Dogs evolved from wolves thousands of years ago (30,000 to be exact), a fact that is easy to forget with the sheer number of brands marketing very high meat, grain-free diets for our dogs that mirror that of the wolf.
All dogs are omnivores belonging to the order Carnivora which includes the bamboo-eating vegetarian panda bears as well as wolves! This means that our omnivorous dogs require a balance of proteins, fruits, vegetables, grains, and healthy fats in their diet to maintain optimal health.
So while dogs may have descended from the same ancestor as wolves, metabolically and genetically speaking, their nutritional needs are quite different.
Axelsson and his colleagues analysed the entire genetic codes of 12 wolves from around the world, as well as the genomes of 60 individual domestic dogs from 14 different breeds looking for places where the genomes diverged.
They found that certain regions contained genes crucial for brain functioning, including eight important for the development of the nervous system.
It was no surprise to see differences in brain genetics, Axelsson said, given that dogs had to modify their behaviour to fit into human society. What did surprise the researchers, however, were 10 regions held genes involved with diet, specifically the breakdown of starches. Humans are well-equipped for starchy diets, as we know our saliva contains an enzyme called amylase, which starts breaking down starches as soon as we start eating. Dog saliva does contain some amylase but they eat too fast for it to be effective, so the main excretory organ of amylase – the pancreas is as active in dogs as it is in humans and allows for the digestion of starches in the intestine.
The researchers found that dogs have more copies of a gene called AMY2B, crucial for amylase production, than wolves, and in dogs, this gene is 28 times more active in the pancreas than in wolves.
Dogs also showed changes in specific genes that allow for the breakdown of maltose into glucose – another key starch digestion step, and in genes allowing for the body to make use of this glucose.
So wolves are not dogs. Similar, in some respects, but different.
Wolves are not dogs.
But are they similar? Yes
Both are pack animals with pecking orders. But so are chickens.
Both are opportunistic feeders. But so are chickens.
If a wolf is lucky enough to bring down a deer or an elk, they will tend to rip at the carcass starting with the easy access at the abdomen and then burrowing inward and upward to eat the stomach, liver, belly fat, and heart.
Wolves, like dogs and people, crave fats. If a wolf catches a familiar rabbit, it will probably eat it whole, same as a large dog, but if a fresh rabbit is found dead on the ground next to something as strange as a big lump of whale fat, it will eat the whale fat first. Fat is rare, and you take it when you can in as large an amount as you can.
And what of the wolf that catches neither rabbit nor deer nor elk? They will eat whatever they can, from acorns and grass to wild berries and rubbish. Have you seen this with your own dog? They will do the same thing.
Wolf biologist David Mech notes that:
“In parts of Eurasia, wolves live in areas with relatively little wild prey, but subsist nevertheless on a wide variety of foods provided indirectly by humans. Foraging in rubbish dumps, wolves eat meat scraps and various fruits, as well as inadvertently consuming non-food debris. In Israel, the following items were found in wolf scat: human hair, plastic, tinfoil, cigarettes, matches, and egg shells.”
So, bottom line: Wolves are not picky eaters nor are they pure carnivores as the meat-based dog food companies want us to believe.
The Association of Zoos & Aquariums Nutrition Advisory Group offers the following advice on the feeding of red wolves:
Feeding requirements of red wolves have generally not been a problem in the RWSSP, as long as good quality commercial (dry) dog food is provided. Wolves maintained in enclosed spaces have done well on food with label guarantees ranging from 22-28% protein, 8-18% fat, and 2-4% fibre. Vitamin supplements for red wolves are normally not required. Adding commercial carnivore meat to dry food may be needed to encourage some wolves to eat, although should not be the primary component of their feed.
All of this information about wolves leads us onto the fact that meat-based pet food companies want us to believe that our dogs need high meat diets as they are related to wolves….which could not be further from the truth as genetically their digestive systems and gut bacteria are much more similar to ours!
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