds that produce a deadly toxin.

What is the solution? Use common sense. Clean up well and wash your hands. Think about your dog, this is an animal that can lick itself, lick other dogs, eat a variety of disgusting rotting things, and ingest its own feces or those of other animals with no ill effects. The dog, plain and simple, has been designed to handle far greater bacterial loads than we can.

Let’s face it; a healthy dog will not suffer from bacterial infections or bacterial septicemia. it is just common sense. A dog suffering from “salmonella poisoning” is obviously not healthy, especially when compared to a dog that ate the same food with the same salmonella load but is perfectly healthy and unaffected. The first dog has suffered a ‘breakdown’ in its health that allowed the bacteria to become a problem; if one is talking in homeopathic medicine terminology, this is simply one more symptom that shows the dog is suffering from chronic disease.

I believe that it is the kibble, not the raw meat that causes bacterial problems. Kibble in the pet’s intestine not only irritates the lining of the bowels but also provides the perfect warm, wet environment with plenty of undigested sugars and starches as food for bacteria. This is why thousands of processed food-fed animals suffer from a condition called Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth, or SIBO. Raw meaty bones, however create a very inhospitable environment for bacteria, as RMBs are easily digestible and have no carbohydrates, starches, or sugars to feed the bacteria.

What about feeding Cooked diets?

There are several aspects of cooked diets that pose problems.

First – the effects of heat.

If you burn your finger, what happens? The skin tissue dies. Overly apply heat to food and the nutrients are progressively killed/destroyed.

The act of cooking foods, alters the proteins, vitamins, fats, and minerals in a food. This alteration can make some nutrients more readily available and others less available. Cooking can alter fats to the point of being toxic and carcinogenic.
(The American Society for Nutritional Sciences. April 2004. Meat Consumption Patterns and Preparation, Genetic Variants of Metabolic Enzymes, and Their Association with Rectal Cancer in Men and Women. Journal of Nutrition. 134: 776-784.) and cooked proteins can be altered to the point where they cause allergic reactions whereas raw proteins do not. (Clark, W.R. 1995. Hypersensitivity and Allergy, in At War Within: The double-edged sword of immunity, Oxford University Press, New York. pg 88.). Read more HERE

Our dogs (and cats) were designed to eat RAW meat, organs, glands and bones!  If all healthy carnivores were fed such you would see for yourself that they would be much healthier in the long run. They would Thrive! Not just survive….

You may also want to read Dogs – The Omnivore/Carnivore Question

For more information on cooked food versus raw food diets for our dogs, please check out the articles below:
The Pottenger Cat Experiments
Pottenger’s Cats – A Study In Nutrition
Cooked Vs. Raw Foods For Pets

I also highly recommend Carissa Kuehn’s web site:
Rawfed.com/myths

*A consultation is highly recommended before switching your dog to a raw diet or any natural, preventative program is started. A consultation includes guidelines and support in feeding a proper species appropriate diet and holistic program suggestions that are custom-tailored to your own dog’s individual and personal needs. This is particularly imperative in pets that are aging or with existing health issues, or if you’ve done a lot of outside reading and have conflicting information.

Copyright 2003 -2018 This article is the sole property of Dr. Jeanette (Jeannie) Thomason and The Whole Dog. It cannot be reproduced in any form whatsoever without the expressed written consent of the author.

The information offered by Jeannie Thomason, VND is intended to provide general guidance and information. Nothing in this article, on the web site or during a consultation constitutes traditional allopathic veterinary advice. The information in articles on the website are not intended to diagnose, treat, or cure any disease.

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