What does species-appropriate nutrition look like for dogs? Why your dog should not be fed like a wolf!


As a dog owner, you’ve probably heard that you should feed your dog like a wolf. Here we dispel this myth and explain what constitutes a species-appropriate dog diet.

So you are well informed about what your four-legged friend really needs – and can no longer be tied to a wolf in terms of “species-appropriate nutrition.”

What does species-appropriate nutrition look like for dogs

You must feed the dog like a wolf: This myth persists—our present-day domestic dogs, whether Chihuahua or Great Dane, are not pure carnivores but carni-omnivores.

Also, the wolf eats not only the muscle meat of its prey. Innards, ligaments, bones, and the booty animal’s stomach and intestine belong to its menu.

Do you know the 3 types of nutrition?

Carnivores are meat eaters. The word is composed of the Latin terms Carnis = meat and vorare = to devour. Carnivores feed on prey animals. On the other hand, Omnivores are all-eaters (Latin Omnis = everything).

The third type of nutrition is the herbivores from the Latin Herba = herb, thus pure herbivores. That a dog is not a pure herbivore is well known. But, to determine whether our dearest four-legged friend is a carnivore or an omnivore, the anatomical characteristics and living conditions must be scrutinized.

Carnivora vs. Carnivore

A dog belongs to the biological order of carnivores called Carnivora. Therefore, many initially assume that a dog must naturally be a carnivore.

However, the biological classification as a carnivore must not be confused with the diet. The classification as Carnivora does not automatically mean that man’s best friend also eats carnivorous food.

A special example is the panda bear. It, too, belongs to the order Carnivora and is known not to feed mainly on meat. Of course – the panda is admittedly a special case.
Panda Bear - Carnivora
Panda Bear - Carnivora

Is the Dog a Carnivore or Omnivore? Let science speak!

Anatomical Characteristics:

The Dentition of the Dog

The dog’s dentition is a typical carnivore dentition. The quadruped has fangs that are very pointed and suitable for tearing and swallowing large pieces of meat.

Its jaw is a scissor joint and, therefore, cannot perform typical grinding movements that are seen in a herbivore, for example. The dog also does not have teeth that have a grinding function.

dog's dentition

The Digestive tract of the Dog

The stomach of the dearest four-legged friend is a large cavity that has liquid-secreting glands. Unlike omnivores or herbivores, the dog does not have fermentation chambers on either its small or large intestine.

It has a much shorter intestine than a herbivore. However, the ratio of the intestine to its body size is comparable to humans. At first glance, therefore, the dog’s digestive tract is geared toward the consumption of meaty food.

If you take a look at the digestive enzymes of the quadruped, the assignment to a carnivore no longer seems so clear.

This is because the saliva of the dog has low concentrations of alpha-amylase. These enzymes are largely responsible for breaking down carbohydrates, which is why they are not found in pure carnivores.

In addition, the dog produces other digestive enzymes that are responsible, among other things, for breaking down carbohydrates into glucose.

Genetic Adaptation of the Dog

In our best friend, descended from the wolf, a genetic adaptation has taken place. This adaptation allows food other than meat to be digested. While the dog’s progenitor is incapable of digesting starch, a dog possesses significantly more copies of various genes that are needed to digest starch. On average, a dog has five times more copies of the gene than a wolf.

Exactly how many gene copies are present depends on the breed. However, this genetic adaptation suggests that the dog has also adapted to humans regarding nutrition.

The Path from the Wolf to man’s Best Friend

The paths in the genetic development of wolves and dogs have already separated thousands of years ago. Originally, wolves were in food competition with humans, who were on the move as hunters and gatherers.

With the development of agriculture and animal husbandry about 10,000 years ago, the interest of our human ancestors in taming wolves and using them to protect grazing livestock, for example, grew.

grey-wolf-in-the-snow-eating-meat

After man began to domesticate the wolf for his own purposes, the external appearance of the animals gradually changed. Thus, the skull and dentition became smaller. Domesticated dogs had a lower aggression potential than wolves, which made their social behavior more practical for humans. But also, the digestion of the dogs changed decidedly in the course of time.

With domestication, the food supply of dogs also changed. Of course, they were not fed meat from grazing animals or hunting prey every day. Among other things, the dogs also ate vegetable waste. Thus, over time, their digestive system adapted to the new menu, which included carbohydrates and starch in particular.

This development is also confirmed by a genome analysis of dogs and wolves published in 2013: Compared to wolves, significant changes in carbohydrate digestion were detected in dogs:

  • Enzyme secretion for starch breakdown is more pronounced in dogs.
  • Enzyme activity is higher in dogs.
  • Glucose uptake in the intestine is increased compared to wolves.
In conclusion, the study shows that in the course of domestication, dogs have managed to adapt to the human diet and use larger amounts of starch as an energy source. Dogs can therefore digest a certain amount of carbohydrates.


