Dogs & Wolves: Diet and Sociability

We all know that dogs are wolves in one sense (can reproduce and their young are reproductively viable) and, as importantly, that dogs aren’t wolves at all. Just try to teach a wolf “leave it” if you happen upon a dead rabbit.

Here are two new studies that shed light on the social systems of the domestic dog, and might help some of us decide what we need to be feeding our dogs. First, Erik Axelsson and colleagues compared the genes of wolves and domestic dogs and found some very interesting differences. One of the differences is related to diet: dogs have three genes that wolves do not that play an important role in the digestion of starch (for those of you who are interested, the genes are AMY2B, MGAM and SGLT1). This result supports the “village dog” hypothesis, (of Coppinger and others) that dogs derived from wolves who began exploiting a new ecological niche: human garbage dumps. And not just any garbage dump, but possibly dumps containing food remains that correlate with the beginning of the domestication of plants. Here’s a quote from the paper itself:  “In light of previous results describing the timing and location of dog domestication, our findings may suggest that the development of agriculture catalysed the domestication of dogs.”

This is obviously of great interest to geneticists and evolutionary biologists, but also to those of us who are feeding domestic dogs on a daily basis. As you all are well aware, some argue that wolves primarily eat meat, raw meat at that, and we should use the diet of wild wolves to direct the menus of our companion dogs. At the risk of stirring the pot (so to speak!), about ideal diets for dogs, we would be wise to use the study above to remind ourselves that dogs evolved as omnivores who ate a little bit of just about everything 10 to 12,000 years ago. That does NOT mean that individual dogs do not do better on a particular diet. There is no question that some dogs do better eating “A,” and other dogs can’t handle “A” and do better eating “B.” I’d say the take away messages are to 1) know your dog and 2) don’t be seduced into claims that a new dog food is best for your dog because “it replicates the diet of a wolf.”

A second study, published in Ethology, compared the development of wolf and domestic dog pups, and concluded that differences in the period of socialization and the development of the senses might, at least in part, explain why dogs are so much easier to socialize that wolves. Kathryn Lord, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, suggests the different behaviors are related to the animals’ earliest sensory experiences and the critical period of socialization. You can read a summary of it in Science Daily, but here’s the bottom line: Although both dogs and wolves develop the ability to smell, see and hear around the same time, she argues, the critical period of socialization for wolves is a full two weeks earlier than in dogs. Most importantly, wolf pups are much more active at two weeks of age, while dog pups are pretty much lumps of cuteness. Incredibly cute, but basically non-functional, as every breeder knows. Wolf pups begin their “critical period” around two weeks of age, when they are also extremely active. Lord noted that wolf pups begin exploring their environment at two weeks of age, when they aren’t able to process sensory information–they were basically exploring an environment while being deaf and blind. Perhaps not surprising then that the wolf pups reacted with a great deal of fear when they were first able to see and hear stimuli.

On the other hand, dog pups began their activity around four weeks of age, and in general did not react to stimuli with much fear until much later in their development. This is an interesting finding, but I suspect there is a lot more to it. For one thing, Lord argues that dog pups can’t hear until four weeks of age, and that’s not quite accurate. As I understand it, the auditory canal begins to open around day 13-15, and pups begin to respond to sounds soon after that. They probably can’t hear very well until three to four weeks of age, but there’s no question they can hear something earlier than that.

What’s new about Lord’s study (and yeah for her for doing it) are her observations comparing the “fear factor” in wolf and domestic dog pups. We’ve known for a long time that wolves are much more neophobic than dogs, (afraid of new things), and Lord’s observations certainly add to our understanding of what drives that behavioral difference. Interesting stuff… here’s hoping more comes out of the same laboratory.

MEANWHILE, A DIVERSION! We’ve been having a great time on Facebook with a contest we started called “Take the Pledge.” We photographed Willie and Katie’s Lily “taking the pledge” to be the best dogs they can be in 2013, and asked Facebook readers to email photos of their dogs doing the same. We picked ten of the best photos, and posted them on Facebook. The owner (and dog) of the photo that receives the most “likes” wins a specially signed copy of For the Love of  Dog and one of Willie’s favorite toys. (Don’t worry, he’s got lots of them.) Voting ends Monday, January 28, so be sure to join in on the fun soon. Even if you’re not on Facebook, the pictures are still worth a look to get your daily dose of Oxytocin. Here are just a few to make you smile…


  1. BSH says

    I think the coverage of the first study has been somewhat sensationalist. Of course the genetic differences are interesting, but having the ability to digest something doesn’t make it healthy or unhealthy. Humans can digest an awful lot of sugar and unhealthy fats, but that doesn’t tell us anything about the myriad health consequences of eating such a diet.

