Dog food branding these days will have you convinced that dogs should be fed like their wolf ancestors, with a diet high in animal protein, low in carbohydrates, and possibly even made from raw meat. Companies proclaim that their foods are "biologically-appropriate" or "species-appropriate," all while featuring photos of wolves on their packaging. So the question is, are dogs and wolves really one and the same?
Animal nutritionist Ryan Yamka, PhD, sheds some light on this common misconception.
"Although dogs are descendants of wolves, their domestication by humans led them to evolve from a mainly carnivorous diet to foods rich in starch," says Yamka. "In 2013, Axelsson et al. conducted whole genome sequencing of both dogs and wolves to identify genetic variants occurring through the domestication of dogs. Of the variants identified in the study, the researchers found differences in genes tied to brain function (domestication for certain roles/functions) and starch digestion (increased ability to digest starch vs. a wolf)."
Yamka points to three additional peer-reviewed studies that found similar results in dogs: "[In 1999] Murray et al. investigated the starch digestibility of corn, barley, potato, rice, sorghum and wheat. The digestibility for all sources were greater than 99 percent. In 2015, Bazolli et al. found similar results looking at rice, corn and sorghum in dogs. Lastly, Carciofi et al. (2008) investigated the digestibility of cassava (tapioca) flour, brewer’s rice, corn, sorghum, peas or lentils in dogs. In all studies, starch digestibility was greater than 98 percent."
With their elevated ability to digest starches, domestic dogs have strayed far from their primarily meat-eating wolf ancestors. This makes sense, given their evolution alongside humans and agriculture over many thousands of years. The "grain-free" and "raw meat" trends in today's pet food industry may not hold as much truth as pet food companies lead us to believe.
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