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Carnivore digestion

Happy National Zookeepers Week, everyone, Carnivore Keeper Allie here! As I am writing this, I’m stuffing my face with lots of snacks and candy which got me thinking … I’d love to compare and teach you all about how we digest food versus how a carnivore digests food. Here are some definitions before I continue. An omnivore is an animal that consumes both meat and plants. Our two sun bears at Zoo Atlanta, Xander and Sabah, are perfect examples of omnivores. Carnivores are animals that eat meat as a main part of their diet; however, they also consume organs and smaller bones to receive additional minerals and nutrients. Carnivores are exemplified by animals like dogs or wolves. An obligate carnivore (also known as true carnivores) is an animal that requires the consumption of meat because it cannot properly digest vegetable matter. Examples of these animals are cats, including our lion brothers Hondo, Hatari, and Azizi. In addition, some obligate carnivores will consume vegetation specifically to vomit. Finally, herbivores are animals that consume only vegetation, such as our sheep and goats. Come visit the petting zoo sometime and check them out for yourself!

As most humans are omnivores, we are able to eat and digest both cooked meat and plants. One of the largest organ systems in the body, the digestive system, encompasses more than simply eating. Looking closer, digestion includes ingestion (eating), digestion (food breakdown), absorption (using nutrients), and defecation (waste removal). Compared to herbivores, carnivores have a simpler digestive tract and a dominating smaller intestine. Is your smaller intestine dominating? Compared to the body size of almost any mammal, cats have the shortest digestive tract. Longer guts, as represented by herbivores, take more time to digest and ferment bacteria from plants. Since carnivores consume highly digestible raw meat, there is no need for a long digestive tract.

Well, that’s all for now. Next time you come visit Zoo Atlanta and sit down to eat at Nourish Café, think about how our digestive system is similar and different from the animals around you. Until next time, cheers!

Allie C.
Keeper I, Mammals

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