  2. says

    I’m glad to have found you again Dr. M. I had no science behind it but years of observation that individual dogs vary in the slide bar of carnivore to omnivore based on their given living situation. I also have reached that age where I have seen the expert opinion about the best dog diet swing from one side of the pendulum to the other.

  3. Susanne says

    It has always seemed like common sense to me that dogs must be able to not only survive, but flourish, on a diet comprised of left over foods and trash unusable to humans. It just does not seem realistic that the humans of 10,000 years ago would have been giving the camp dogs anything they could utilize for their own survival, like flesh. Since nearly every part of both plants and animals would have been used for food, shelter, tools, fuel, and etc. it seems that dogs must have been able to utilize foods very low in nutritional value.
    I think having the excess resources required to feed dogs a flesh based diet is a development of modern times and not something the ancestors of our dogs likely enjoyed.

  4. Beth with the Corgis says

    I’m so glad to hear this study. I have had several debates about raw feeding on online forums, and I have posed the question “are you suggesting 10,000 years of domestication has had absolutely no impact on the dog’s digestive system?” and basically gotten no response.

    Moreover, a tremendous amount of digestion is carried out by microbes in the gut, which change based on environment, diet, disease exposure, and a host of other factors.

    Feeding studies have shown the digestibility of various grains to be quite high in dogs (not so high in cats, which are obligate carnivores). And a number of wild canids have fairly high portions of their diet consisting of plant matter, so it’s apparent that the canine gene pool is capable of adapting to and thriving on a wide variety of diets.

    I will be interested in reading more on this and hope it leads to some actual feeding studies of health and longevity.

  5. UrbanCollieChick says

    I first heard of this gene study for amylase production in dogs through another blog called “Retrieverman…” I have a link to the actual study but have yet to read it.

    The long and short of it, as I understand it, is that 4 to 20 copies of genes involved in amylase production were found in n = 60 dogs, while only two copies of such genes exist in wolves.

    This brings to mind several questions for me: What wolf species were used in the study? Not too long ago it was shown that genetically, domestic dogs were derived from ancestral Arabian wolves with a possible secondary evolutionary event in Asian wolves. Were THOSE the wolves used in the study or no? I always see pictures of TImber wolves whenever some newspaper reports a science study and I find that may suggest that even scientists themselves may be misled. Such pics will certainly continue to mislead the layperson.

    Secondly, FOUR to twenty copies? Four? That’s only twice as many as TWO. How many genes are responsible for amylase production in various other omnivores? More? The same? Are they even the same genes? Do they function differently? “Omnivore” is a broad brush stroke. Rats, humans, bears, racoons, skunks, possums, ants, are omnivores! Do they all get the same diet? Should they?

    A lot of folks defend mass meat consumption based on the relatively recent adaptation of man as hunter-gatherer, completely overlooking that those hunters still evolved from another primate ancestor, and primates by and large, are chiefly herbivorous. By the same token, people have looked at the dog as a big plant/grain eater based on what is in dog food, and now certainly will continue this now that the LA Times covered the Nature piece, despite the fact that the dog is anywhere from 20 or 40 to a mere 100, 000 years old at best, and human agrarian habits are only several thousand years old. But it evolved from an Asian or Arabian wolf! A carnivore; a facultative carnivore at best. I find straight “omnivore” and “facultative carnivore” are terms that carry with them, different nuances of nutritional need, if not actual different definitions.

    It is hard to find the full article via google for me suddenly, but an Oscar Chavez who runs the Vet Tech program in a California institution is quoted as saying dogs should eat around 20% protein and 40-50% carbs. This is the same ratio nutritionists for HUMANS usually suggest for homo sapiens. That is quite a leap. Who is Chavez? Has he really thought about the subject or has he just gone with the flow in the age of dog food development? Dog food really has only been around for the last 100 years, if that; a byproduct of industrial farming.

  6. Nicola says

    Fascinating. I feed organic ‘human grade’ dog food to my dog. (!) The world’s village dogs survive on scraps and scavenging is a way of life, essential to survival. Scavenging as opposed to hunting. No wonder it’s difficult to teach a dog to leave a tasty morsel it may find randomly. Is scavenging hard wired behaviour?

