Dogs Nutrition Needs Have Evolved

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Dog Vs Wolf

Dogs Nutrition Needs Have Evolved

In a long series of articles related to dog food, I’m now onto the history of dogs.  In looking at numerous historical records, I have found that dogs nutrition needs have evolved.  Most people know that dogs came from wolves.  If you didn’t know, you do now.

But dogs nutritional needs differ from wolves.  Wolves eat a diet mainly consisting of meat; raw meat at that.  However, when scientists started studying the dogs anatomy, they found that they have changed from wolves over time.

Dogs Anatomical Evolution.

When scientists look at the anatomical makeup of digestion, they turn to the digestive tract.  This starts in the mouth, to the esophagus, onto the stomach and finally the intestines.  The difference between wolves and dogs, though is how they break down foods.

Dogs, over the years of domestication, have evolved along with their human companions.  Dogs are actually now considered to be omnivores, and only partly carnivores.  Unlike their wolf counterparts that are strictly carnivores.  The difference?  Their dietetic needs.  Dogs have similar enzymes like humans, to be able to break down carbohydrates, amylase.  This enzyme starts in the saliva for humans and aids in the breakdown of carbohydrates into sugars.  Domestic dogs now secrete this hormone that other domestic animals do not.  This is what enables dogs to consume carbohydrates and break them down into energy.

However, some believe that dogs are incapable of digesting carbohydrates, and feed domestic dogs a diet similar to wolves.  Because of their evolution though, this may be detrimental to their overall health, long term.  Dogs have become domesticated over the years and thus have evolved over time.

Dogs Becoming Domestic.

This is the hazy part of this article. Some say dogs were first domesticated around 37 BC.  Virgil, a Roman poet mentioned dogs close to Mastiffs.  In his Bucolica, he referred to feeding dogs whey, which is similar to wheat.  After that, there were other accounts of dogs being fed by humans.  In 70 BC and on, according to “Dog Food’.

During these times, it was noted that dogs had started eating a diet that was given by humans.  Over time, this changed how a dog digests food versus their wolf ancestors.  Wolves intestines are longer than dogs, more suited to a raw meat diet.  Dogs however, have shorter intestinal tracts, resembling those that are better for the digestion of vegetation (Dog Food).

Dogs also have the enzymes that help aid in the digestion of certain foods, such as carbohydrates.  Ten genes, found in domesticated dogs that aid in the digestion of starches and fats.  Wolves do not have these same genes, according to the publishers of “The genomic signature of dog domestication reveals adaptation to a starch-rich diet.”

A study was conducted on dogs throughout the world.  Starting with indigenous sled dogs and dogs from Europe and the Arctic.  These studies reflected that dogs, alongside man, have adopted to eating foods that we often ate, depending on the region.  In some regions, where different agriculture stemmed, the dogs ability to digest those foods were found prevalent.  This study linked dogs to evolving digesting agriculture privy to these regions, according to “Diet Adaptation in dog reflects spread of prehistoric agriculture.”

What does all this mean?

What The Studies Conclude.

Based on the studies and the thorough research into this subject, it means that dogs can digest foods similar to humans.  Not all, mind you.  There is still a lot of evidence and studies that need to be done, according to the scientists in these articles.  However, it shows that dogs should have a diet that is balanced in meat, vegetation and other nutrients.

The mindset that dogs need a diet dedicated to protein, because of their wolf ancestors is incorrect.  Their intestines and organs capable of the digestion of their foods has evolved from that of wolves. Dogs should no longer get a diet higher in proteins, versus other foods.  Rather, they need a balanced diet much in the same as humans.

Some studies also reflect cats and their evolution, having lived beside humans for thousands of years.  Cats have not evolved the same as dogs, and still mimic those of their ancestors.  This means, a cats diet should still be high in proteins, much as their wild counterparts need according to, “Digestive enzymes in dogs’ and cats.”

Even with all this historical research, scientists are still unsure of the perfect diet for dogs’.

The Perfect Diet?

There is no conclusive evidence that shows what a dogs perfect diet is or should be.  Canine nutritionists can’t seem to agree on the perfect balance of dog food, according to Eskew in Fat, Protein and Carb Levels in Dog Food.  All nutrition experts for canines often change what they feel a dog should eat.  Many dog food companies label their food products as, “Perfect, Balanced, or Nutritionally Complete.”  But many scientists are still studying dogs evolution from wolves.  How they’ve adapted to our agriculturally rich diets like we have.

Since dogs have been eating our scraps since the time of domestication, it is unclear what has worked best for our canine companions.  Many believe a grain-free diet is the best.  However, this only works for dogs with either allergies, or sensitivities to grains.  Same with humans that are Glucose-Intolerant.

Other’s believe that the Raw-Diet is the best for dogs.  Much as their wolf ancestors ate.  However, that would be similar to humans eating a Neanderthal diet.  One solely rich in meats and little, to no, grains.

