Can Carnivores Eat Plants? Here Are The Facts (With Images)


I once watched our pretty dog feed on grass, wondering whether that was right. I later concluded it was suffering from pica and was satisfying its craving. However, I kept on thinking about whether carnivores can eat plants like our dog did.

Well, if you are in that position like I was, the answer is right here. In this piece, we learn whether carnivores eat plants and why. We also understand what carnivores eat plants and how it affects them. Imagine the ferocious wolves eating berries, quite surprising, but they do. Read on to learn more about carnivores eating plants.

Can Carnivores Eat Plants?

A carnivore can eat plants depending on what kind of carnivore it is. Don’t draw the picture of your cat feeding on your grass or flowers before learning where it falls. There are different types of carnivorous animals, i.e., a classification basing on their feeding behaviors.

What type of carnivores eats plants?

Hypercarnivores are organisms that rely on other animals for a minimum of 70% of their meal and satiate the rest (30% or less) with plants, other nutrients, and fungi. Obligate carnivores fall under this category since plants do not offer them enough nutrients. An excellent example of hypercarnivores is all the cats (small house cats and tigers) and sea stars.

Mesocarnivores get at least 50% of their diet from animal meat and fill up the rest with vegetables, fruits, and fungi. The playful creature, fox, is among mesocarnivores. Sounds amusing, watching a fox feed on some shrubs.

Hypocarnivores are unusual from the rest of the carnivorous animals. They obtain less than 30% of their food from animals’ meat and replete the rest with roots, plants’ bulbs, nuts, and berries. We’ve often watched movies and documentaries where bears feast on fish or meat. Well, they also steal our human space. That’s why they can fit in the carnivores (hypocarnivores) or the omnivores.

Why do carnivores eat plants? Because they need to supplement their nutrients.

What Percent of Animals Are Carnivores?

According to Wiens and colleagues’ survey, 63% of all animals are carnivores, 32% herbivores, 3% were omnivores, and the rest are ambiguous. The percentage of carnivores compared to herbivores and omnivores is surprising. Probably you are wondering why.

Initially, the number of herbivores and omnivores was high than that of carnivores. However, due to the changes in feeding behaviors, they have decreased. Another reason why the carnivore percentage is high is animals adapting to both meat and plant-eating habits. For instance, a bear can either be a carnivore or an omnivore; hence it occupies the two classifications.

The climatic changes have also contributed to the high number of carnivores. With climatic changes that lead to drought, water and plants are scarce. This scarcity has severe effects on herbivores and omnivores, for example, starving and death. Reduced reproduction in herbivores and omnivores also leads to their low population amongst all the animals.

How Do Carnivores Get All Their Nutrients?

Humans will often double-check whether they are taking a well-balanced diet. It is not once or twice that we heard our parents ask whether we took some vegetables, fruits, milk, or fermented foods. They had our health in view by ensuring we get all the necessary nutrients to grow and build strong immunity.

Similarly, animals require essential nutrients to keep them strong and healthy. It helps them to withstand all the hazardous occurrences like disease breakout, drought, among others. How does a carnivore get calcium, vitamins, or fiber while it feeds on meat? 

Carnivores possess digestive enzymes that breakdown the muscle protein they eat into amino acids. These then diffuse into the small intestine’s walls. Hence, they don’t need any gut specialization for fermentation.

When it comes to fat, carnivores can leverage the animal fat they consume. The reason why carnivores will first feed on the fattier parts of the prey. The carnivore also chews its prey’s bones if they are small. These bones serve as a supply of calcium.

We know that herbivores and omnivores obtain their vitamins from plants like fruits or vegetables. How about the carnivores that feed on meat exclusively? They get vitamins from the prey’s liver. That’s why carnivores usually feed on the prey’s liver after eating the fatty parts. 

How Often Do Carnivores Eat?

After watching your favorite documentary where few lions rip off the flesh of a buffalo and feast on it, you probably wonder how often the carnivore eats. It is normal for carnivores to hunt if they are not relaxing. Did I say relaxing? Yes, they also unwind from their business of chasing.

Most carnivorous mammals need to feed small meals every day. However, if they get a large kill, they can stay for one or two days before feeding again. Nevertheless, they do not practice this frequently. 