  7. says

    At Urban collie chick,
    Just to chime in regarding your comment about dog food, yeah, I think the first commercial dog food was available in the 30ies? But I’m not sure about that. Anyway, My fiance grew up in a very rural part of Ga, and I’ve watched his mother feed their dogs anything, from table scraps to processed cheese. I observed that when the dogs ate a diet of table scraps such as left over salad, chicken, potatoes, steak, ground meat of any kind and things like that, they did fine, but when she fed them things like processed cheese, crackers, cookies and, well, ‘Slim Jims from the gas station, they gained weight very quickly. It’s interesting to me, that dogs can eat pretty much anything, but if they eat junk food, their body’s react very similarly to ours in that it shows very quickly. Personally, I’m very happy with what Seamus is eating. He gets three-quarters of a cup of kibble, a grain free food with salmon as it’s protein sourse, and then, anything else I feel like throwing in there that is veggies, except for corn, garlic and onion of course. He has lost weight thanks to this diet as well as his thiroid meds and loves breakfast and dinner time. Just to pass along a really neat trick I also use, I’ll make a big pot of vegetable soup. I use beef or chicken broth and usually put in a can of pumpkin, then, I’ll put in what ever I feel like, peas, green beans, carrots, celory, brocoli, blue berries, anything like that and then all I do is give him a scoopful over his food at each meal. I can freeze the rest and it works out just great for me and for him. sorry to right a novel there, but i’ve speant months trying to figure out his weight issues and I’m glad to find something that works at last.

  8. Beth with the Corgis says

    I also wanted to add that for most domestic dogs (Nordic dogs probably being one exception) we have selected for thousands of years the dogs that not just survived, but thrived on low-quality food. Humans did not have enough meat for themselves in many cultures throughout human history, let alone for their dogs.

    Anecdotes are not data, but I have heard of as many dogs doing badly on high-protein or grain-free as I have heard of dogs doing well on them. I’m fine with any diet people want to feed if the dog is happy. What upsets me is when I see discussions of people who say “Oh, my dog was doing well on (insert medium-grade brand-name kibble here) and then I went on (insert expert-sounding amateur’s food analysis site-name here) and realized how AWFUL that food was for him, so now we have tried three different “good” foods and he has gas all the time (or soft stools, or he itches) so we are trying “good” food number four. I won’t go back to the original food because now I know how awful it is.”

    Even worse is when people have dogs with specific health conditions where the vet recommends a diet, then someone goes online and finds to their horror that rice or corn or whatever is in the prescription food is (allegedly) just awful for poor Fido and so pulls them from the food. Usually that is followed by something indicating that vets are all in cahoots with some big company and don’t know anything about food anyway.

    There is also a prominent syndicated vet who shall remain nameless who seems to have jumped on the bandwagon.

    I’m not advocating feeding dogs food filled with sugar and artificial colors, but if it’s a balanced food with mostly whole ingredients and it has a little corn or something, and your dog does well on it, where is the crime?

    Ask for feeding studies to back up some of the claims on the internet and everyone goes silent.

  9. JJ says

    I know it’s controversial, but I’ll just pipe up here with an anecdote: My dog thrives on a vegan kibble (v-dog).

    Thrive? Well, up until 3 years ago, my dog was on a meat-based kibble. He was peeing blood for almost 2 years. The vets couldn’t figure it out. Also, his energy level had gone down and his coat and nails got dull.

    Switch to vegan kibble and 1) all blood in urine disappeared, 2) playful energy came back (and he’s 9 now!), 3) coat and nails got shinny again.

    He’s been on the vegan kibble for a little more than 3 years now. (He’s a nine year old Great Dane and still going strong. People think he’s much younger when they see him. It’s awesome.)

    That doesn’t mean it will work for your dog. Also, I will caution that not all vegan kibbles are the same. DO YOUR RESEARCH. What it does mean is that I find the results of the first study to be absolutely fascinating–especially given all of the flack I have gotten over my dog’s diet. Thanks so much for sharing this with us.

  10. Frances says

    I’m not a purist – I found myself throwing kibble away because Sophy didn’t like it once it began to go stale (ie 4 days after the bag was opened!). And the stuff that was of reasonable quality was very expensive, especially for the cats. The day I worked out that I could be feeding them roast pheasant and duck pate for the price I was paying for the small amount of meat in even the higher quality biscuits was the day I started researching alternatives! And I admit to getting pleasure out of preparing meals for them that they clearly thoroughly enjoy, and reassurance from the fact that I know exactly what they are eating, and the source of the ingredients.

    They now, of course, think of kibble as highly desirable junk food, and would sell their souls for a bowlful …

  11. Trisha says

    Surely what’s most important here is to 1) recognize that each of our dogs are individuals and potentially will thrive on different diets and 2) surely, like humans, dogs in general will do best on ‘real’ food… the less processed the better. I’m recalling Michael Pollan’s comments about the ideal diet for humans, “Eat Food, Mostly Plants, Not Too Much.” Clearly the ‘mostly plants’ does not apply to dogs, but his point in the words “eat food” is that we should define food as the real thing, the less processed the better. Hunks of beef. Carrots. Etc etc.