The important thing here is that the carbohydrates contained in the food are broken down in such a way that the dog’s own body enzymes can process them.

The Diet of wild living Dogs

Now let’s take a look at the food composition of wild dogs. In other words, dogs obtain their food largely independently.

wild living dogs

In a study on the food composition of free-living dogs in Zimbabwe, for example, it is shown that the dogs there feed on human feces to almost a quarter. “Sadza,” a grain porridge fed to them by humans, and fruits they find themselves make up another quarter.

About half of the diet consists of carrion. However, this is mostly carcasses of farm animals, from which all parts usable by humans have already been removed. Only rarely do animals that they have killed themselves make it onto the menu.

Chart by Visualizer
Chart by Visualizer

Even Wild Dogs in Central India hunt just 11% of the food themselves. The remaining part of the food is composed of harvest waste products, garbage and carrion of livestock.

 

The Dog is an Omnivore!

In both foxes and wild dogs, it is noticeable that the food spectrum is very broad, and they can adapt very well to different environmental conditions. Observations on the diet composition of foxes show an animal content of about 58 -73%, including insects, worms etc. In contrast, the dietary analyses of dogs show an animal content of 24-53%.

Thus, the meat content is significantly lower compared to foxes. There is a general consensus that foxes are omnivores; that is, they are omnivores. So for what reason should dogs not also be considered omnivorous animals?

During domestication, genetic adaptations also took place, suggesting that dogs are no longer pure carnivores. Many arguments, which at first glance clearly show that dogs are carnivores, are invalidated on closer inspection.

 

How the Dog has adapted to man in the Course of Domestication

Woman training dog at the park

For thousands of years, people and dogs have formed social communities where each takes on its own tasks. The dog helps its human with hunting, animal husbandry or other tasks and gets in return food and a roof over the head. Dog food has consisted of food waste from humans since the 1950s. In the course of domestication, our beloved four-legged friends have thus adapted to the life and diet of their people.

In the past, meat was not available in abundance, but only rarely and on special occasions. The bipeds would not have dreamed of feeding their delicious Sunday roast to the dog to feed him species-appropriate. Since more vegetable food was available daily, these leftovers also fell for the four-legged friends. These, in turn, have adapted to it in the course of the millennia regarding digestion.

Today one can still observe this eating behavior with wild living dogs. There are numerous studies on street dogs in different regions of the world and their diet.

How can you feed your dog a healthy diet?

Although dogs are omnivores, you should still feed your four-legged friend a high proportion of meat. This is because dogs can digest animal proteins much better than vegetable ones. Of course, they do have the ability to digest plant-based ingredients as well, but their organism is still designed for a mostly meat-based diet.

In principle, you can feed almost any type of meat, provided your furry nose is not allergic to it. Beef, lamb, horse, rabbit, poultry, goat or sheep are high-quality meats that provide your four-legged friend with proteins. Therefore, the main component of dog food should always be meat. It is best to leave out pork and wild boar. Here there is a risk that the meat is contaminated with the Aujeszky virus, which is deadly for dogs.

Fruits and vegetables should be cooked or pureed raw before they end up in the dog’s bowl. The cell structures are then partially broken down, and the dog can digest them more easily. Oil is also essential for dogs because it contains many essential fatty acids that the dog cannot produce itself.

Balanced dog nutrition is more than calculating every meal to the milligram. Varied nutrition provides your dog with all the important nutrients in the long term.

Conclusion: The dog is not a wolf. And should not be fed like a wolf.

Let’s summarize: To feed a dog in a species-appropriate way, we must not equate its needs with those of a wolf. Instead, we must consider the consequences of domestication and use the knowledge of modern and holistic veterinary medicine.

By nature, the dog is a carnivore. However, through his coexistence with humans, he has also developed into an omnivore. Therefore, you can feed your four-legged friend also partly with carbohydrates, fruits and vegetables that are healthy and species-appropriate.

An ideal distribution of ingredients is 60-80% meat and the rest of carbohydrates, vegetables and fruit. Have a nutritionist prepare a feeding plan if you want to compose the meals for your four-legged friend yourself.

Dr. Orika Mosquera

Hello, I am Dr. Orika Mosquera Lopez graduated from the free university of colombia sectional barranquilla as a doctor and surgeon. Ihe work as a General Practitioner with Experience in the Emergency Department, Hospitalization and External Consultation. I love pets, i have 2 cats, Bagheera and Nhala and one Yorkshire Terrier called Princess. I care a lot about the well-being of my animals

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