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While I know that in nature, carnivorous animals are poorly suited to eat plants (largely due to having sharp teeth, not grinding teeth, as far as I know), I was wondering if, in an emergency situation such as imminent starvation, could a carnivorous animal such as a wolf survive solely on plant life, maybe requiring it to be ground up before hand? Could an herbivore survive on meat, if the meat was prepared in a manner that would allow the herbivore to eat it? Would a wild animal voluntarily consume food that it is not suited for if it would stave off certain death, or would it require force feeding or training?

Also, I am interested in the other side of this question: if an animal cannot safely consume food outside of its normal diet (carnivore eating plants, herbivores consuming meat), what negative effects would this action have on the animal?

Just a note, this is purely a hypothetical question, and I am only asking out of curiosity. I am in no way planning on doing this, nor do I advise anyone else doing this if there is a high chance of it harming the animal.

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migrated from Mar 19 '14 at 0:04

This question came from our site for pet owners, caretakers, breeders, veterinarians, and trainers.

up vote 4 down vote accepted

This is kind of a weird/trick question. How long do you want the animal to live? If the lifespan is shortened or compromised does that fit.... Obligate carnivores (cats, dogs) do eat plant material. In the wild cats mainly eat grass to get rid of hairballs. Cats are more impacted by phytotoxins than dogs. However, both, are extremely vulnerable to compounds that don't bother humans (xanthines like theobromine, caffine, compounds in garlic, onions, broccoli, mushrooms). Cats can't convert plant fats into what they need (we can) as a result they can go blind if they don't get the animal fats they need. Likewise, herbivores will suffer increased cancer, heart disease, renal failure from diets with animal fats / protein. Your mention of "wolf" is interesting because there is a South American wolf that supplements its diet with a tomato relative (called something like "fruit for wolves" in Spanish). This is probably only "good" for it in that it keeps the wolf from otherwise starving. I don't know that it has a strong deleterious effect (probably not, but it could be more sensitive to trace alkaloids in the fruit) but it could hurt it in a minor way.

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Hi! Welcome to the site. It would improve your answer if you add some references for the information you provide. – biogirl Mar 20 '14 at 3:18
"fruit for wolves": – Dan S Mar 26 '14 at 21:46
unable to synthesize taurine from other sources (as herbavores and omnivores can) "For instance, cats require that their protein needs be met primarily by animal rather than plant sources, especially to supply adequate taurine, an amino acid which cats do not synthesize well for themselves." – Dan S Mar 26 '14 at 21:50
let me know what exactly you want references for. I was not directly quoting anything from any peer reviewed pub if that's what you want – Dan S Mar 26 '14 at 21:54
Hi! It's not necessary to include references from peer reviewed research papers if your references are "reliable" – biogirl Mar 27 '14 at 1:57

I think that the distinction between carnivores and herbivores contains a gray area with a spectrum of omnivores in-between. Bears are placed in the order of carnivores, but are definitely truly omnivores see link. However, if you give them a choice between a salmon and blueberries, it's quite clear what will be devoured first. That's why it's a carnivore. The answer by @Dan S clearly shows that not all creatures may be in the spectrum. For example, domestic cats are indeed quite carnivorous and would not touch plant material. On the other hand, now we are talking pets (the SE where this question apparently came from) - dogs are truly omnivores despite being categorized as carnivorous.

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