Are We Turning our Dogs into Wolves?

By: Virginia Zurflieh
Scarborough Boxers since 1973
A few weeks ago on a genetics list I belong to, a list member posted several links to articles in various scientific publications about the latest research on the evolution and domestication of dogs. Coincidentally, the poster is also a Boxer breeder and sent the links to the SB-L and the Showboxer Forum, too.

The consensus of the researchers featured in these articles is that on their way to domestication, dogs evolved along with humans to be able to thrive on a grain-rich diet. In the Health & Science section of the January 23rd edition of the Washington Post, science reporter David Brown summed it up like this:

You know that dog biscuit shaped like a bone but made mostly of wheat? Your dog’s willingness to eat that treat, instead of going for a bone in your thigh, helps explain how its ancestors evolved from wolves into house pets.

A team of Swedish researchers compared the genomes of wolves and dogs and found that a big difference is dogs’ ability to easily digest starch. On their way from pack-hunting carnivore to fireside companion, dogs learned to desire — or at
least live on — wheat, rice, barley, corn and potatoes.

As it turns out, the same thing happened to humans as they came out of the forest, invented agriculture and settled into diets rich in grains.

“I think it is a striking case of co-evolution,” said Erik Axelsson, a geneticist at Uppsala University. “The fact that we shared a similar environment in the last 10,000 years caused a similar adaptation. And the big change in the environment was the development of agriculture.”

In the ensuing discussion of this research on the Showboxer Forum, one list member questioned the idea of raw meat as a suitable diet for modern dogs by asking, “Are we turning our dogs into wolves?”

Maybe I’m just eager to embrace this new hypothesis because my boxers basically live on IAMS MiniChunks and with only a few minor detours, have thrived on that diet since forever. But even if I’m not being totally objective, I think that list member had a good point. My dogs’ coats are shiny, their eyes are bright, they’re neither too thin nor too fat, and they seldom visit the vet – usually only for routine health tests. Yes, I do make a pot of chicken soup for them once a week, but not so much because I’ve bought into the current “All Canines Are Carnivores” meme, as because I was brought up by a mother and grandmother who considered chicken soup one of the five major food groups.

Luckily, and with only one exception, I’ve always been blessed with boxers that would eat a box of rocks if you put it in front of them at dinnertime.

I do admit that during the home-cooking craze, I started feeling guilty about feeding my crew any commercial dog food, the equivalent in the opinion of home-cooking advocates of letting them scavenge for sustenance on a public landfill. I invited home-cooking gurus to publish their favorite recipes in the old Boxer Underground Online Newsmagazine(which ran from 1998 to 2006), and I stocked up on oatmeal, hamburger and green and yellow veggies and stood at the kitchen counter and the stove for hours, chopping and stirring. The dogs loved it and it smelled good, too, even if the sticky gray mess that resulted looked like something Macbeth’s witches had concocted in their bubbling cauldron. At the time, however, I was working a more-than-40-hour week at a very demanding job, so it wasn’t long before my canine family was back on IAMS.
I’ve never been tempted to try raw-feeding or a grain-free commercial diet for two reasons: 1) I live in Florida where it’s hot and humid all year long, and am scared to death of salmonella and e-coli, for both my dogs and my own family; and 2) feeding four boxers on Canidae or Orijen just isn’t in my budget. (Neither for that matter is feeding raw, even if I weren’t concerned about handling raw chicken in this climate.)

It’s probably obvious at this point that I believe dog food should be nutritious and relatively economical, and feeding dogs should be as simple and convenient as possible. Of course, if my dogs were in poor condition or were constantly at the vet’s, I’d switch to another brand of dog food or a completely different diet. (I’d also take a good long look at my breeding program.) But so far, that’s never been the case, and that makes me wonder if perhaps we’re not doing our dogs any favors by trying to feed them as though they were wolves.
Food for thought?


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