It is now generally agreed that the ancestor of the modern dog is the wolf. What is not clear is how long that domestication process has been going on. It may have been as short as 10,000 years or as long as 50,000 years... No matter how long it has been, that process of domestication where our ancestors removed the 'wildness' from the wolf, involved thousands of years of selective breeding. We took an animal that could well have seen them as food, and through selective breeding, produced an animal that became our best friend.
In this process, our ancestors produced hundreds of 'different looking wolves.' These various "breeds" - as we now know them - were and are developed for a particular task or tasks. Whether it was hunting for large prey, exterminating vermin, guarding, herding, being a companion or a foot warmer, each breed fulfilled a set of needs in the society in which it was developed.
The result is that each breed is not only different to look at, but also has a unique mind set which relates very much to the task(s) it was bred to perform. However, our dogs also retain many of their wolf-like characters, including their pack mentality. This includes the need to either lead or be led. Today, as we train our dogs, we need to be aware of both the unique mind set of our particular breed and the basic pack mentality, the wolf-like traits which still dominate our dogs' thinking.
The point I am making in regard to this discussion is that to produce the dog, our ancestors made only two basic changes to the wolf.
They changed the wolf's appearance and they changed its mind. What they did not change, was the basic internal workings or physiology of the wolf. There was no need to. As a result, the basic workings or physiology of modern dogs is no different to their ancestor the wolf. Modern dogs grow and function (and malfunction) in very much the same way as the wolf.
To produce a fully functioning adult dog, our modern pup needs to grow in exactly the same way as the wolf pup. If we vary the food and the exercise too drastically, we will alter the finished product. We will produce damaged goods.
To be more specific...
The basic environment which the modern dog requires in terms of food and exercise is exactly the same as it was (and still is) for the wolf. So although we have carried out selective breeding to alter our dog's outward appearance and mind, we have not asked it to cope with, nor have we selectively bred it to deal with any dramatic change in feeding or exercising. Until now.
Think about how wolves have survived
They have had no vets to radiograph their hips and select sound breeding stock. There have been no progesterone tests prior to breeding, no ultrasound to detect pregnancy, no blood tests to ensure that health is perfect, no caesarians, no injections after giving birth, no worming, no extra calcium, no vaccinations or puppy checking, or treatment of problems.
There are no dog food companies out there supplying them with super premium foods. There is no one to make sure that their every meal is complete and balanced. There is no one to make sure they never eat egg whites. No one to protect them from eating bones. No one to cook their food and to make sure they do not contract dangerous bacteria such as E. Coli or Salmonella, and most especially, no one to ensure they receive the correct ratio of calcium to phosphorus so that puppies will have perfect bone growth. All the wolves have are themselves.
We have much to learn from the wolves
Wolves rely on their stamina and strength to survive. Any animal unable to hunt or compete with the others for food because of skeletal problems would certainly not survive. The free moving healthy looking wolves I have observed, appeared to have perfect bone and joint health. Why are the wolves - without the 'benefits' of modern veterinary technology, without truckloads of super premium dog food, and without calcium supplements - doing so well? The answer is very simple. They are living in a biologically appropriate environment in terms of food and exercise. They are getting what they need. They have no need of modern technology. By contrast our dogs are not receiving what they need in terms of diet and exercise. Despite our technology. .....our dogs are doing badly!
Let us go on and examine the lifestyle of a group of wolves or wild dogs. That lifestyle will show us the basic principles which we should use to determine how dogs should be fed and exercised today, for maximum present and future health. You will discover that such a diet is simple, straightforward, and uncomplicated. Just like the lives of those wolves.
First, the eating...
Wild dogs do not eat regular meals. Nobody plans their meals. Nor do they have an all meat diet. On the other hand, no one single meal is complete and balanced. Raw bones with meat are a major part of their diet. Lots and lots of it! In the winter they dig up and eat frozen food. They eat offal such as liver and heart. They eat raw eggs. They eat decaying food that is slightly off.
