|Carnivore means “meat eater” in Latin (Caro meaning “meat” or “flesh”and vorare meaning “to devour”). It’s an animal whose food and energy requirements derive mainly from animal tissue or meat, whether through hunting or scavenging.|
In addition to carnivores there are two other categories of animals: herbivore and omnivore. Herbivores get most of their food nutrition from plants. Their bodies are developed to efficiently consume and digest plant matter. Omnivores eat a mix of both plants and meat and are generally good at consuming both types of food for their nutritional needs.
There aren’t hard divisions between carnivores, herbivores, and omnivores. Each category has a spectrum and some overlap with the category next to it.
Within carnivores there’s a spectrum of meat eating. There are three different categories of carnivores based on the level of meat consumption: hypercarnivores, mesocarnivores and hypocarnivores. Hypercarnivores, or obligate carnivores (cats), are at the far end of the carnivore spectrum and must get 70% or more of their diet from meat or risk their health. Domestic dogs are in the middle range, or mesocarnivores.
Carnivores have a simple (single-chambered) stomach. The stomach volume of a carnivore represents 60-70% of the total capacity of the digestive system. Since these animals in the wild 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.
When you watch a dog or cat eat, you may be intrigued (or repulsed) by the sloppy, chomping, up-and-down motion of its jaws. You can attribute this to the characteristic shape of the carnivoran skull: The jaws are positioned and the muscles are attached in such a way as to disallow side-by-side movement.
Omnivores can move their jaws side to side as well as up and down to help with mastication (the crushing/grinding of food with teeth). Herbivores have very little up and down movement when eating, it’s mostly a side-to-slide action to better crush the plants for efficient digestion. Herbivores and omnivores also have lips that can help usher and manipulate food into the mouth, whereas carnivores don’t.
As a general rule, plants are much more difficult to break down and digest than fresh meat—which is why the guts of horses, hippos, and elk are packed with yards upon yards of intestines, and often more than one stomach (as in ruminant animals like cows). By contrast, carnivores have a relatively simple digestive system with shorter, more compact intestines and a higher stomach-volume to intestine-volume ratio. (This helps explain why house cats throw up after eating grass; its digestive system simply isn’t equipped to easily process the fibrous elements of plants.)
Carnivores have a wide mouth opening in relation to their head size. This is an obvious advantage in developing the forces used in seizing/biting prey, killing, and dismembering prey. How wide a mouth opens can be a good indicator if you’re wondering whether an animal is a carnivore or not. I’ve mistaken some of my friends for carnivores by this fact alone.
The saliva of carnivorous animals does not contain digestive enzymes. When eating, a carnivore gorges itself rapidly and does not chew its food. Obligate carnivores like cats don’t need to drool, a function that releases pre-digesting enzymes in other animals.
Some dogs start digesting their food even before the take the first bite. This happens when you’re preparing the meal and they start drooling. This is the first digestion step, getting ready to break down food with moisture, enzymes, and electrolytes. Although a carnivore, dog saliva does contain an enzyme called amylase (humans have this same enzyme in their saliva) that initiates the digestive process. Amylase mixes with food during chewing and breaks down food matter. Dogs are able to swallow larger pieces of food without chewing in part because the drool also functions as a lubricant to help food slide down the esophagus —good news for those of us with dogs who inhale their food.
Most carnivores eat by simply biting off huge chunks of meat and swallowing them whole. This is an important thing to note. Herbivores and omnivores usually have flat rear teeth to prepare plants for digestion through the act of grinding. Cats and dogs rip and tear large chunks of flesh off of an animal, then cut to size the chunks that are too large to swallow whole with their scissor-like rear teeth. This is the idea behind our Large Bite product. When a dog or cat eats small food that’s easily swallowed, there’s no need to use the rear cutting teeth. Which means the natural enzymes in the meat have little chance to clean the rear teeth. Where raw fed dogs and cats usually have the front half of their mouth pearly white, the rears can build tartar due to lack of use.
There are a several more things that distinguish our dog and cat carnivores from us. What’s important to realize is humans have different dietary needs than dogs or cats, and vice versa. Dogs and cats are built to eat meat.
How dogs and cats eat is also important to understand, what teeth are used and the function they serve. Oral health is very manageable on a raw diet, eliminating the need for cleanings at the vet, which are dangerous (anesthesia), stressful, and expensive.