In terms of diet, many are quick to equate wolves and domestic dogs. Wolves eat meat, therefore dogs should eat meat, right? Seems simple enough.
Turns out, the assumption that dogs are carnivorous may not hold much truth. We know that wolves and dogs aren't genetically identical, so how does this play out for their diets?
Dog Domestication & Evolution
According to Science, dogs were likely domesticated 15,000 years ago. At this time, humans were hunter-gatherers, and likely eating (and feeding their canine companions) mostly meat. With the development of agriculture about 12,000 years ago, people began to eat more and more starches (i.e., plant foods), and, unsurprisingly, so did their dogs.
"The genetic evolution in dogs parallels what others have found in humans," says Peter Savolainen, an evolutionary geneticist at the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, who studied this shift (Science).
Comparing the genomes of various types of dogs, both domestic and wild, Erik Axelsson and his colleagues at Uppsala University in Sweden discovered that dogs have four to 30 copies of a gene—Amy2B—that helps digest starch, whereas wolves typically only have two (Nature). Indeed, paleontologist Morgane Ollivier had extracted DNA from 13 ancient dog and wolf specimens, and found that four of these dogs had more than eight copies of Amy2B. These dogs were between 7,000 and 5,000 years old.
So what does this mean for our pets?
The development of farming practices many thousands of years ago lead to a fivefold increase in the number of starch-digesting genes in domestic dogs. These dogs can digest and make excellent use of plant foods thanks to their side-by-side evolution with humans. It makes sense that their nutrient requirements would therefore differ quite a bit from wolves', who had no evolutionary advantage of adapting to a plant-based diet.
Today, veterinarians, pet food companies and consumers are discovering the healthfulness of a plant-based diet for dogs. Recent studies have shown that dogs can not only survive, but thrive on plant foods, reaping health benefits just as humans do when switching to a vegan diet.
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