The simple answer is that dogs are omnivores and can thrive on a variety of diets as long as they get their core nutrients.
If you’ve turned on the TV or browsed the internet recently, you’ve likely seen an ad for dog food that compares your pet to wolves. The media is constantly inundating us with the idea that our dogs are descendants of the great, mighty wolf—prowling the forests hunting down their dinner of meat with a side of more meat.
In reality, 15,000 years separate our pets from their ancestors. Even when wolves and dogs weren’t so biologically different, they were more likely to be hunting down a rabbit and eating it right after the kill, rather than dining on beef and pork.
Ok, fine - but, scientifically speaking, do dogs need meat? The answer is yes...and no - what dogs need is protein.
Focusing On The Essentials
Part of the myth of your dog needing to eat meat is based on amino acids. These building blocks of protein are required for a dog’s health, similar to humans.
Here are some basics about how protein works and why it’s so important for your dog:
A dog’s body uses amino acids to build different protein molecules, which then work to grow and maintain muscle, fur, and nails; produce hormones; transport nutrients; and aid in the functioning of the immune system.
A dog needs about twenty common amino acids to build all the proteins it needs for health and vitality.
A dog’s body can break down protein into about half of the essential amino acids it needs. However, the other half cannot be created by the canine body, which means that the dog must consume them. This includes arginine, histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine
These ten essential amino acids are - yes - found in meat, but that’s not the only place they’re found. High-quality plant, fungi (that’s yeast!), bacterial or algal protein sources also carry these essential amino acids. So yes, your dog does need meat...or plants, or fungi, or algae...
This belief that dogs eat meat and only meat stems partly from the fact that dogs belong to the scientific order Carnivora, which includes wolves and other meat-eating species. Despite its name, this order also includes herbivores and omnivores, such as giant pandas and raccoons, according to Tufts University's Cummings Veterinary Medical Center.
Dogs have evolved from wolves in a number of key areas over the tens of thousands of years of cohabitation with humans. One of those differences, according to a study published in Nature, is that dogs have evolved to not only enable them to digest plant-based starches but to thrive on a diverse diet including fruits, vegetables, herbs, grains, meats, poultry, fish and more, making them true omnivores.
Talk science to me
How have dogs evolved? Here are just a few examples:
Dogs convert plant-based beta-carotene (provitamin A) to retinol, the purest form of vitamin A. True carnivores obtain retinol from animal sources or supplements.
Dogs have more copies of the AMY2B gene, which produces amylase, a starch-digesting enzyme, and amylase activity is 30x higher in dogs than in wolves.
Another starch-digesting enzyme, maltase, is also far more active in dogs than in wolves, and is primarily found in herbivores and omnivores.'
Just like in humans, protein is a necessary component to the health and wellness of a dog. Historically, the only option on the shelf was a meat-based diet. The good news is whether you’re looking to change your dog’s diet, are concerned about the environmental and ethical issues with meat-based dog food or are just curious about what else is available - rest assured knowing that dogs can thrive on a variety of diets as long as they are getting their core nutrients.
At Wild Earth, we've created a delicious, high protein, completely meat-free dog food and treats. We've made a radically better food for dogs with 31% complete protein, superfood ingredients and zero junk.
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Additional Resources and References
"Vegetarian versus Meat-Based Diets for Companion Animals" by Professor Dr. Andrew Knight