Do Camels Eat Meat? (Are They Omnivores?)

Photo: Tagwaran / Shutterstock

Knowing that camels live in the desert, you may be curious about what their diet consists of. After all, the desert isn’t exactly known for having a wide variety of sustenance available.

Do camels eat meat, or do they prefer plants?

Camels only eat meat if their usual diet of plants is not available; they are herbivores and spend their days grazing for food. Camels can eat spiky and thorny plants that aren’t suitable for most other animals, thanks to their rough lips and tongues. In captivity, camels mainly eat grass, hay, herbivore pellets, and salt and mineral licks.

Read on to learn about camels’ dietary preferences, what they eat in captivity, and how they digest their food. We’ll also discuss how long camels can go without food. 

Are Camels Carnivores Or Herbivores?

Camels are herbivores, meaning that they mostly eat plants. They’re also considered folivores, which means that they eat leaves, and graminivores, which means that they eat grass.

Although they’re herbivores, camels will eat meat and fish if they are starving and it is the only food available. However, if there are plants around, camels will never choose meat instead. 

Camels have thick, rough lips and tongues that enable them to eat a variety of plants that other animals cannot. 

Their mouths are evolved to handle thorny plants that would injure most animals, which is very beneficial to camels because it means there is less competition for their foods of choice.

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When camels graze for food, they spread out over a large area and only eat a few leaves from each plant. 

Parts Of A Camel’s Diet

As mentioned above, camels are herbivores that eat various plants. Their desert habitat doesn’t have much food, so they graze throughout the day, seeking out sustenance.

Most of their diet is made up of grains, wheat, grass, and oats.

Camels will eat stems, green shoots, and twigs of most of the plants they come across. They instinctively know to avoid plants that are poisonous to them, such as curly-pod wattle and quandong.

Thorny plants such as saltbush and cacti are easily eaten by camels. They’re able to get past their spiky exterior and enjoy the soft flesh on the inside of the plant thanks to their many adaptations. 

Some of these adaptations include a rough texture on the lips and tongue, as well as fleshy protrusions inside of the mouth called papillae. The papillae prevent spiky and thorny plants from causing injuries. 

You can see camels eating cacti in the video below.

A few of the plants camels eat include:

  • Salsola
  • Zygophyllum
  • Ephedra
  • Saxaul
  • Reaumuria
  • Haloxylon
  • Caragana
  • Reeds
  • Willows
  • Poplar

Of course, a camel’s diet also includes water, although camels can go long periods of time without it. However, if they live near water (usually in captivity), then camels will drink water daily.

Camels have a much higher requirement for salt than other animals; they need about eight times as much salt as sheep and cows do.

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Diet In Captivity

Although camels’ diets in captivity are entirely dependent on their owners’ or caretakers’ discretion, there are a few mainstays.

Zoos typically feed camels herbivore pellets, different types of hay and grass, and various plants. The hay and grass are especially important because camels naturally graze for sustenance. 

Meanwhile, herbivore pellets contain vitamins and minerals, so they fill in any unsatisfied diet requirements.

It’s important for caretakers to be aware of which minerals are present in the branches and grasses fed to camels so that they can supplement the diet with mineral or salt licks. 


Camels are considered ruminants, or cud-chewing mammals. Other ruminants are cows, giraffes, sheep, and deer.

Camels have three stomachs, and the way that they digest the food they eat is different from other types of mammals.

First, camels eat plant material, and it’s partly broken down in their first two stomachs.

Next, the camels regurgitate the partially-digested plant material as cud and chew it up again.

Finally, microbes such as fungi, protozoa, and bacteria in the third and fourth stomach chambers fully digest the plant material.

How Long Can Camels Go Without Food?

Camels can go several months without food, thanks to the fat stored in their humps. This fat can be converted to energy during the winter or other times when food is scarce. 

The exact amount of time that a camel can live off of its stored fat depends on its activity level and the climate.

When food is scarce and much of the stored fat has been used as energy, a camel’s hump will begin to droop and lean to one side.

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Camels don’t usually eat meat; they’re herbivores and prefer to eat plants. However, they will occasionally eat meat if no vegetation is available.

Thorny and spiky plants are some of the types of sustenance that camels enjoy. They have rough lips and tongues that allow them to eat these plants without injuring themselves.

When kept in captivity, camels’ diets are a bit different. They’re usually fed grass and hay along with herbivore pellets for extra vitamins and minerals. The diet is rounded out with salt and mineral licks.

Read More About Camels:

  1. Do Camels Eat Snakes?
  2. How Much Water Can A Camel Drink?
  3. Camel Vs. Horse
  4. How Do Camels Survive In The Desert?
  5. Can Camels Have 3 Humps?

James Ball

James has had a lifelong passion for animals and nature, tracing back to his childhood where he first began fostering intimate knowledge and connection with pet frogs and snakes. He has since honed this interest into a career as a trained Wildlife Biologist, specializing in Biogeography, sustainability and conservation. In addition to his professional pursuits, James maintains an active lifestyle, regularly indulging in outdoor activities such as hiking, and musical pursuits like playing piano and swimming.

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