Cats vs Dogs. Who’s the Bigger Carnivore?


Cats and dogs are two of the most popular pets worldwide, with over 94 million cats and 89 million dogs owned as pets in the United States alone according to the American Veterinary Medical Association. With so many furry companions in households, it’s no wonder many pet owners wonder – who eats more meat, cats or dogs?

This is an interesting question to explore because cats are obligate carnivores whereas dogs are omnivores. Both species have been domesticated over thousands of years and have adapted in fascinating ways to live alongside humans. Their distinct evolutionary histories have shaped their dietary needs in the present day.

In this article, we’ll dive into the meat consumption requirements for cats versus dogs. We’ll look at differences in calorie intake, nutritional needs, commercial pet food formulas, estimated consumption in the wild, and typical owner feeding habits. By the end, you’ll have a verdict on the great debate over whether felines or canines consume more meat.

Cats Are Obligate Carnivores

Obligate carnivores are animals that must eat meat as their main food source, as opposed to omnivores who can obtain nutrients from both plant and animal sources. Cats are obligate carnivores, meaning they rely on nutrients found only in animal flesh for their dietary needs.

Cats’ bodies are designed to digest and utilize meat. They have a short digestive tract optimized for processing animal protein and fat, allowing them to utilize nutrients from meat that an omnivore would be unable to absorb. Cats also require a high amount of protein and certain amino acids like taurine that can only come from meat. Unlike omnivores, cats cannot synthesize these amino acids from plant sources.

Due to being obligate carnivores, cats require a diet high in protein and fat from animal sources. While they have evolved to eat and digest small amounts of plant material, plants cannot provide complete nutrition for cats. Meat must compose the majority of a cat’s diet to provide essential amino acids and nutrients.

Dogs Are Omnivores

Unlike cats, dogs are omnivores, meaning they can digest both plant and animal materials. Dogs have evolved over thousands of years since domestication to adapt to an omnivorous diet that includes plant matter (Ref. 1). Wild wolves, ancestors of domestic dogs, are carnivores that subsist primarily on meat. However, domestic dogs have evolved a number of adaptations that allow them to thrive on an omnivorous diet.

One key adaptation is that dogs produce amylase, an enzyme that helps digest starch and carbohydrates (Ref. 1). Their digestive systems have evolved to extract nutrients from grains and vegetables as well as meat. In fact, the majority of energy in commercial dog foods comes from carbohydrates like rice, wheat, oats and barley. Dogs’ teeth have also adapted, with molars well suited for grinding plant matter as well as sharp canines ideal for tearing meat.

Overall, the domestic dog’s digestive system is flexible enough to utilize a varied diet containing both plant and animal materials. While still possessing carnivorous tendencies and requiring a significant amount of protein, dogs can thrive on a balanced omnivorous diet.

Ref 1:

Daily Calorie Needs

Cats and dogs have very different calorie requirements based on their size and activity level. An average adult cat needs about 200-300 calories per day. For a 10 pound cat, that’s about 25-35 calories per pound of body weight. An average adult dog’s calorie needs can range from 400-1200 calories per day depending on their size and activity. Small dogs like chihuahuas may only need 200-400 calories per day, while large dogs like great danes require 1000-1200 calories per day. When calculated per pound of body weight, dogs generally need 20-40 calories per pound depending on their metabolism and exercise routine. So while the total calorie counts differ greatly between cats and dogs, when adjusted for body weight cats actually have slightly higher calorie needs per pound.

Nutritional Requirements

Cats and dogs have different nutritional requirements when it comes to protein and fat intake. Cats are obligate carnivores, meaning they must eat animal flesh to acquire certain key nutrients not found in plant sources. Cats require higher levels of protein than dogs – generally around 30% of their diet compared to only 18% for dogs. This is because cats need more protein to synthesize certain amino acids like taurine that enable heart, eye, and reproductive health.

According to Tufts University, the minimum dietary protein requirement for adult cats is 16% dry matter basis versus only 10% for adult dogs. Excess protein is simply excreted by both animals.

In terms of fat, cats also need 2-3 times more dietary fat than dogs – usually 20% or more of calories versus only 10-15% for dogs. Fats provide essential fatty acids and fat-soluble vitamins, transport nutrients, and supply energy. Cats have a higher caloric requirement per pound than dogs and utilize fat more efficiently for energy.

