Your dog is not a wolf; stop trying to feed it like one

(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.

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47 thoughts on “Your dog is not a wolf; stop trying to feed it like one

  1. I think you have a great perspective on feeding. Those that limit the diet of their dogs to only 3 protein sources, and feed limited organs are risking nutritional deficiencies. Wild canids eat a huge variety of prey, which would be difficult, if not impossible, to replicate at home. This diversity in diet would offer minerals and vitamins that would not be available from a limited diet.

    It’s important for us raw feeders to continue to do our research as more studies become available. As raw feeding grows in popularity, so will the research behind it.

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  2. Thank you!! I feed pulped veggies and throw leftovers(even it it includes..*gasp* grain!) Into my dogs meals, i add things like yogurt and sour cream etc.. as well. And yes, you would think i was the anti-christ the way some people react! I have been feeding raw this way for 14 years, i just tell people who rant about it to come tell my 14 year old Border Collie whome most people think is 8-9 years old max, that I’m feeding her wrong, and then come tell my vet who see’s all her bloodwork every year , that I’m an idiot and killing my dog lol

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    1. The other night, after our dog’s evening meal, she still seemed a little hungry. Confident that she had plenty to eat, I ended up tossing her a whole carrot and let me just say, she loved it. Well, I made the mistake of posting to one of the raw feeding Facebook pages and you would have sworn I posted a picture of her swimming in a bathtub of alcohol while eating her body weight in chocolate!

      I understand why people puree fruits and vegetables, but if snacking on whole fruits and vegetables keeps my dog happy, I have no problem feeding them to her as a treat.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. There is so many experts out there, isn’t there (wink) I feed whole prey, I feed ground, I feed fruit/ veggies. Sometimes grains, and guess what, no one has died and I have big beautiful healthy raw litters for five generations of giant breed of dogs. I also have brussel griffons, ten pounds, they also eat whole prey and ground food and carrots and …LOL people are funny creatures.

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  3. Great article.
    I was farming for 30 years and our dogs always ate raw. Used to get whale meat from Peranos and dry it. However I don’t feed farmed meat, like chicken, pork , fish as it contains antibiotics and goodness knows what else. They get cooked or raw vegetables sometimes but rarely wheat based food. Yes some died from cancer but that cannot be prevented by raw feeding. Rabbit or possum if I am lucky.
    No need for toothpaste.

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  4. The anti-nutrients like phytic acid (which bind with minerals like zinc, calcium and magnesium and prevent absorption) as well as the trypsin inhibitor (making protein harder to digest and therefore utilize) don’t bother you about grains? Lectins would be another reason why I personally would be cautious of all grains.

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      1. Thanks Plear. I’m actually quite familiar with antinutrients. The article titled “Lectins: A Little Known Troublemaker” takes the anti-nutrients lectins a little more seriously.

        “Lectins are involved in food allergies/sensitivities, inflammation and autoimmune disease, just to name a few. For instance, lectins are linked to celiac disease. Even weight gain and low energy can be linked to lectins.

        Because the lectins also circulate throughout the bloodstream they can bind to any tissue in the body ­— thyroid, pancreas, collagen in joints, etc.2 This binding can disrupt the function of that tissue and cause white blood cells to attack the lectin-bound tissue, destroying it. This is an autoimmune response. The lectins in wheat for example, are specifically known to be involved in rheumatoid arthritis.” http://www.institutefornaturalhealing.com/2009/07/lectins-a-little-known-trouble-maker/

        Small amounts and infrequent feeding should prevent lectin damage in healthy animals but in ill animals even small amounts could be problematic.

        Thanks for your response.

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      2. While these compounds can curtail the body’s absorption or usage of certain minerals and other beneficial compounds to some extent, they don’t block it entirely. You would have to eat extremely large quantities of the same high-antinutrient foods day in and day out in order for those foods to have a significant effect on your nutritional status.

