The critical conditions to effect transverse fracture in canine teeth of carnivores in lateral loading are analyzed. The teeth are modeled as tapered coaxial beams with uniformly thin enamel coats. A stress analysis is first carried out using beam theory, and stress intensity factors for inward propagating cracks at the location of maximum tensile stress along the lingual face are then determined. The fracture begins as arrested channel cracks within the enamel, followed by stable penetration around the tooth and into the dentin to the point of failure. Two- and three-dimensional finite element models are used to evaluate the full fracture evolution. The analysis yields an explicit scaling relation for the critical fracture load in terms of characteristic tooth dimensions, notably tooth height and base radius. The role of enamel, ignored in previous 'strength of materials' analyses, is shown to be important in determining the precursor crack equilibrium prior to full fracture. Implications concerning allometry are briefly discussed. © 2013 Elsevier Ltd.