  12. UrbanCollieChick says

    Until very VERY recently, no one could ever afford to toss ANY food to the dog; not in our hunter-gatherer days nor even in our agrarian days. But they must have gotten SOMETHING off of us or what would be the motivation in hanging around? I’m not sure but I think the jury is still out on that one. Scavenge, yes dogs did, but as we were mostly hunter-gatherers in the the time of the dog I imagine participation by the dog or proto-dog was what made it advantageous to us to have any association with them, so they must have had SKILLS. They did evolve from wolves after all. WHere was the line drawn where they hunted less and scavenged more? European wolves are said to still scavenge off of humans and there was something I recently saw written, that said those wolves are less human-shy than their North American counterparts. A clue to the past? Who knows?

    Yes, every dog is different and each owner’s only real business should be about what works for THEIR dog. Extremists equate every health problem in a dog to commercial food, perhaps shots ( I advocate giving FEW shots but not none), but they completely overlook genetics. A lot of folks who consider themselves “natural rearing” breeders seem to overlook genetics in their breeding. Many still breed for ribbons and wouldn’t THINK of considering outcrossing, perform inbreeding, etc. How “natural” is THAT?

    I once brought up the possibility of extending the definition of “natural rearing” by encouraging out-crossings with carefully selected stock for genetic variation. I was met with silence.

    If the vegan kibble saves a Dane, so be it. I don’t know how much investigation of fresh food diets was done, but feeding a dane fresh food is not cheap and I won’t guilt anyone into it. I prefer fresh food to processed for all living beings, but most people just want to see their dog healthy and happy and spend their time enjoying their companions. I won’t fault anyone for that. Besides, anyone who bothers to come to this blog and chime in obviously cares! :)

  13. liz says

    Regarding the sociability study, I can’t imagine independently exploring the world with smell as my only sense. That is mind-blowing! Granted human noses are weak in comparison, and I don’t know much about olfactory processing, but even for us scents can be very provocative. Scents seem to trigger a lot of medium-intensity reactions in humans, but some indeed lead to high-intensity reactions. The scents of fire or gun powder can elicit panic depending on context, while on the other hand, I assume that for many people the smell of home is of unrivaled comfort.

    So for young wolves deciding where to place their paws, I’m just astounded by what they face, and how differently their overall picture of the world forms. Add in the window of socialization timing and it seems impossible for wolves not to be jumpy beings… wow, to have that window into an animal’s early weeks.

    For anyone interested in soaking up as much as possible about dog food, I found the book “Feed Your Pet Right…” by Nestle and Nesheim, to be a great informative resource. While I think the title suggests that the book would in fact tell you the hands-down best things to feed your pet, it actually just provides background information so that you may make the most considered choices possible in a highly debated and controversial market. The more you know, right?!

  14. Beth with the Corgis says

    UrbanCollieChick, I think you hit the nail on the head!

    I am always puzzled by those who attribute nearly every dog ailment to some combination of commercial food and vaccinations. The fact is, many of the things that trouble are dogs are not found in wild populations because the wild populations rarely live long enough to get age-related cancers and joint problems. Other things, like Lyme and mange and parvo and distemper, wreak havoc on wild canids.

    Diet is important. Diet is extremely important to some individuals, others seem genetically programmed to be fairly healthy with all but the worst of foods. The biggest food-related health crisis facing US pets is too much food and too little activity.

    For many families, including my own, I have trouble finding the time to cook home prepared meals for us, let alone the pets. I do get them “real” food when it’s quick and easy; a scrambled egg here, some plain yogurt there, canned human-grade fish or some veggies or maybe cottage cheese.

    But given the wide range of foods a dog can digest and thrive on, guilting people into feeding premium foods or home-prepared ones is really the last thing we should do. Those of us who are involved and do care have many more important things we can help our less-informed pet-owners with, like the importance of exercise and socialization and basic manners training.

  15. em says

    I am following this discussion with interest. Generally, it seems to me that dogs are if nothing else, adaptable. Most can thrive on a variety of diets, some have particular needs. With Otis we struggled for a year with various prescription commercial foods with little success-explosive diarrhea, vomiting, no appetite, it was awful- we switched to a raw/homecooked, his issues resolved completely and he has done splendidly for three years now. Sandy did fine on commercial kibble, but does equally fine on raw/homecooked (which she does prefer…who can blame her?). There are times, to my shame, that the dogs get a homemade meal but my husband and I do not :-) (in my defense, the dogs’ meal is prepared ahead on those days and just dished up). I don’t find it significantly more expensive than premium kibble, but believe me, with the consequences of the alternative, it would be cheap at twice the price.

