Most everyone knows that dogs are descended from wolves. Anyone who has ever seen a dog and a wolf also knows that more than 10,000 years of active and passive selection by humans has had a dramatic transformative impact on the anatomy and physiology of the dog. Ancestry is not destiny, and the fact that dogs have wolf ancestors does not mean we should think of our pets as wolves or treat them as such.
I have made the point here many times that dogs are not wolves and that the notion of feeding them as if they were wild carnivores is lacking both sound logic and real evidence. A new study adds a small piece of additional evidence to the discussion.
Comparison of the fecal microbiota of wild wolves, dogs fed commercial dry diets and dogs fed raw meat diets. A. Sturgeon, C.M. Jardine, J.S. Weese. University of Guelph, Guelph, ON, Canada.
In this study, the authors looked at the microbial flora of 15 dogs (10 fed commercial kibble and 5 fed a raw meat-based diet) and 10 wild wolves and classified the types and proportions of bacteria present. The flora of the GI tract is a reflection of both the diet and the inherent biology of a species. The findings, not surprisingly, were that the flora of wolves and dogs were quite different. Wolves had a more variable flora than dogs, likely due to a more inconsistent diet. It is worth noting also that feeding dogs a raw meat-based diet did not alter the microbial flora to make it more like that of wolves.
As I have said many times, I don’t believe we have sufficient evidence to make strong claims about what is the optimal diet for dogs overall, much less for individual dogs with their own unique circumstances and needs. Conventional commercial diets are clearly sufficient to avoid obvious nutritional deficiencies, and millions of dogs live health, happy lives eating them. However, it would not surprise me at all to find that changes in these diets, or even a switch to a markedly different way of feeding our canine companions, would improve health and longevity in our pets. Science is a process which is never finished and in which all knowledge is provisional and subject to re-assessment.
However, we do our pets no favor by making dramatic changes in established feeding practices based on unsubstantiated theories or hunches without adequate evidence. As far as raw diets are concerned the theory behind them is weak, and there is currently little evidence concerning their health effects. More work will need to be done before it makes sense to claim these diets have benefits which outweigh their risks. The argument that we should be feeding these diets to our dogs because they are fundamentally wolves inside is not supported by the existing evidence, and it is not a sound reason to experiment with our pets’ health.