Capnocytophaga canimorsus, a commensal bacterium of the canine oral flora, has been repeatedly isolated since 1976 from severe human infections transmitted by dog bites. Here, we show that C. canimorsus exhibits robust growth when it is in direct contact with mammalian cells, including phagocytes. This property was found to be dependent on a surface-exposed sialidase allowing C. canimorsus to utilize internal aminosugars of glycan chains from host cell glycoproteins. Although sialidase probably evolved to sustain commensalism, by releasing carbohydrates from mucosal surfaces, it also contributed to bacterial persistence in a murine infection model: the wild type, but not the sialidase-deficient mutant, grew and persisted, both when infected singly or in competition. This study reveals an example of pathogenic bacteria feeding on mammalian cells, including phagocytes by deglycosylation of host glycans, and it illustrates how the adaptation of a commensal to its ecological niche in the host, here the dog's oral cavity, contributes to being a potential pathogen.