Dogs are Not Wolves: Amylase, Starch Digestion and Vegan Diets

As a company that has seen thousands of dogs thrive on our plant-based (starchy) kibble since 2005, at v-dog we feel very confident in the power of plants for our furry companions. Story after story, time after time, we hear of dogs bouncing with energy, losing weight and ridding their bodies of arthritis, allergies and tummy troubles. In addition to the ethical and environmental benefits of feeding your dog a plant-based diet, there is clear scientific evidence that over the thousands of years they've spent around humans, their bodies have evolved to digest and thrive on starchy foods.

So, regarding diet, what makes dogs so different than wolves? 

The digestion of starch works a bit differently in dogs than in humans. An article titled "Starch Diets May Have Given Ancient Dogs the Paw Up," states, "Humans are well-equipped for starchy diets: Human saliva contains an enzyme called amylase, which starts breaking down starches as soon as food hits the mouth. Dog drool doesn't have this advantage, but dogs do excrete amylase from their pancreases, allowing for the digestion of starches in the gut."

The diference between dogs and wolves can be broken down to evolution on a genetic level. (Ok, we're going to get a bit science-y on you for a minute...)

According to Animal Genetics Journal, "High amylase activity in dogs is associated with a drastic increase in copy numbers of the gene coding for pancreatic amylase, AMY2B, that likely allowed dogs to thrive on a relatively starch-rich diet during early dog domestication...Pancreatic amylase (AMY2B) serves as the first step in the digestion of starch to glucose in the small intestine by catalyzing the breakdown of starch to oligosaccharides maltose and maltriose specifically demonstrated that selection had acted on a series of duplication events to favor the accumulation of additional copies of AMY2B, resulting in an average sevenfold copy number increase in dogs relative to in wolves..."

The Nat. Center for Biotechnology Information also references amylase related to dog's starch-heavy domestication: "High amylase activity in dogs is associated with a drastic increase in copy numbers of the gene coding for pancreatic amylase, AMY2B, that likely allowed dogs to thrive on a relatively starch-rich diet during early dog domestication." 

Domestic dogs not only developed a better ability to digest starch, but a greatly-improved ability to utilize and benefit from these starches than their wolf counterparts:

"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." (Animal Genetics)

Although wolves can digest starch in small amounts, they tend to stick to flesh unless food is scarce. An Italian study on wolf diet in various habitats all showed vegetable matter to make up approximately 5% of the wolf packs' diets. (Mammalian Biology)

Interestingly enough, the evolution of our furry friend isn't too far off from our own body's adaptations over the years. According to, “...Some of the changes observed in dog digestion have parallels in humans. As we moved from hunting meat and gathering berries to farming grains and vegetables, we, too, duplicated our amylase gene, which some have seen as an adaptation to a starch-rich diet."

As if we didn't already know dogs were magical, their extraordinary evolution alongside humans proves their bodies have adapted to thrive off of diets rich in starchy foods. To learn more about v-dog's healthy, hypoallergenic, plant-based products for your pup.

A note from a homeopathic veterinarian:


"This [vegetarian diets for companion animals] is very important work. In our time we cannot sustain the use of animals as a major or primary food source. It is simply not possible considering how very inefficient it is to feed edible grains and other vegetable sources to animals so that they, in turn, will be eaten. Even more important are the very real health effects from feeding at the top of the food chain. We don't know the levels of pollutant accumulation in the tissues of animals, but in people it has been found that well over 100 chemicals are now resident in our tissues especially in those that regularly eat meat. Avoiding animal flesh in our diets very much reduces this toxic accumulation. Lastly, from an ethical standpoint, our food animal industry results in very great suffering for large numbers of animals and it is logically inconsistent to treasure one animal (the one emotionally close to us) at the cost of other animals being treated inhumanely. To find alternative diets for dogs and cats that do not include meat is very important work and needs to be done." – Richard H. Pitcairn, DVM, PhD (via

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Animal Genetics: link
Volume 45, Issue 5, Article first published online: 28 JUN 2014
The National Center for Biotechnology Information: link link
The Scientist: link
Nature.Com: link
Capitani et al. 2004 Mammalian Biology vol 69 pages 1-10
 photos: Featured image: National Geographic; Howling wolf:; Carrots:; Confused dog: icingonthepavement;

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