        Maybe your concerns would make sense if I were recommending ALL dogs eat extremely high-grain diets. But I’m not. I would recommend grains in very few situations, but those situations are still worth mentioning, and the people that do have to feed grains to keep their dogs healthy and functioning at their best should not be shamed for their choice.

        This antinutrient thing is overplayed. These problems shouldn’t even arise in an otherwise healthy dog. Yes, they might be something to consider if your dog has a specific health condition, but even then, I don’t think feeding small amounts of grains along with a raw diet will cause the massive amount of harm you are implying it will cause. It seems incredibly unlikely that such a small amount of grain would cause these issues.

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  5. All this article talks abut is the dogs teeth if you would have done research on a dogs stomach and what it is meant to process you would learn and understand that dogs are meant to eat raw based on the enzymes in their stomach. They get all the same nutrients from eating different meats that they would get from eating vegetables. Dogs cannot digest grains. And many raw feeders feed many types of prey for this reason.

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    1. This article is not anti-raw. I myself feed prey model raw. All the article is pointing out is the flaw behind the “feed raw because it’s what wolves eat” theory, and explaining that supplementing a prey model diet should not be looked down upon. Every dog is different and has different dietary needs.

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  6. Fantastic article. I went from BARF to Prey and then back to BARF. I found that our dogs were missing things when I fed the the prey model, but I don’t tell others that they HAVE to feed BARF, I simply share my experience and remind them that every dog is different. However, I WANT to tell them to feed BARF, because we’ve had such success with this diet with our 4 dogs. LOL

    Many times I’ve seen people immediately tell others that they should remove the veggies and fruits because they’re causing the problems and wolves don’t eat them. My dogs may have DNA in common with wolves, but they’re domesticated and require a different diet, IMO. Thanks for explaining why that is. I appreciate the information.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Sorry but you seam to know much to little about a wolfs feeding habits they do not eat vegtables??? Do not eat grass??? Do not eat the bark from certain trees ??? OH dear someone should read a little more about the wolf in general!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ummm… then maybe those aren’t wolves out there eating moose dung and horse ‘apples’… wolves DO eat plant based materials, but not to excess and only to gather missing nutrients and fibre…

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  8. Great article. However, as a cell biologist I feel the need to point out that the 0.2% difference is only mitochondrial DNA, which is vastly different by definition than an animal’s complete genome. Mitochondrial DNA, abbreviated as mtDNA, refers to a very very small circular piece of DNA found in the mitichondria of every complex animal. This DNA is COMPLETELY SEPARATE from the animal’s genome, which is housed in the nucleus of almost all cells in an organism. Mitochondrial DNA is about the same quanitity of DNA contained by the average bacterial cell. There is no information available regarding the similarity of the entire genome of a gray wolf compared to a domestic dog, and unfortunately this misunderstanding if the information has helped encourage the “my dog is a wolf” mindset.

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  9. Taking things to the extreme is always a problem. It should be obvious that a natural diet is the optimal diet for any species (including human), and obviously raw is the most natural diet for all animals whether they’re related to wolves or not. I don’t think dogs had figured out how to cook/modify otherwise indigestible/poisonous foods before humans introduced them into their diets. There’s a strong argument that the introduction of essentially inedible food into the human diet is the cause of most human illnesses in the modern world, but then we don’t all live in the tropics with fresh fruit etc readily available year round. As with anything, all things are generally okay in moderation, so you do the best you can with what you have.

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  10. manufactured dog food has been around how long?? I’ve seen wolves eat berries, flowers, roots, and grasses. My dogs are far more healthier on raw with vegetables and such thrown in than they ever were off the best kibble. .. That dog in the picture up there is a wolf GSD dog.. Just FYI .. the dog .. can disappear into the wolf dna totally without a trace. I started with wolves and wolf dogs. … Your dog is a wolf if your still human. All races start with the African chromosome the first human. No matter our race… we still are all the same. Same with Wolves and dogs bred down from wolves and jackals. Just a mutated coding of particular cross or inbreeding.

    Dogs have only eaten manufactured dog food since the 40’s. Before then most every one fed their dogs “scraps” from their table or the butcher.

