Dogs are dogs and wolves are wolves
The truth is that modern, domesticated dogs are more accurately classified as ‘omnivores’. This is due to changes in their digestive system that have taken place over 30-40,000 years as a result of befriending humans.
FROM WOLF TO DOG
Many howling moons ago (around 30-40,000 years of them) some daring wolves started inching towards human campfires. The agricultural revolution resulted in more permanent human settlements, and wolves started scavenging the outskirts for uneaten waste.
Back then, the human diet was predominately comprised of plants and grains, so unwittingly, wolves started to incorporate plant-based materials into their diet.
It is believed that humans welcomed these howling hounds as they were exceptional hunters, but that's another story.
Slowly (after all evolution doesn't happen overnight!), as a result of increasing domestication, the physiological systems of wolves-now-dogs adapted to a more varied diet, rich in both animal and plant-based foods. Over tens of thousands of years, these adaptations along with other genetic divergences (including smaller brains), resulted in the domestic dog as we know it today - also known as A Very Good Boy.
Research shows that a dog's genes differ from a wolf's in 2 main ways: personality (think the temperament of a wolf compared to a Labrador) and the ability to digest carbohydrates. These differences make sense from an evolutionary standpoint - domestic dogs had to change their behaviour in order to live alongside humans, and their digestive systems had to adapt to a lower-protein, carbohydrate-based diet.
Commercial meat-based pet food has only been around for the last 100 years. For the majority of the domestic dog's evolution their food has been human scraps - think leftover porridge, grains, bread and occasional bones and organs from hunting.
But how does your best friend digest carbohydrates?
Dogs have an increased gene expression for pancreatic amylase (AMY2B) - a digestive enzyme which breaks down starch in the small intestine. Wolves have only 2 copies of the AMY2B gene, limiting their ability to digest starch. Dogs, however, have more copies of the amylase gene (4-30, the number varies among breeds, but averages 15 copies). As a result, this gene is highly active in domestic dogs, allowing them to effectively digest starchy foods.
BEHAVIOURAL DIFFERENCESBehavioural differences are interesting too, and explain why dogs are such good companions for humans:
- Dogs have evolved to bond with humans. No need to be the ‘alpha’ as dogs respond much better to love, treats and positive reinforcement for good behaviour.
- Wolves are smart, even cunning. Dogs aren’t as smart, and their brain size compared to body size is smaller than the wolf.
- Wolves are far better hunters than dogs. On the rare occasions they do hunt, dogs hunt as individuals, not in packs like wolves.
These evolutionary developments have shaped wolves from fierce carnivores into the omnivorous Good Girls and Good Boys we love today. And they happily thrive on a diet that resembles ours, rich in grains, carbs and plants.