    @ UrbanCollieChick -as to the evolutionary biology, I have no expertise to bring to the table, but speaking as a historian, I can attest that ancient peoples did indeed feed their dogs. Hunting dogs were fed from portions of gut piles, bones, etc. in addition to table scraps , farm dogs were fed with the food that was available, often grain mixed with the cheapest protein that could be found, lapdogs popular with the wealthy were fed all sorts of table scraps. Columella (Ancient Rome) in the first century gives one of the most complete treatises on animal husbandry- he has some fascinating things to say about dogs and describes an ideal diet as barleymeal mixed with whey, with a less ideal but acceptable diet of wheat bread and the water from boiling beans offered as an alternative.

    I don’t think I’m inclined to concur with Columella, and cannot answer for how many Romans actually followed his regimen, but it seems that feeding dogs SOMETHING was de rigeur, and it is a fairly safe bet that nobody was killing a chicken every couple of days to feed their farm dogs. Less beautifully detailed but more ancient sources abound that describe people feeding the dogs from the scraps of their tables, as well as dogs hunting vermin (which they presumably ate) and scrounging in the streets. While dogs were almost certainly not fed as richly (with the exception of the lapdog set), it seems that owned dogs were fed in most if not all ancient cultures for which we have records.

  16. Frances says

    I’ve been reading snippets from a book on pet ownership in mediaeval times – fascinatingly, many of the same debates were around even then. People railed against pet dogs being fed on the finest ingredients, while human children went hungry, and the biggest health problem was seen as obesity from overfeeding. Pet dogs – dogs with no role other than that of companion – are believed to have been largely confined to the wealthier classes, much as in Greek and Roman times, and the cult of conspicuous consumption as evidenced in silk cushions and jewelled collars was rampant. Specially prepared dog biscuits were manufactured and sold well in the UK 200 years ago, long before Spratt patented his meat biscuits in the 1870s. So many people have been prepared to spend thought, time and money on their dogs for a very long time – it’s not quite true to say that all dogs have been scavengers until very recent times.

    Having seen the condition of dogs that live largely by scavenging, I have to say that yes, it is possible for dogs to survive, and even breed, on a very poor and irregular diet, but if coat, condition and general health are any indication of well-being, then the dogs I saw were a very long way from optimal nutrition!

  17. em says

    Sorry to backtrack in the discussion, but in thinking about Columella, I realized that he says something apropos of our recent “black dog syndrome” discussion as well, and I couldn’t resist! He recommends that all farmers should choose and purchase (dogs were not only owned, they were bought in the first century) two kinds of dog- one to protect and manage livestock and another to protect the home. He gives several specifics as to the traits that both should possess, but most interestingly, he strongly recommends that the livestock dogs be white or part white to make it easier to distinguish them from predators in low light and that the home guardian be black, to give him an advantage when confronting a thief in the night and because his black color would make him more intimidating to potential wrongdoers who might see him in the day.

    Sorry about the off-topic post, sometimes I just can’t help myself!

  18. Rebecca Rice says

    Just a quick comment on “what did dogs eat while they were being domesticated”: I fully agree that early man did not have spare meat to throw to the dogs. But, those dogs were also a lot more independent than ours, and wouldn’t they have been out hunting the rats, squirrels, rabbits, etc that might have been hanging around the camp? As long as they were close enough most of the time to be alarms, I doubt that the humans were watching to see if they had caught something that morning. That would have supplemented whatever they could scavenge off the dumps.

  19. Trini says

    In “The Man Who Lives With Wolves”, Shaun Ellis noted that each wolf eats different parts of a kill, depending on its status within the pack. E.g., the tough guy bruiser wolf got all the rich muscle meat, and the grunts got the bones and leftovers. Also, then, a wolf could identify another wolf’s position in the pack, based on its smell (which is influenced by what the wolf eats). I’ve been really interested in this idea, as it relates to how/whether we should feed our dogs, based on their personalities and their place in a group. Any thoughts, Trisha?

  20. Kat says

    This is, as usual, a fascinating discussion. It makes intuitive sense to me that as we domesticated wolves and essentially froze the mature dog at the level of an undeveloped wolf the socialization window would arrive later for dogs than for wolves. And I can certainly see the logic that as wolves were domesticated and evolved into dogs there would be an evolutionary advantage to those dogs that could digest starches that aren’t present in a wolf diet.

    I think of the variety of diets among my friends some based on preference and some based on their particular physiology and wonder where on earth we got the idea that only one diet would be best for all our dogs. One of my friends feels healthier and has less health problems if she eats a “Paleo” diet which is essentially grain free. I’d feel sick on the same diet. Another eats a very high protein diet. If I have too much protein my stomach rebels. One size diet does not fit all in humans why should it in dogs.

