Take the 2-minute tour ×
Biology Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for biology researchers, academics, and students. It's 100% free, no registration required.

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.

share|improve this question

migrated from pets.stackexchange.com Mar 19 at 0:04

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

I would vote for migrating to BiologySE if we had that migration path available. But then I would also need to visit BiologySE to see their answers, for the question is interesting :) –  Esa Paulasto Mar 18 at 18:30
It sounds to me like you want to know more about carnivorous/herbivorous animals and their behavior, rather than that of a specific species. Which makes me think that this is just out of our scope. –  Matt S. Mar 18 at 19:23
Otherwise you could try our meta site, or asking it in chat I think. chat.stackexchange.com/rooms/10964/the-litter-box –  Matt S. Mar 18 at 19:25
I am checking on the migration, because it really doesn't fit here. –  Ashley Nunn Mar 18 at 19:54
As an aside, I'm not sure you can generalize an answer to this. –  John Cavan Mar 18 at 20:43

1 Answer 1

up vote 2 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.

share|improve this answer
Hi! Welcome to the site. It would improve your answer if you add some references for the information you provide. –  biogirl Mar 20 at 3:18
"fruit for wolves": en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solanum_lycocarpum –  Dan S Mar 26 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." felineconstipation.org/prevention.html –  Dan S Mar 26 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 at 21:54
Hi! It's not necessary to include references from peer reviewed research papers if your references are "reliable" –  biogirl Mar 27 at 1:57

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.