They may eat once a day or five or six times a day, depending on the season and what sort of food is available. They have days when they go hungry. They have days when they pile food into themselves almost beyond capacity. They eat when food is available, and as the urge takes them. They eat a wide variety of foodstuffs. Insects, bark, soil, birds - complete with their tiny bones and feathers - whatever. Every meal they eat is totally raw. Not one shred of it is cooked. Ever.
They eat vegetables including herbs, from the gut of their prey. This vegetable material is raw, totally crushed and partly digested. They eat feces. A wolf's diet contain almost no grains and never any that is cooked grain. In eating the intestinal contents of their prey they will eat some grain which is usually immature and green. Most certainly they do not eat a totally grain based diet like the modern dog, subjected to a lifetime of dried dog food. Even if their prey had been eating mature seed heads, by the time the wolf pup or adult gets to eat this grain, it has been ground to a paste and soaked in the juices of the herbivores intestines. A totally different product to the masses of cooked and processed grains fed to dogs today. Not only that, these few grains are mixed in with a mass of other grassy and herbaceous material.
For a wolf - not one single meal consists of dry dog food.
They don't eat canned dog food either.
Feeding for Weaning
As tiny pups, still with their mother, the wolf pups are well looked after. After weaning things change dramatically. However, before we tackle that, let's look at the weaning process itself. This deserves our attention as it has important lessons for how we wean our pups today. Wolf pups are not weaned using cereals or bowls of milk or mushed up dried or canned dog food, or bread soaked in milk. From the moment the weaning process begins, the wild pup begins a diet which is based on the carcasses of other animals - mostly herbivore.
Mum begins the process by vomiting. She vomits up food for the pups, starting when they are three to four weeks of age. These young pups crunch their way through and eat any tiny or soft bones, they rip and tear at the meat attached to larger bones, and they suck and chew at the organ meats swimming in a sea of fermenting totally crushed vegetable material. All totally raw. They also eat whatever they can scavenge from left over carcasses left lying around their immediate vicinity. This includes - once again - raw meaty bones and bits of liver and raw partly digested totally crushed and sometimes fermenting vegetable material.
The young pups are not protected from feces...
With its E. coli, Salmonella, Campylobacter, or a myriad of other bacteria or protozoa. Instead, they eat it and develop healthy immune systems, easily able to deal with the normal bacteria and other micro-organisms in their environment. In addition, they are able to - and of course have to- build a resistance to intestinal worms.
When weaning time comes around, do your pups enjoy similar advantages'? The question is how far should we adapt these principles as we rear our pups today? Certainly I am not suggesting we should allow our pups to be wormy or to be needlessly exposed to high levels of pathogenic bacteria by feeding meat that is rotten or anything like that. They should not however, be totally protected from such things. Their food must be raw. I am strongly suggesting that what young wolves or dingoes or foxes eat, deserves our very close attention. This is what we need to duplicate.
Once wild pups are weaned...
They don't join in the serious hunting, but of course they do a lot of "play-hunting". Insects, lizards, rodents, whatever moves is fair game. They may even catch and eat some of these. This is important. Not for what they are eating so much, but more for how they are being exercised.
Wolf pups mainly eat at the family dinner table. That is, they share in whatever the older wolves have dug up, hunted, or scavenged. However, even this food is not easily won. When mum looked after them the young wolves had a degree of protection. After weaning it is a different story. They are no longer pampered or cosseted. No more favorable treatment. The pups have now plummeted to the bottom of the social heap. Instead of being number one when meal time comes, when the hunt is over, when that old or frozen carcass is dug up or discovered, the young weanlings as the lowest members in the social order are last in to the feast. They have to fight for every morsel and scrap of food they get. 'Manners' for a wolf pup consists of not eating until the older wolves 'allow' them. That is, when all the others have had their fill. The pups then have to fight amongst themselves, until they too have established an order of dominance.
Because the wolf pups only get to eat the leftovers, most of the choice bits have gone. So what is left for them? There will be bones with scraps of meat, little bits of organs such as liver, heart, spleen, etc., that the adults in their ravenous haste missed. Lots and lots of gut contents, consisting of masses of plant material, raw, crushed and fermenting.