    My dogs eat primarily a raw diet. Ranger began his life with us five years ago eating premium grain free kibble. He was at the vet’s office every six months with gastro-enteritis. Four bouts in two years each followed by trying a different premium kibble. Finally with a lot of trepidation we tried a raw diet for him. In the last three and an half years he’s had no stomach problems. It works for him. When we adopted Finna her coat was greasy, she smelled bad, and she shed by the handful. It’s just as easy to feed two raw food as one. Today she doesn’t smell bad, she doesn’t shed much, and she has a beautiful glossy coat. Since she’s a fearful dog with lots of issues we haven’t ever given her a bath and she’s lived with us for just over a year. She’s thriving on what we feed her. But your mileage may vary. If your dog is thriving on grocery store kibble and table scraps then by all means feed your dog on kibble and scraps. If your dog does best on vegan kibble feed them that. Please, don’t let the what to feed your dog mafia persuade you to do something that isn’t the best for your dog.

    And finally an observation based on Trini’s comment above. Ranger has always been a high status dog, the kind other dogs want to be around but it was after we started feeding him raw that the stray dogs in the neighborhood started following him home. We get so many strays coming home with him that I have animal control on speed dial. I wonder if the change in diet made him smell like a powerful leader and that’s what prompts strays to follow him home. Interesting to speculate.

  21. Paul says

    As always, an interesting discussion on Tricia’s site. There isn’t unanimous consent on the best diet for people, so it’s no surprise we don’t always agree our dogs either. But I do think we can agree on some basic principles: fresh, quality ingredients are best and don’t overfeed.

    Ironically, I’ve met more than a few people who worry more about what their dogs eat and what they do.

  22. Marjorie says

    Oh how times have changed! I’m paying a fortune cooking for my dogs a very healthy homemade diet, with special supplements and oils. No trashy junk food supermarket dog treats either, everything is as natural and organic as can be $$$. Becasue of this expense I’m the one eating the scraps and second rate diet. I hope I’m not the only crazy person in this position.

  23. says

    I feed homemade raw plus my leftovers. I grew up in France 50 + years ago and that’s how we fed our pets.

    I’m not a scientist but I can say from experience that I never had to take my animals to get their teeth cleaned and I have managed anal gland problems by simply giving one-three raw chicken wings for breakfast to my dogs.

    We are totally brainwashed. “Don’t give dogs people foods!” Haha…people food leftovers IS dog food.
    We must learn to use our common sense, and choose to read and see experts.
    when it is needed instead of following trends and advertising.

    It is a bit horrifying for me–a petsitter–to see the treats people feed their pets! Please read the labels, please look at the product and ask yourself “does this look like real food?”

  24. em says

    Actually, I take back what I previously said about Sandy doing just as well on commercial kibble. Her general health was good, but she used to have regular (every 3-4 mos.) problems with her anal glands. Since switching to raw/homecooked, she’s had no issues at all for the two years we’ve had her. She’s also softer, shinier, less smelly (to me anyways, who knows about to other dogs :-)), less gassy, with cleaner teeth, and she sheds MUCH less. I don’t attribute it to the TYPE of food she eats as much as to the quality, though.

    This is actually a weird thing I noticed. Despite being a member of a breed generally considered to be a ‘constant shedder’, Otis blows his coat 2-3 times a year, but sheds almost not at all at most times- if you run your hand down him or look at the couch once he gets off it, there is no or next to no hair. I started noticing this all-or-nothing shedding after we switched foods, but at first I thought he was just messed up from his demodex run-in/diet problems and thus a weirdo.

    Once we took in Sandy, SHE changed from a constant heavy shedder to a coat-blower, too. It’s kind of wild to see- when either one blows out, we’ll stand outside and pull fistfull after fistfull of hair off my short and very short coated dogs. It lasts a day, maybe two, and then back to nothing for the next several months, leaving them clad in their very most gorgeous, soft, and shiny-new coats.

    Do any of you other raw feeders notice this? Any kibble feeders have unexpectedly all-or-nothing shedders?

  25. LunaGrace says

    Popular folklore has it that, before the Chuchki native people of Siberia began to trade their dogs for importation into Alaska territory in the early 1900’s to haul supplies for the gold prospectors there, the dogs were used by the people only in the winter to haul sledges when following the caribou herds, and then bring the meat-loaded sledges back to the village for consumption and storage. The dogs were given the “H” cuts — hoofs, horns, hides, and hair — for their service. In the summer months, why feed “useless” dogs? So the dogs were turned loose to fend for themselves. Siberian Huskies are still extremely proficient hunters of small game (frequently are better ‘mousers’ than cats), fishers (having an innate ability to strip perfectly boneless fillets off with the teeth), and I have seen them catch birds on the wing as well. When Winter began to close down the easier summertime foraging, the hungry dogs came back into the villages where they were tied up in preparation for following the herds again.