The evidence is inconclusive, even with noting several reputable sources.  Many can agree that each individual dog owner should research what is best for their dogs.  If your dog exhibits allergies or sensitivities to specific ingredients, then refraining from feeding those will help.

But it is as I suspected.  Ensuring that you do what is best for your dog in the long run.

Final Words on Dogs Nutrition Needs Have Evolved.

This article, like many others, has become one of fascination.  Meaning, diving into the evolution of dogs and their nutritional needs has led me down a path of education.  While there are a lot of “good” dog foods out there, I will continue to feed my dogs the food that has worked best for them.

Like many people’s animals, they adapt to what we feed them.  Most dogs, once adopted, are shifted in their diets based on what each individual person believes their dog should eat.  Same with cats. Hence why there are hundreds of dog foods out there to choose from.  If all dogs had a “perfect” a diet, there would be one brand of food to choose from.  Only one option.

We also wouldn’t have several canine nutrition experts saying, “The best diet for a dog is….”.  But alas, they all differ in opinion.  Each vet differs in opinion.  Often it’ll change with signs or symptoms of agitation from the pet as well, “Oh, your dog is breaking out in hives? They must be allergic to….”.  And so, the hunt continues for the best dog foods.

We do know now though, that dogs have indeed, evolved alongside their human companions.  From 37 BC to today, they have been given scraps from their humans since the dawn of domestication. Indeed, dogs nutrition needs have evolved.

A quick word of caution out there dog owners.  Apparently dog napping is on the rise.  Check out this article to learn more!


Virgil (6 December 2017). “Bucolica, Georgica, et Aeneis: accedunt clavis metrica, notulae Anglicae, et quaestiones”. Hilliard, Gray, Little et Wilkins – via Google Books.

No Author, Cite Note -44,,, Dog Food.

Axelsson, E., Ratnakumar, A., Arendt, ML., Maqbool, K., Webster, M., Perloski, M., Liberg, O., Arnemo, J., Hedhammer, A., Lindblad-Toh, K. (2013), “The Genomic Signature of Dog Domestication Reveals Adaptation to a Starch-Rich Diet., Nature, Vol 395, Iss 7441, pp 360-364)

Arendt, M., Cairns, K., Ballard, J., Savolainen, P., Axelsson, E., (2016, Nov) Diet Adaptation in Dog Reflects Spread of Prehistoric Agriculture, 117(5) pp 301-306 in National Center for Biotechnology

Broadfoot, P.J., DVM (2018, June), Digestive Enzymes in Dogs and Cats, in Innovative Veterinary Care,’-cats/

14 thoughts on “Dogs Nutrition Needs Have Evolved

  1. What a lot of interesting information, but honestly I’m not surprised that their dietary needs have evolved over time. Our dietary needs have evolved as we have changed the way eat over time and the same can be said for dogs too. I certainly would not feed my dogs raw meat like wolves eat. I doubt that will be very good for them at all.

    1. Hi Lynne,

      Dogs can actually eat raw meat without consequences like us, they still have the means to digest those foods and not fall ill, just like cats catching mice or birds. It’s really the evolution of them being able to digest carbohydrates that their ancestors can’t. I would imagine if wolves got a hold of bread they could digest it, but it wouldn’t help them in the overall nutritional value like it does dogs.

      Thanks for reading!


  2. Thank you for this great informative article on dogs nutrition needs have evolved. It’s interesting how they have evolved. I know there are many people that feed dogs raw food purchased from a pet store. I recently learned the hard way that feeding raw might require adding supplements.
    My vet didn’t recommend raw but he did recommend cooked raw without bones. It’s important though that the diet is specific for dogs to get the correct nutrients. I sometimes give my dogs carrots and fish treats and they seem to do well with that.

    1. Alyse,

      Atlas loves carrots! She’ll eat a carrot raw from the bag and just munch away on it. She loves almost all forms of vegetables, so I’m glad she does. Over this last summer, I took a bunch of freezer burnt salmon and cooked it up. I had about 7 fillets total, all to make space for more actually. But I removed all the bones, cooked some brown rice and veggies and made a container that lasted my dogs 2 weeks. I didn’t like the brown rice ratio, so next summer, I’ll do half a bag of rice. They don’t need quite as much as I had made, I just thought since the bag was so small, it would be fine.

      But yes, dogs do need a combination of minerals and vitamins, just like we do. They’re very similar in their needs. I suppose it’s just how they’ve evolved to be close to us.

      Thanks for reading!


  3. It’s great that dogs have evolved alongside us and are able to eat many of the same foods we eat.
    This makes life a lot easier while we are out and about with our canine friends as we don’t have to pack special diets for them.

    I didn’t know that they now have different enzymes to help them digest carbohydrates, for example. Who knows what we will be eating in a hundred years’ time….. However, I imagine our furry friends will be keeping up with us!

    Your advice to keep an eye out for allergies and other problems when feeding our pets is good.