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    1. This article is not anti-raw. It is simply pointing out that raw fed dogs can still sometimes benefit from supplements, fruits/veggies, or even grains in some situations. It is also pointing out the flaw behind feeding raw just because “it’s what wolves eat in the wild.”

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    2. LOL you can tell someone didn’t read past the title! Also FYI the dog in the picture is a purebred dark sable working line GSD NOT a wolf dog.

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  11. I base my whole raw “pitch” on the similarities of a wolf and dogs digestive system. I don’t feed vegetables unless they are pureed as a dogs digestive tract cannot break down the cellulose to absorb nutrition. A little disappointed with “your dog is not a wolf” opinion. Some of the comments about how myself and all of my customers feed raw is quite discriminating….”and if you mention grain, you might as well be the anti-Christ” I always advise my customers not to feed grain based on the capacity of the cecum in the digestive tract and its limited ability to process them. I really like the rules for this group because no one is to be judged or given a hard time about the way they feed raw.

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    1. By saying grain may be appropriate in some circumstances, I do not mean that all dogs should be fed a diet high in starch. I feed raw myself; I don’t think most dogs need grains. However, they may be useful in some situations, such as when a dog cannot keep on weight and health issues have been ruled out. (For instance, someone recently posted about their dog getting 8% of their body weight per day, yet still not being the weight the owner would like, and asking if adding grains would help her dog. The dog had no prior health concerns and had regular bloodwork and fecal tests.

      I feed raw because I want to feed a whole, fresh, unprocessed food to my dogs. It only makes sense that unprocessed would be better than processed kibble. However, like the article suggests, dogs are not wolves. Dogs are actually more closely related to other dogs than they are to wolves, and like the article says, there are actually differences when it comes to wolves and dogs’ capabilities to digest starches. This doesn’t mean dogs should be fed a high starch diet – it is simply pointing out that dogs ARE different than wolves.

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  12. Great post! I’ve read so many sites on what you should/shouldn’t do or feed, that we have to feed them as natural as possible so no veggies and limited supplements so it kinda got stuck in my brain that raw feeding is pretty strict so as to ensure a balanced diet. Glad to know that it’s not all that strict. Still have so much more to learn on my side!

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  13. The thing I find most Prey Model feeders fail to take into account is that wild canids – wolves, coyotes etc eat more than just prey. While they may shake out the stomach content of large animals and eat only the lining, when it comes to small prey the entire animal is consumed, digestive tract and all. Wolf biologists have also noted that in the spring time wolves will frequently kill multiple young (deer moose elk etc) eat ONLY the stomach content (partly digested milk solids) and walk away from the rest of the animal. This interesting behavior is mentioned in Wolves of the Yukon. In one case upwards of 15 young elk were killed in one hunt and only the stomach contents consumed, making a good argument for including yogurt or kefir in the diet. Coyotes have frequently been documented eating melons and squash, beans and berries out of farmers fields and while the coyote is not as closely related as the wolf, the coyote lives closer to the way early dog did – close to the fringes of human society eating what it can find compared to wolves who tend to avoid human areas. Modern dog did not descend from Modern wolf – modern dog and modern wolf had a common ancestor but went their separate way in evolution thousands of years ago and while hybridization did occur in some breeds, domestic dog is still a unique animal. It evolved at the fringes of society eating our offcasts, it evolved at our fireside eating our leftovers, it evolved scavenging and eating a much greater variety than wolf ever did and I am happy that you took the time to write this so people can open their minds just a little bit.

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  14. Thank-you for crediting my image. I don’t have any idea why my images are available on WikiCommons; my photos are under a Creative Commons – Attribution license on Flickr.

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  15. Its like you read my thoughts! You appear to understand
    a lot about this, such as you wrote the book in it or something.
    I believe that you just can do with a few percent to drive
    the message house a bit, but instead of that, this is fantastic blog.
    An excellent read. I will definitely be back.