    The standards of the Siberian Husky still refer to the dogs’ ability to carry a light load over long distances on a minimum amount of food. 30 years’ experience in feeding Siberians brought me to the conclusion that, yes, they do very well on substantially less food than other dogs of their size and weight even when they were ‘working’ on the sled team. But that food had better be of the highest quality with high percentages of protein and fat for them to thrive. A point of contention between my ex-husband (a professional field trial retriever trainer) and myself as he, at one point, insisted that what was fed to my dogs should be fed to his retrievers as well. When I protested that the food was too rich for them, he insisted anyway. And all the retrievers had soupy diarhea within the week. Even while in training and competing in field trials, the retrievers did best on the cheaper commercial dog foods, higher in carbs and ‘fillers’.

    My personal observations are corroborated to a degree by Dr. David Kronfeld (who was associated, I believe, with Cornell University). He did extensive dietary studies comparing a group of beagles to a group of Siberian Huskies over several years about the early 1980’s which were published every month for a long time in the AKC Gazette, concluding (among other things) that Siberian Huskies required food higher in kcals per pound.

  26. Beth with the Corgis says

    Re: raw fed dogs not needing teeth cleaned, anal glands done, etc: all the dogs my family has had have been fed kibble and none needed dental work or anal glands done. My current dogs have great teeth that have never been cleaned; one is five-and-a-half and the other is eight. Again it goes back to knowing your dog; I’m not saying that some dogs don’t need special diets to avoid problems, but honestly many will not have problems regardless.

    Both are shedders, but then they are Corgis. They blow coat heavily (one of them once a year, once twice) and do shed lightly year round.

    LunaGrace, your observation makes sense considering that the historic care of dogs from the far-north is different than that of most dogs. Similarly, I understand that Inuit peoples have very low rates of heart problems on diets that are very high in fats and low in grains/fruits etc. A similar diet would probably be harmful to many of us with a different past.

    Northern Europeans can mostly digest dairy products as adults; Asians can not. Again, different historical diets leads to different digestive systems to accommodate those diets.

  27. Merciel says

    Interesting discussion, and lots of interesting comments! :)

    For my own dogs, I’ve come around to the belief that variety is best. I feed them a mix of high-quality kibble (usually Acana, rotating the flavor every time I finish a 5-pound bag, so about every week), home-cooked food, and high-quality commercial canned food, supplemented with table scraps from whatever we’ve been eating. (Dog Mob gets an awful lot of high-end restaurant leftovers!)

    I tried feeding raw but Pongu was not having it. He would pick the raw meat out of his bowl, dump it to the side, and eat whatever else he could find. Apparently he missed the memo about dogs loving raw diets; he won’t accept anything that isn’t at least browned a little, and markedly prefers well-done meat to medium.

    Growing up, my parents fed our family dog the worst of the worst grocery store brands, because they just didn’t know. And she had all the things you hear about: a greasy, smelly coat; bad breath; chronic ear infections and associated bad odor; etc. etc. A lot of my foster dogs, who are coming out of partner rescues that have NO money and have to feed their wards Wal-Mart store brand or other dirt-cheap foods, show the same signs upon arrival.

    So I do advise adopters to spring for better-quality food, because I do believe it makes a real difference in the dogs’ quality of life, but I don’t evangelize for any particular diet. I’m agnostic about raw food vs. homecooked vs. high-quality commercial; I feed my dogs all of the above, figuring that way I’ve got all my bases covered and am probably mitigating whatever bad effects might result from concentrating too much on any one approach.

  28. JJ says

    em: I’m not a “raw feeder”, but my dog most definitely goes through 2-3 blowouts a year.

    It seems like he will go some time with no shedding. Then on some fateful set of days, every time Duke gets up from lying on the *white* carpet, there is a colored-in black, furry outline showing where Duke was. It looks like a crime scene.

    I have often wondered why Duke doesn’t get furballs at those shedding times since he cleans himself often.

  29. em says


    It is so interesting that you see this shedding/not shedding pattern too. I wonder if it is just a normal sign of good nutrition? If so, what a wonderful testament to how dogs of the same breed, both initially suffering from digestive problems can get to the same place by following completely different feeding strategies.

  30. Beth with the Corgis says

    Hmm, am I missing something? Coat blowing is normal for most dogs who have double coats; they shed heavily either seasonally or according to heat cycles, depending on whether they are intact or neutered. In other words, blowing coat heavily once or twice a year SHOULD be the normal pattern for the majority of dogs (those with continually growing coats like wire-coated breeds and poodles are the exception). Of my two, one sheds heavily in spring, not at all in summer, but will sometimes lose some undercoat in winter. The other blows coat heavily twice a year, hardly sheds the rest of the year, but always has some loose undercoat along her flanks most of the time; I brush them once a week or so.

    em, am I missing something in what you are saying? I just thought this was normal for most breeds?