    Many thanks for sharing.

    1. Andrew,

      Isn’t it great! I always think of tragic events that could cause us to be homeless, or running from something, or stuck in a situation for a period of time. Knowing that my dogs can eat almost everything I eat, naturally is great information. I guess I always think of tragedies because in Alaska, everyone’s worried about another big earthquake like we had in 2018. We were without water for an entire day, and many people were without power as well.

      It made a mess of many homes, putting some out of their homes because they were deemed unsafe. So, up here, you just never know what can happen to where we may need this information to keep our dogs safe with us.

      Thanks for reading and I’m glad you enjoyed this!


  4. It does make sense that they would evolve and end up eating foods as humans eat. I believe there are a lot of animals that have adapted to human food and like you said they can still eat foods available by nature. My cat will not eat a mouse yet she will eat a piece of apple cake which I was very surprised. I don’t give her the cake regularly and is only an odd time which is only a small crumb piece.

    But she probably adapted to it by eating small pieces off the counter (which I see her all the time searching the counter) and on the floor. And of course, she just loves fish or tuna.

    I on the other hand don’t put a lot of trust into the animal food industry. There is plenty of cheap food coming from places with very toxic water and fish which is caught and turned into pet food.

    Your article was very interesting and is fun to look back at where and how our pets have evolved from. And now I know dogs came from wolves.
    Thank you

    1. Rick,

      That is too cute that your cat eats cake! I’ve never seen a cat eat cake before, but yours seems to like it. Yes, pet foods have a lot of toxic chemicals in them actually. I did a long series of articles on the chemicals used that, if you’re interested, you can find here.
      Some of the chemicals surprised me when I first started looking into them. It’s very sad actually. Especially since when we watch the commercials, they make them out to seem like they’re healthy and great options for our pets. But I suppose that’s no different than the chemical-laden foods we eat. The processed ones that kill us slowly over time.

      I’m glad you found this article helpful. Thanks for reading!


  5. Katrina,

    I enjoyed this article about the evolution of canine diets. Thank you for sharing!

    I haven’t had dogs in years, but I enjoyed reading about their history and the way they’ve changed from their wolf ancestors. I found it interesting that studies have found that dogs should have a balanced diet like our own—one including meat, vegetation, and other ingredients.

    Growing up, our dogs had dog food and that was it. I’m happy to know that if and when I adopt another dog in the future, I’ll have a better idea of the best diet to give him/her.


    1. Femi,

      I was pretty surprised to find out all I have this last year in looking at dogs diets myself. I’ve had dogs my whole life, and it wasn’t until I started diving into the research that I’ve found out all I have. It’s pretty amazing really to know and understand my dogs on a deeper level. This article was one of my favorite to write about, I have to say. I loved doing the research, and I loved diving so deep.

      I think it’s important to know what our pets are supposed to get as far as nutrition is concerned. It’s the same for us. If we eat junk, we don’t live as long, we feel tired, groggy. and just plain bad. Dogs are no different. I truly believe that for dogs to be happy and lived long, fulfilled lives, they should have the proper diet and healthy foods.

      Thanks for reading, I’m glad you enjoyed this one!


  6. Hi Katrina,

    Super interesting article!

    Dogs have evolved to eat a varied diet than their wolf ancestors this shift of sharing a similar diet like humans.

    Domestication has adapted them to thrive on a diet with balanced nutrients similar to humans, various canine features discussed in this article can now help dog owners to understand an appropriate diet for their pets.

    A nutritious, balanced diet is essential to keep dogs healthy, strong throughout its life stages, components that allow them to grow, develop to their full potential, and stay active throughout.

    Thanks for sharing this amazing article.


    1. I’m glad you enjoyed it Samantha. I enjoyed researching this topic – it was one of my favorite articles to publish actually. I find it amazing that our dogs have lived side by side with us for so many centuries and that even in the beginning, we were giving them table scraps. It’s how they were fed before dog food became even a thing. I truly find their evolution to be amazing, and even the internal organs adapting to a diet closely tied with their human owners. Imagining them evolving over the centuries to be able to eat breads and so many other foods vs their wolf ancestors.

      I’m glad you liked this! Thanks for reading!


  7. Thanks for this important article!

    You’re right; depression is more talked about these days, but it’s still considered a taboo topic and deserves to be understood and addressed. Your explanation of depression and suicidal symptoms are great—and accurate—and I appreciate that you included the crisis hotline numbers for anyone who stumbles across your article seeking help

    1. Depression is a tough topic for many and honestly, a very important topic these days, especially in Alaska where we live. In fact, I do believe suicide is highest in the states that experience long winters and dark days. Northern areas, of course, are hit the worst when it comes to depression. But the lack of sun and activities is what affects people, especially women. If you ever need help, I’m here. I’ve experience suicide first hand when my sister took her life years ago. It’s definitely something that most families need help through.


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