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  16. I have 2 large companions; one is mid-content Wolfdog and have raw fed for nearly 20 years. How I feed in the first year is different when they are pups then as they get older and more selective.

    I do use the argument that wolves are scavenger animals and our dogs as companions share close similarities, yet do not limit those I provide guidance.

    I feed sardines, and cooked fish, as as she will not eat raw fish?

    I feed turkey, chicken, goat, beef, crab, I have fed camel meat and all kinds.

    I also use coconut oil, and food-based Vitamin C, not synthetic (ascorbic acid) I use nutritional yeast and hemp seed on their food as well.

    My companions, despite chasing and eating blueberries and loving mango and all as pups do not like them now.

    They do like their baked yams!

    That’s what we do- vaccines in large part I would like to avoid but we have rabies current awaiting The Rabies Challenge folks.

    I help clients who often got lost and are feeding kibble or need help with energy work for dogs, 12 years now, (MN) through my website and in person.

    I supplement.

    http://www.JahRoot.net
    Pictures of Luna and Fiyah there

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  17. I really appreciate your perspective on raw feeding. People make it way more ridged than it needs to be. And I’ve found in a lot of online raw feeding communities and websites there’s almost a snobbish attitude towards people who ignore a strict prey model. People are losing sight of the point of feeding our dogs a more natural diet. The point for me has always been GET AWAY FROM KIBBLE, never about making my dog eat like a wolf.

    My 2 GSD’s changed over to a 100% raw diet 2 years ago. And my 12 week old rescue GSD/BC cross has been on raw since she came to live with us. I started out 2 years ago with the ‘prey model’ but found that neither of my dogs were thriving. So I made some mods to their diet.

    I feed a mix of pro-biotic yoghurt, eggs, keifer, kelp, rosemary, rose hip, vit C, garlic, chilies, fruits, veg, cold pressed oils, coconut, organs and actually all insides except the small intestine, muscle meats (beef, chicken, rabbit, emu and ostrich), and raw meaty bones. I do keep all grains out of their diet, only because both of my older ones get terrible hot spots from any grains even the kind I cook in my kitchen. Since they’ve been on raw they smell better, look like a million bucks and I’ve forgotten what my vet looks like!!

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  18. All of your articles are such great reads. I am constantly trying to find the best route to feeding my dogs and making them the healthier they can be. I love the take you take on it. You bring all sides into perspective and don’t just go for the raw is the only way guidelines you see some raw feeders take.

    Thanks for all the helpful info in your articles!

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  19. It is proven dogs live longer and healthier on a raw diet. I put my dogs on it. They are healthier. There fur is softer and they live longer.

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  20. Wow! I’ve gained so much information reading this thread. After loads of research and joining groups for raw feeding, I’ve been feeling a little intimidated. I badly want to feed my 5 small dogs raw but have no storage space and (until I re-locate) no possibility of gaining any. So I’ve been looking at ways to add raw to their current diet of Millies Wolfheart (a high end kibble). Thought I could do one day raw – one day Millies, or solely raw on alternate days. Or even alternate meals, but the feedback has almost entirely been to say I must not feed both. Although a novice (even after research) I’m finding that 99% of opinion is just that, opinion. So, I’ve read, enquired, listened, learned a little more and decided to do it my own way, with raw in the mornings and (until I acquire some freezer space) Millies at night.

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  21. When I started reading this (as this is my first experience of this blog) I started to think I was going to get a “kibble is best” lecture. But no … it is a balanced and reasonable reflection of what happens in the remaining Canidae world (notwithstanding that this family does include wolves, foxes, coyotes, jackals, and domestic dogs which have demonstrated a very similar digestive process). Many prey diet feeders become quite “militant” and I dare to say dangerous advocates for diets which become restrictive and are not complete due to inaccurate or incomplete studies of canine behaviour with regard to food acquisition. With luck many domestic dogs will still survive even substandard raw diets due to their protective scavenging abilities – I just hope the stance of some advocates do not cause harm by their sometimes less than welcoming “attitude” to newbies or others who have much to offer!

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