Overall, cats require a diet richer in animal-based protein and fat compared to dogs due to biological differences as obligate carnivores. Pet food formulas are specially formulated to meet each species’ nutritional demands.

Commercial Pet Food Formulas

When looking at commercial pet foods, there are some clear differences between cat and dog foods. Cat foods tend to have higher protein levels from meat sources compared to dog foods. This is because cats are obligate carnivores, meaning they need to eat meat to acquire certain nutrients. Dogs, on the other hand, are omnivores and don’t require as high of a meat content.

According to Paw CBD, cat foods contain around 30-45% protein while dog foods contain 18-25% protein on average (source). Most of this protein comes from meat ingredients like chicken, fish, turkey, lamb and beef. Meat meals like chicken meal and fish meal are also common.

Dog foods contain lower protein levels since dogs have a lower protein requirement. Meat is still a major ingredient, but dog foods also rely more on plant-based proteins like corn, wheat, rice and soy. These provide calories, but are lower quality sources of protein.

So when comparing labels, cat foods will typically have meat, meat meals and fish higher up on the ingredients list. The high protein and meat content provides cats with the nutrients they need from an obligate carnivore diet.

Meat Consumption in the Wild

In their natural environments, felines typically eat a diet consisting almost entirely of meat. As obligate carnivores, cats are adapted to hunt prey animals like rodents, birds, rabbits, and insects in order to meet their nutritional needs. Research shows that over 90% of the diet of wild felines like lions, tigers, and leopards comes from animal flesh and organs, with little to no plant material consumed.

Canines in the wild, like wolves and foxes, also consume a heavily meat-based diet. However, unlike felines, canines are omnivores rather than obligate carnivores. This means they can meet some of their nutritional requirements through plant materials. Studies of wolves in the wild indicate that 70-90% of their diet consists of prey animals like deer, elk, and rabbit. The remaining 10-30% comes from foraged plant foods like berries and vegetation.

So while both feline and canine predators rely heavily on meat from prey in their natural environments, wild cats consume a greater proportion of animal flesh in their diets compared to wild dogs. This aligns with their biological differences as obligate versus opportunistic carnivores. Research from indicates wild prey also provides a more optimal balance of fats and nutrients for obligate carnivores compared to domesticated meat sources.

Portion Sizes

Cats generally require smaller portions of food compared to dogs, since they are much smaller animals. A typical 8 lb adult cat may eat between 180-240 calories per day, divided into 2 or more meals. This equates to around 1/4 to 1/3 cup of dry food daily. In contrast, a typical 40 lb adult dog would need 700-1000 calories per day, or around 2 to 3 cups of dry food divided into 2 meals (Chewy).

To compare, weighing sample daily portions on a kitchen scale – 1/3 cup (the upper range for an average cat) of dry cat food weighs around 1.25 ounces. Meanwhile 2.5 cups (mid-range for an average dog) of dry dog food weighs around 10 ounces. So the dog’s portion is about 8 times heavier than the cat’s portion.

The reason for this large difference in portion sizes needed is that cats are obligate carnivores requiring a higher calorie density diet, while dogs are omnivores with lower caloric needs per pound of body weight. Cats also have much smaller stomachs and eat smaller volumes at each meal.

Owners’ Feeding Habits

Surveys show interesting insights into what owners choose to feed their pets. One 2021 survey among 1545 dog owners and 676 cat owners looked at storage habits for commercial and homemade diets (Morelli et al.). Another 2022 survey of pet owners examined feeding practices and perceptions that influence consumer decisions on pet foods (Prata). A 2017 survey aimed to understand factors that influence owner behavior around feeding dogs and cats (Downes et al.). These surveys reveal that many factors go into an owner’s decision to feed either more or less meat to their pets.

The Verdict

Based on the nutritional requirements and feeding habits examined, it’s clear that cats do in fact eat more meat than dogs. As obligate carnivores, cats have a higher biological requirement for protein and fat from animal sources compared to dogs. Commercial cat foods contain around double the amount of protein and fat versus dog foods to meet cats’ needs. Portion sizes also reflect cats’ greater dependence on meat, with the average 10 pound cat eating about 5-10 ounces of food daily while a comparable sized dog eats 10-20 ounces. In the wild and when fed raw food diets, felines also consume a larger percentage of their diet from animal prey compared to canines. So while both species are carnivorous, cats are truly “hypercarnivores” with a higher drive for meat eating hardwired into their anatomy and physiology.

Scroll to Top