  31. Beth with the Corgis says

    I also wanted to add that dogs (and cats ) shed fairly heavily when they are stressed. In addition, adult female dogs in particular will blow coat very heavily after they are spayed (much as they would after whelping) and can be left looking like drowned rats. Because of the combination of stress and spaying, adult females acquired from rescue will have awful coats more often than not. We bring a dog home, it looks bad, we change its food and it improves. In some cases that might truly be the food, especially if fat was lacking in the old diet. But in other cases it’s just the dog settling in and getting her coat back after her post-spay, post-stress blow.

    We brought Maddie home at four years of age. She had finished up a heat cycle, then she was rehomed with us, then a couple months later we got her spayed. Between the three, she was shedding heavily and constantly for the entirety of the first three or four months we had her. This is not normal for her at all and had nothing to do with diet.

  32. em says

    @ Beth,

    I’ve always understood coat blowing to be normal for double-coated dogs, too, but my dogs are single coated. (Sandy’s coat texture takes after her Rottie side). The single-coated dogs I had growing up always seemed to shed a little bit all the time, with periods of heavier shedding a few times a year. I never saw what I see in both my dogs now- almost no shedding for months at a time followed by very short periods in which they seem to drop and replace them with new. We got Sandy from a family member, and I dogsat her a few times before she moved in and in her old home she used to be a constant moderate/heavy shedder.

    I’ve seen the stress shedding, too, and that might play into it- both my dogs lead pretty cushy lives :-) , but I don’t believe Sandy was especially stressed in her old home and Otis’ shedding pattern is very different from what Great Dane owners generally are told to expect. Maybe it IS completely normal, and it just seems weird to me-that’s why I figured I’d ask :-)

  33. Trisha says

    Thank you all for this fascinating discussion. I’ve been a tad under the weather, and am just catching up. A few comments, related to my University class readings this semester: I just finished reviewing one of the readings I’ve assigned, about the common practice of pet keeping in many hunter-gatherer (HG) societies. This is from zoo-anthropologist James Serpell (never miss a chance to hear him speak, he’s great), who provides extensive evidence that even calorie-stressed HG societies often kept pets, and fed them whatever food was available. (It is still not uncommon for some HG women to suckle a variety of species from their own breasts. I mention that with some trepidation…. will there be a book out soon on the ONLY ‘natural’ way to feed puppies once weaned from their own mothers?) My point is that even when food is extremely scarce, people seem to go out of their way find enough food to maintain social relationships with non-human animals.

    And em, I am LOVING the historical information! What a wonderful addition to this discussion.

  34. Beth with the Corgis says

    Ah, thanks for clarifying em! I don’t really have any experience with single-coated breeds; we had various hunting dogs when I was growing up (all double coated). We had one non-shedding mutt; she had a modified poodle coat. And now I have Corgis, who have coats somewhere between a GSD and a husky. Coat-blowing time is ridiculous in my house. :-)

    I do think that a higher fat, higher protein diet will likely have some impacts on hair coat, especially for some dogs, definitely.

  35. PJ says

    The great prophet Zoroaster (Zarathustra) in the Zend Avesta has a large section on dogs, which were revered in ancient Persia. He says the proper diet for a dog is milk with added fat and some meat. This meant sour or curdled milk from goats or sheep along with butcher’s scraps in modern terms. Now he doesn’t say it is the only thing they could eat, as the diet ranged as widely as any perosn’s, but it was the best diet.

    The genetic findings in no way invalidate his advice. Just because you can digest something doesn’t mean it is the optimal food. A little common sense, and reverence for the first prophet of God should go along way.

  36. Edith says

    I am the neighbor of 2 adult and 2 puppy domestic wolves. they are timid when you approach them, you would near think they had been abused. None of them are being fed as they should be that is abvious by their actions toward other animals that come near them (squirrel, rabbit, cat, etc) the female is way under weight, she had puppies near 5 months ago but is still very under weight. the puppies are just as timid as the parents. the adults and pups have been seperated, i have seen the adult male really bite into the pups, (made them cry).
    I want to help them but i dont know what to do, the caregiver does not have employment and they are only fed generic dog food from the local co-op.
    Plz if you could give me some hits on what i can do to help them. The adult male takes food from the female when i try to feed her, i have tried to feed him first but he swollows whole or drops and comes to steal hers.
    When I say ( when I feed them) I have taken them Meat from my fridge that we humans could not have eaten. the local butcher gave me some very large bones with meat on them for the wolves, and again, she was not allowed to keep hers.

    Well i am rambling now, sory.
    With many thanks of your help

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