Feed a Dog Grains and Starches: Evolution Says So

German Shepherd Dog

Feed a dog grains and starches: It’s the way evolution intended.

That’s not my mantra,  but according to a team of Swedish researchers, as wolves evolved into dogs, they learned to not only crave, but to exist, on eating things like wheat, corn, barley, and potatoes. According to the study published in the journal Nature and reported by the Washington Post, the findings support the idea that wolves evolved to dogs, due in large part, to their foraging and eating behaviors.

I recall learning about wolves sitting fireside near humans in my 11th grade Social Studies class, and these new findings seem to support that very notion. Wolves ate our scraps, came to tolerate human beings, and eventually came to serve a purpose to man: companionship, working, herding, guarding, etc.cute dog

Dogs were not the result of humans desiring their companionship and selectively breeding them, emeritus professor of biology and expert on dog evolution at Hampshire College in Massachusetts, Raymond Coppinger, says. Wolves scavenged from people and thus began the evolution. In fact, genetic differences in brain function between wolves and dogs have been found in the study, which is still being analyzed.

In a report filed by the Washington Post, starch digestion was analyzed. It seems that wolves have two copies of the pancreatic enzyme needed for starch digestion whereas dogs have four to 30. Gene duplication of amylase is also found in human evolution. Dogs eat fast, for the most part, right? People eat pretty slow or at least less rapidly than a dog. We produce the enzyme in our saliva while a dog’s amylase activity happens in the pancreas; thus, they “wolf” their food down. Feed your dog a table scrap and he still eats fast. I can’t begin to tell you how many times I’ve said, “eaaaaaasy” to my dogs over the years.

What does all of this have to do with grains and dog food? As humans evolved, so too did wolves: into dogs and with a human diet rich in agricultural products like grains and starches. So if dogs ate wheat, rice, barley, corn and potatoes in order to evolve into the species as we know it, are dry foods loaded with corn meals, carbs, and grains actually better for a dog than say, a designer primarily meat-based diet?

I do not and will not feed my dog dry dog food, but that does not make it a selection for everyone. I am of the ilk that if the diet works for your dog and is allowing him or her to live healthy, produce firm stool, and allow the dog to grow and thrive without health issues, then that is the right dog food for your pooch. However, having read enough, talking to experts whom I trust, and seeing what lesser quality foods can do to a dog, I will continue to feed a meat- based diet that also has vegetables and omega 3 oils in it.

fidose of realityWhat do you think of these results? Are you surprised? Moreover, are you pro grain or anti grain (or somewhere in between) in terms of your dog’s diet? Bark at me below.




  1. I’m also a fan of choosing the food based on how it affects your dog. That said — I would be more interested in who made this study.

    While it seems to make sense, proponents of the paleo diet say early man did not eat as much grain, and did not eat corn. That evolved over time, and is a big part of the last 100 years, especially. To say nothing of the fact that today’s grains may not be nearly as healthy as yesteryear’s because of commercial farming.

    So I find the concept a bit suspect.

  2. Interesting about starch. It was starch (potato) that saved my dog from irritable bowel disease… not rice, not pasta, not any wheat or oat, added to his personalized “raw” meat diet. There’s much to be said for modern studies on what is optimal nutrition for our dogs–our modern dogs–and I don’t need “raw” to feel good about what my dogs are eating; many excellent ready-to-eat options available out there. I do however choose a dog food (kibble or freeze dried patties) that is primarily meat and fruits and vegetables as well as add lots of fresh vegetables to their meals and avoid grains because the way today’s grains are engineered (or imported!) I just don’t trust them–not for myself either. I prefer to stick to starches like potato for the dogs (and rice for me). I think potatoes are miracle food, especially sweet potatoes!

  3. I do not agree. I feed my dogs raw from Nature’s Variety either lamb or duck. Two are seniors and are doing very well. Not heavy, shiny coats, lots of energy, and happy. My dogs cannot handle those ingredients in cheap dog food.

    • I am with you on that, Deborah.

      Christie, if you visit and subscribe to the Nature journal link, study results are there.

  4. Well, with the length of time dogs were exposed to eating these things, I would be surprised if it didn’t bring about any changes. But, just because they adjusted to being able to survive on those things, does that make it good for them? That, to me, is the question. Yes, they can eat it. But should they?

    My other question would be, did other parts of the system adjust? You see it all the time, in various breeds, as they are bred for one thing or another, while some aspects adjust, others fall behind and it creates a havoc.

    So there is more coding for digestive enzyme to break down sugars and starches. Is the rest of the body equipped to deal with all that glucose? That is the question.

    Look at Cavaliers, for example. Their heads became smaller, but their brains often didn’t keep up. Now you have a scull that is too small for the brain.

    So unless the entire metabolic pathway is examined in detail, this study doesn’t change my opinion on too much grains and starches in dogs’ diets. Little is fine. But the amounts our dogs are mostly getting? Way too much in my opinion.

    And that doesn’t even answer the question of all the vegetable based protein in our dogs’ diets.

    • I am in total agreement with you, Jana. Very good example with the cavvie. And we have syringomyelia rampant in the breed.

  5. I’m not sure how I feel about it; but I’m trying learn more for our dogs. I recently switched them to Halo Pets grain free kibble and I’m looking at our options to put them on a better diet. A raw diet isn’t feasible for us, because we don’t live near a butcher (yeah, I know) and I don’t trust the grocery story. I’ve looked at BARF and Nature’s Variety. I’m not ready to make a complete switch, but I’m taking baby steps. I think what I’d like to do first is cook for our dogs and I have a great cookbook to help me get started.

    • My Brandy was on Halo Pets, Kim, for years. We have Dex on the Honest Kitchen and Dr Harveys Veg to Bowl and have been thrilled.

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