No matter what shape, size, or breed of dog we share our lives with, their common ancestor is Canis lupus, the wolf. These wild canines are true carnivores, and survive on a predominantly meat diet. What about our dogs? Have they retained those carnivorous tendencies or has domestication allowed them to thrive on other diets?
Both the domestic dog and the wolf are part of the genus Carnivora. Wolves hunt and catch prey and their diet is therefore mostly meat protein with not a great deal of plant material. They don’t have a regular food intake. They eat when they catch prey, and if they don’t, then they have to deal with a period where they just don’t eat.
It’s thought that domestic dogs first evolved from the wolf between 10,000 and 20,000 years ago. However, it’s not quite clear how domestication occurred and there are a few theories associated with this. Some scientists think that wolves began to associate with humans when we created settlements and started planting food crops. Others think that wolves started accompanying people when they were still living a hunter/gatherer type of existence. Nobody is certain, but what does appear to be accurate is that the wolves benefitted from eating leftover scraps and the humans benefitted because the wolves protected them from other wild carnivores. The result of these mutually beneficial interactions was that the canine diet changed. There was no longer feast or famine, with a glut of food after a kill followed by a period of abstinence. There was a more consistent food intake, as well as a change from a mainly meat diet to one that included human leftovers.
In 2013, scientists in Scandinavia discovered significant differences between the digestive tract of the domestic dog and that of the wolf. It appears that as dogs became domesticated, their genes adapted to support improved starch digestion when compared to wolves. This means that dogs can better digest carbohydrates in food so they can indeed benefit from a diet that includes more plants and grains.
How does this affect how we feed our dogs? Although they are still part of the genus Carnivora, dogs have developed a more omnivorous eating habit. Meat is still a good source of nutrients for them but diets that contain grains are also very suitable. Dogs aren’t the only carnivores that have changed their eating habits over the years. The giant panda is also part of the same genus but their diet is mostly bamboo plants.
When it comes to feeding our pet dogs, this discovery suggests that they’re no longer true carnivores but instead are more like omnivores and gain nutritional benefits from plants as well as meat. This means that there’s no need to avoid kibbles that contain grains, as they’re not just fillers; they do provide nutrients. However, dogs do need to be considered on an individual basis and there’s no one food that is perfect for every dog. The best way to feed your pup is to find a diet that meets all their nutritional requirements that they thrive on, so that they are bright and alert, and have a healthy body with lots of energy.