(Photo credit: laura271gsd1)

There is a trend with a lot of strict prey model raw feeders, and that is that they seem to be feeding raw simply because “it’s what a wolf would eat in the wild.” If you don’t already know, strictly prey model means no supplements, no fruits or veggies, no dairy, and if you mention grain, you might as well be the anti-christ. But are there options beyond the realm of what is considered “acceptable” in typical prey model raw that could benefit some dogs? Is it really ideal to be this strict, or by ruling out everything except for meat, bone, and organ, are they limiting the potential of their dog’s diets?

Modern domesticated dogs come in all shapes, sizes, and colors thanks to the human intervention of selective breeding. But how closely related is your dog to a wolf, and what does that mean about your pet dog’s optimal diet requirements?

Many raw feeding advocates commonly reason that dogs share 99.8% of their DNA with wolves, therefore their ideal diet should be exactly the same as what a wolf would be eating in the wild. This information commonly stems from this Robert K. Wayne Ph.D’s quote, found in his study, Molecular evolution of the dog family, Theoretical & Applied Genetics, June 1993, Vol. 9, No. 6.

“The domestic dog is an extremely close relative of the gray wolf, differing from it by at most 0.2% of mtDNA sequence…”

This quote continues to be shared far and wide in the raw feeding world, and it certainly does have its merits. Dogs are very similar to wolves, and most dog breeds in fact can be traced back to wolves. Both wolves and dogs are, in fact, carnivores. This surely has a lot to do with their dietary requirements. But does it mean that dogs and wolves have the exact same dietary requirements? And even if so, is mimicking the diet of a wild wolf truly what is best for our domesticated dogs, or rather should we be improving on this diet in order to achieve the best possible results in our dogs’ health?

It is important to note that the similarities in DNA sequence between two living organisms does not always mean they are even remotely similar. For example, human DNA sequences are over 95% identical to chimpanzee sequences and around 50% identical to banana sequences [source].

Since Wayne’s work was published in 1993, there have been many more studies on the similarities of dogs and wolves, as well as what changes our domesticated dogs may have experienced as they evolved from their wild ancestors through selective breeding. Of course, the obvious changes would be appearance and temperament. But diving deeper, we have discovered differences beyond that as well. As it turns out, that .02% difference between the gray wolf and the domesticated dog is more significant than it seems.

Researchers have found differences across dog breeds and wolves in the number of amylase genes. This study identified that wolves had 2 copies of the gene responsible for the production of amylase, yet found a range of 4 to 30 copies of this gene in domesticated dogs. Dogs that were domesticated in agrarian societies showed that they developed more of these genes than breeds that originated in areas that did not rely heavily on agricultural production. And not only did this research find amylase genes in domesticated dogs that differed by breed, it also found that dogs produce a type of maltase that differs from that produced by wolves, instead sharing similarities with omnivores and herbivores.

Genome Sequencing Highlights the Dynamic Early History of Dogs, published Jan 16, 2014 (Click photo to be directed to study and full sized image)

“Our results show that adaptations that allowed the early ancestors of modern dogs to thrive on a diet rich in starch, relative to the carnivorous diet of wolves, constituted a crucial step in early dog domestication.” [source]

This means that despite what many raw feeding resources like to claim, both domesticated dogs and wolves do in fact possess amylase (although in the pancreas and small intestine rather than in the saliva) – dogs far moreso than wolves. Therefore, a dog’s nutritional requirements very well may differ from that of wolves.

Photo credit: Wikipedia Commons
Photo credit: Wikipedia Commons

Clearly, dogs are carnivores. They may not be obligate carnivores like cats or ferrets, but after considering a dog’s jaw structure, teeth, short, acidic digestive system, and predatory behavior, it is hard to deny that a domesticated dog is still a carnivore rather than an omnivore. The fact that they have the ability to digest starch certainly doesn’t mean that they require it as part of their diet; it simply means that it can be digested, it can be utilized, and that starches and grains may have their place in a domesticated dog’s diet depending on the individual dog’s energy level, metabolism, and even genetics.

It should also be said that the diet of a wild canine is surely not optimal. After all, that’s why wolves are called “opportunistic” or “scavenging” carnivores – they eat what they can find, and what they find might not always be the best option for their health. They have been known to starve for several days or even weeks on end, eat rancid, parasite-infected, rotting carcasses, and sustain injuries from their meals such as cracked teeth, which can become seriously infected. Wolves die young, with an average lifespan of only 6 to 8 years old [source], for many of these reasons. What would a wolf eat if it was able to be provided with the best possible nutrition? Certainly not what it eats in the wild.

This “appeal to nature” logical fallacy can apply to all areas of dog ownership. Is it natural for our dogs to live inside, to get vaccinations, to be dewormed, to be on heartworm prevention, to get groomed, or to walk on leashes? It can be argued that domesticated dog breeds themselves are “unnatural”. We have bred them to be wire-coated, single coated, dwarf, and brachycephalic. We’ve bred down their temperament and predatory instincts into something that was once a wild animal, and is now a domesticated pet. That, in and of itself, is unnatural; but just because it’s unnatural, doesn’t mean it is inherently bad.

In the search to provide the best possible diet for your dog, realize that simply basing your decisions off of what a wolf would eat in the wild, or what is more “natural”, is not the best choice. Also keep in mind that there is not one specific diet that every single dog would be able to thrive on. Dogs should be looked at as individuals that have differing nutritional requirements which depend on many factors, including but not limited to energy level, metabolism, health, and genetics. Limiting your options to strict limitations based on what wolves eat is unnecessary, misguided, and even potentially dangerous. Supplements, fruits/veggies, dairy, and even grain can be a helpful addition to many raw diets. Choosing to feed a raw diet should be a step in providing optimal nutrition to your dog, rather than just a step in providing the most “natural” diet.

To be clear, I do believe that a properly balanced and correct prey model raw diet can indeed provide adequate nutrition to dogs – and I think I could even safely go so far as to say most dogs. However, I think the strict mindset that is commonly found in many prey model communities is not only unnecessary, but also potentially damaging. An owner should not feel like they are breaking a “rule” if they choose to start supplementing the diet, or if they want to give some veggies now and then, or even if they choose to start feeding grains to a dog that can’t keep on weight. Every dog is different, and despite what some may tell you, a strict prey model diet does not work for every single dog.