One of the biggest discussions in terms of the raw food diet is that a dog needs to have this food due to their natural heritage, their evolutionary link to wolves or wild dogs and their biological similarity to a carnivore’s digestive system.
This makes sense, logically, but can also generate ideas of further evolution into a ‘pet’ dog rather than a wild dog. Feedback is often that dogs all over the world eat cereal based foods, with no apparent problems, because they are actually omnivores.
Proof of this ability to eat a diet rich in cereals is sometimes cited from a study in 2013 which showed that dogs have a greater expression of genes for digesting starch molecules than wolves. The general gist is that wolves adapted into dogs on the evolutionary scale and that dogs became the ‘pet’ dog we know today, alongside humans at exactly the same time frame as us humans began farming and eating a greater volume of starches. Essentially it says dogs and man kind of ‘evolved together’ to cope with starches.
Whilst upon reading this research paper it sounds very plausible it does require further consideration and shouldn’t be taken at face value to mean all dogs can cope with all starches.
Firstly the grains discussed in the study are ancient forms of grains, such as barley or spelt wheat. Forms of grain that were not hugely processed, and had not had the years of agricultural plant breeding or genetic selection. Neither had they been exposed to the genetic transformations that crop sprays induce with plant species over time. They were also whole grains.
The modern grains, cereals and starches included in pet food manufacturing are refined rather than whole grain, and have had years of manipulation into the types of plants that can be grown in a mass-produced fashion. This is a world away from the starches mentioned in the study.
Secondly all dogs are different. The small genetic variance mentioned in the article does show that dogs and wolves differ, but it doesn’t show that dogs have moved away from needing fresh, real food with a vital force to it, with a moisture content and a higher protein content than starch content. When a dog can at times cope with a certain level of starch digestion this is not proof every dog can do so, with every type of starch molecule.
Thirdly the biology between a human and a dog differs hugely!
Internally a dog’s digestive system is much shorter and scientifically (as Biology is a science), they match the digestive systems of carnivores far more closely, in-fact they essentially have a carnivorous gut system. The dog’s pancreas is only capable of producing a very limited number of digestive enzymes for starches. This helps them with the digestion of certain plant starches but more along the lines of leafy greens or foraged berries and leaves than processed grain or cereal.
On the whole even the human has trouble coping with large quantities of grain and cereal.
Both dogs and ourselves have only one hormone involved in lowering blood sugar (insulin) yet we have eight (yes 8!) hormones adapted and evolved over time to support us with raising blood sugar if we eat less than we need. As with almost all creatures on the planet, both us humans and dogs are far too used to eating much more than we need in a modern diet than less. Thus, compromising the coping systems that have evolved in our bodies to help us survive healthily with no grain or cereal in our diets at all.
We all tax our bodies’ systems by eating too much, or often in the case of the dog any cereal, grain and starch based food.
So why are cereals, grains and starches included in pet food?
It is virtually impossible for a dry or wet pet food to be processed into the kibble pieces, or tins that they are sold in without the addition of grains/cereals or starches of some kind, perhaps potatoes or even starchy legumes.
Even the trendy grain free foods contain these starchy molecules to be able to bind and be manufactured into the finished product.
Why do so many dogs appear healthy eating processed, or cereal starch based food?
Whilst pet dogs clearly have no biological need to grain, this doesn’t mean that certain dogs can never eat it. The body (human, dog or otherwise) has developed absolutely fundamental coping mechanisms in terms of detox, weight regulation, hormone production and nutrient balancing capabilities. Depending on your dog’s health as a puppy some dogs can eat entirely the wrong species appropriate diet, packed with grains and starches and not show external symptoms for many years.
The very high prevalence of early aged related diseases such as arthritis, inflammation, cancers, diabetes, seizures and digestive problems is highly likely to be linked to this compromise in biology. Even the age at which pets are being labelled as elderly nowadays, shows correlations with the high prevalence of cereals within carnivorous biology.
Cats for instance seem to be labelled as ‘old’ aged 9 years, when the truth is they can survive healthily well into their twenties if eating appropriately. Dogs equally can live into their late teens, even more so in the smaller breeds. My own large mountain breeds were 14 years old when we lost them – all of which ate a fresh, real food diet. I have met many large breed dogs aged 8 being called ‘old’. It is something we have become used to, rather than the species natural, biological age range.
And finally, back to omnivores as a term!
I was once reliably told, by a Dr. of wildlife biology that the term omnivore is not actually used for one animal within a species, rather the truth is, it is a term used for a whole species. For example, bears. Polar bears are clearly carnivores and panda bears are not, due to their diet, eating bamboo plants. The only creatures adopting this term are us humans, pigs and subsequently dogs due to them being labelled as such by the pet food industry.
It’s certain that dogs are scavengers for sure, street dogs will eat grain-based food if it’s the only food available but the true term for omnivores would relate to the whole species of Canidae – of which, there is no other close to a plant eating herbivore. If we truly believe in evolution, and not that dogs are here as somewhat separate entities to the rest of their species then dogs are naturally a species of carnivore.