I once saw this documentary where a snake swallowed an expectant deer. While I was staring in awe, a question popped into my mind, ‘When will this snake eat next?’ Since snakes are carnivorous reptiles that eat a lot of food at once when they get the chance, they can go a week or more after taking one meal.

What Are the 10 Common Examples of Carnivores?

  1. Lion – Lions are obligate carnivores that take in animal meat only for their nutritional requirements. They are also classified as voracious carnivores; they need more than 7 kilograms of meat every day. A significant portion of their meal is the flesh of large mammals like buffalos.
  2. Wolf – Wolves often eat animal flesh. During winter, they feed on deers, while in spring, they choose to feast on various animals, from small mammals to birds. They also supplement their meals with berries at times. Their meal contains 60% meat and 40% plants.
  3. Leopard – Leopards are not choosy when it comes to feeding; they eat over 99 distinct species. This habit has helped the leopard to survive where the other large cats could not. The leopards also survive in different ecological settings since they adapt their taste buds and hunting techniques to equal the food available in the region.
  4. Giant Panda – Giant pandas have an unusual diet comprising leaves, shoots of bamboo species, stems, and meat. Unlike other carnivores, it does not rely much on animal flesh.
  5. Polar Bear – The polar bear is a hyper carnivorous bear that has evolved and adapted to live in cold temperature regions. It mostly hunts and feeds on seals.
  6. Cheetah – Cheetahs eat small and medium-sized animals like impalas, wildebeest, gazelles, and hares. Unlike most carnivores, they either spot it within seconds or stalk it for hours. Their fast speed gives them an upper hand in hunting.
  7. Tiger – Tiger is the biggest cat species. It is an apex predator that preys on ungulates like wild boar and deer.
  8. Hyena – Hyenas are feliform carnivoran mammals. They eat carcasses in distinct stages of decomposition. They feed on the entire animals, even bones, leaving almost no carcass.  
  9. Sharks – Sharks mainly eat animal flesh, especially small fish and invertebrates. Some of the bigger sharks feed on sea lions, seals, and marine mammals.
  10. Raccoon – The raccoon likes to eat food near or in the water. For example, frogs, snails, clams, and crayfish. They also feed on eggs, fruits, nuts, vegetables, and dead animals.  

What Happens When a Carnivore Eats Plants?

Carnivores cannot digest plants to obtain the essential nutrients. Consequently, they may hunger and die a slow death. Nevertheless, if they can break down the cellulose to get the nutrients, they possess short intestines that cannot absorb anything useful. 

On a different note, meat is loaded with nutrients, unlike plants. The reason why herbivores will eat much of plants and take even a more extended time feeding and time to digest it. For instance, an elephant requires 300 pounds of grass, roots, fruits, among other plants, each day.

If you are a pet parent, you may note your cat is throwing up after feeding on grass. Another thing that can happen is passing out undigested plants. 

Can Carnivores Survive Without Meat (Safely)?

Obligate carnivores cannot survive without eating meat because they need a high amount of protein. For instance, cats supply their blood glucose requirement through gluconeogenesis found in proteins instead of breaking down carbohydrates in their meals.

If a carnivore does not take enough protein, they may lack adequate supply to their energy levels. Consequently, their bodies will wear down their muscles and organs to provide it. Some also require vitamin A in a pre-formed state; they cannot obtain it from beta-carotene like humans, rabbits, or dogs. 

Carnivores have limited ability to make niacin from tryptophan. They also need taurine and arginine, which are found exclusively in animals’ flesh. Arginine is vital for cats such that if they do not get it, they might die. So if a cat does not eat meat, it will die.

Most carnivores also lack the enzyme that breaks down grains to obtain nutrients. However, animals like dogs are fortunate to have a gene that helps them get nutrients from grains compared to wolves. This gene has allowed the dog to survive on human food. Dogs also take specialized vegan diets. 

Why Do Carnivores Stay Hungry Rather Than Eat Plants?

When carnivores chase without securing any prey on those challenging junctures, they starve lying on the grass. How does a starving animal sleep on ‘food’? Their digestive system is not specialized to break down plants. Also, similar to how we are conditioned in identifying some things as food and others not being food, animals do this too.