Skip to Main Content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.
San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance logo
San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance Library logo

Camels (extant/living species; Camelus spp.): Diet & Feeding

Camels (Camelus spp.)

Diet and Feeding


  • Ruminants (cud-chewing mammals) usually have 4 stomachs (occasionally 3).
    • Plant material partially broken down in the 1st two stomachs, then regurgitated as cud and chewed again.
    • Microbes (bacteria, protozoa, and fungi) in other stomach chambers assist in digestion.
    • Other ruminants: antelopes, sheep, goats, cattle, giraffes and bison and deer.
  • Camels graze (like sheep) and browse (like antelopes).
  • Move while feeding no matter how rich or poor the vegetation (do not degrade desert flora).
  • Mainly grasses, leaves and twigs of shrubs and trees - all plants of the desert.
    • Green shoots of saxaul (Haloxylon)
    • Stems and foliage of Salsola, Ephedra, Zygophyllum
    • Species in Mongolia include:Caragana, Haloxylon, Reaumuria, Salsola
  • At oases: poplar, willows and reeds
  • Camels recognize poisonous plants growing in the area and will not eat them.
    • May eat poisonous plants in new, unfamiliar area,
  • Can eat sharp, thorny plants other animals can’t eat (e.g., saltbush).


  • Able to go without water for a long time (generally thought to be 4-5 days).(Wilson, 1998)
    • When dehydrated, body temperature can lower to 34°C to as high as 41°C.
    • Produce small amounts of concentrated thick urine.
    • Kept in same conditions, cattle lose water 3 times faster than camels
  • If the camel is kept near a water source or river, it may drink daily.
  • In cold weather, and when green feed is available, may not drink water for months
  • A thirsty camel in a hot dry season can drink up to 200 liters of water in one day. (Gauthier-Pilters, 1981)


  • Salt is very important for the camel. It needs eight times as much salt as do cattle and sheep.

No Pain-in-the-Mouth

Dromedary camel

Camels have tough mouths and can eat sharp, thorny plants that other animals can’t eat.

Image credit: © San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance. All rights reserved.

Page Citations

FAO (1994)
Bannikov (1976)
Gauthier-Pilters (1981)
Wilson (1998)

SDZWA Library Links