Because wolves and other wild dogs follow the herd of deer, bison, antelope, etc., pulling down the young, the old, the injured and the sick, one of the foods always available for them is the feces of the animals they follow. This is an important part of their diet. They actually require those healthy bowel bacteria. That is why modern dogs seek out and eat feces. Their own, other dogs', cats' feces - whatever they can obtain.
The habit of eating feces supplies a young pup with first class protein, essential fatty acids, masses of vitamins, and plenty of healthy fiber. Research tells us that feces eating by the young of many species plays an important role in bowel and brain health. The bacteria in feces help in the development of the immune system of the bowel, and undoubtedly assist in the prevention of such problems as inflammatory bowel disease. The essential fatty acids present in feces have been shown to play a vital role in the full development of the central nervous system, particularly the higher functions of the brain. This is something we have to take very seriously. Poor brain development could well be one of the factors behind much of the unprovoked aggression we are seeing in modern dogs fed processed food.
I am not suggesting that our pups should necessarily eat feces - although in the countryside, young teenage and adult dogs certainly do eat plenty of nutritious and healthy cow, sheep, rabbit, horse, and other herbivorous feces. What I am saying is that we must find suitable substitutes for our dogs today. This is the basis on which we may confidently supplement our young pups' diet with yogurt and other sources of probiotic, vitamins, healthy clays, essential fatty acids from fresh, cold extracted oils, and first class protein such as egg yolks - all combined with raw crushed vegetable material.
"Although we humans have changed the appearance and the nature of the dog in all sorts of ways by domestication, we have not changed it's basic internal workings. In other words, today's domestic dog has essentially the same digestive system and overall physiology as it's ancestor the wolf"
Wolf pups do not eat at regular times
The food supply is not regular. They are not spoon fed. They have to battle for their food. Obviously the food needs to be adequate for survival and healthy growth. However, it is very rare that their hunger is ever fully satisfied. These pups are lean and hungry most of the time. There are periods when they may go for twelve or more hours without food. As a result, they are not fat. They never grow at their maximum growth rate. As a result they grow slowly. It is not biologically appropriate for a wolf pup to grow at its maximum pace. There is at least one very simple reason for this. A wolf pup raised at top speed will develop skeletal problems. The pups do not get to eat a lot of fat. Wild game is always very lean. The relatively small amount of fat which is present is not saturated, but full of essential fatty acids, which is quite different to the fat found in modern farm fed livestock; saturated and lacking in essential fatty acids. The pups mostly miss out on the fat because the adult hunters will preferentially eat it first. The pups get most of their essential fatty acids from their habit of eating feces and gut contents - chewed up vegetation.
The older wolves will always eat until they are absolutely jammed full of food, go back to camp, vomit, and then eat their vomit at a more leisurely pace. Naturally, little bits of this mixed up mess of food are left and the pups can dart in and grab bits and pieces of it. In the process they also eat bits of dirt and leaves and sticks etc. Soil, grass and other fresh plant material are also eaten by these hungry wolf pups quite deliberately.
What about dogs in the 'Pre-Pet-Food' era?
How were they raised? The answer to that is - not too differently to wild dogs. Of course they did not have to hunt for their food. For most domestic dogs in the 'pre-pet-food era', much of their diet was still composed of raw meaty bones together with other food scraps. Most importantly, the bulk of that food was raw. This diet definitely included plenty of vegetable material. Not always raw however.
These dogs were not overfed. This is because everybody was very relaxed about feeding dogs. It was simple and straightforward. Everybody knew how to do it and trusted their instincts. There was no drama if they forgot to feed the pups. They would have scavenged something for themselves anyway. Nobody was racing to produce the 'biggest, roundest, fattest, most calcified, biggest-boned,'bestest', largest, beautiest - dog - ever, in the shortest possible amount of time.'
The bottom line for these dogs raised in the pre-pet-food era is that the degree to which they experienced ill health reflected the degree to which their owners departed from that biologically appropriate method of feeding and exercising that nature developed over the hundreds of thousands of years of the wolf's evolution.
Want to learn more about feeding puppies an evolutionary diet?
By: Dr. Ian Billinghurst