You may not be able to imagine your dog choosing a piece of broccoli over a piece of bacon. But is this preference a learned behavior, or an instinctual inevitability? Recent studies have explored the root of dogs' preference for "meaty" meals.
Despite pet food marketing messages telling you that your pup should eat like a wolf, dogs are naturally omnivorous, which means they have the genes necessary to digest carbohydrates. The AMY2B gene, which codes for pancreatic amylase and is responsible for the breakdown of carbs, has multiplied as domestic dogs have evolved away from their wolflike ancestors.
A study published in Ethology, Ecology and Evolution discovered that feral dogs prefer foods that smell fragrantly of meat over foods that have a higher meat content. It appeared that the smell was more important to the dogs' decisions than the actual amount of protein.
In another study, published in Journal of Ethology, researchers found that puppies did not share the same preference for meaty-smelling foods. The puppies ate the various food options equally, which suggests that dogs learn a preference for foods with a high meat content through experience, such as by observing their mothers.
It appears that dogs come to recognize and favor certain foods using indicators like smell, but that their preference for meat is not innate. As omnivores, dogs can thrive on a plant-based diet and can even learn to prefer plant foods.
Learn more about the evolution of the dog's diet:
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Source: Pet Food Industry