Monday, June 24, 2013

The Role Carbs Played in the Evolution of Dogs

By Linda Cole

Scientists are still trying to unravel the mystery behind how wolves evolved into dogs. It happened so long ago, the only evidence scientists have to work with is in archaeological research into how humans evolved and fossilized teeth and bones of early canines. Researchers have a basic understanding of the approximate time when humans and wolves began to interact. New discoveries are occasionally found which adds another piece to the evolution puzzle; hopefully one day we’ll have a complete picture of how dogs became man's best friend.

The scientific community is still debating whether wolves approached humans first or if it was the other way around. A partnership between man and domesticated wolves would have been a beneficial relationship; wolves could help bring down larger game with enough meat to share between humans and animals. With no refrigeration or knowledge of how to preserve meat, leftover kills wouldn't have stayed fresh for long. Women were gatherers, collecting edible berries, roots, nuts, green plants and smaller animals. A tamed wolf would have given them protection as they searched for food.

The more likely scenario that led to domestication, however, was a mutual relationship of “you leave me alone and I won't bother you” agreement between man and animal. With an advancing Ice Age, humans were forced to turn to other sources of food. Larger plant-eating animals began to die off as cooler temperatures caused their food source to become scarcer. Early humans were nomads following Mammoth and other large game because it didn't make sense to carry a kill long distances. When their main meal, the Mammoth, became harder to find, humans were forced to turn to other sources of food. They gave up their nomad life about 10,000 years ago, settled down in small villages, and turned to agriculture for a food supply.

With the introduction of grains, the human digestive system began to evolve to better digest carbs, and scientific evidence shows the wolf's digestive system also evolved at the same time and for the same reason. Modern dog has 10 genes that aid in digesting starches and breaking down fats. Scientists found changes in three of the genes, which is what makes it possible for dogs to split starches and absorb sugars. Today's wolves can't process starchy food, and that's one thing that sets them apart from modern dogs. This discovery, however, has nothing to do with when dogs became our best friend.

When man settled down in permanent villages, garbage dumps piled up on the outskirts of their encampments. Wolves have good reason for being wary of man. Prehistoric wolves interacting with humans would have also kept their distance, but garbage dumps would have been too tempting to ignore and provided easy access to food for the more adventurous animals. Bones, animal carcasses, grains and vegetables were gobbled up by hungry wolves drawn to the dumps. These animals are the ones that would have hung around communities. As their fear decreased, they became more tolerant of humans, at least at a distance. It wouldn't have been hard for them to figure out that getting along was in their best interest, especially since the more aggressive wolves would have been killed. The friendlier ones would have also been more tolerant of humans interacting with their pups.

Less fearful wolves snuggled next to outside walls of crude homes at night for warmth from fires within, and would have protected their territory from other animals or human strangers. The animals were still more interested in the food dumps than the humans. Early man discovered that wolves hanging around garbage dumps kept rodent populations under control, ate rotting food which controlled odors, and gave them advanced warning of intruders. It was a relationship that benefited both parties.

The timing of when the domestication process began is debatable, as well as what part of the world it began in. It's possible there were multiple attempts at domestication in at least three, and possibly, four different regions of the world. Bits of evidence continue to be unearthed as scientists try to fit fossilized discoveries into the evolutionary puzzle. Scientists believe dogs and wolves began to grow apart over 100,000 years ago, but so far, the oldest known fossil of modern dog dates back to around 36,000 years.

Based on the evolution of their digestive system, modern dog isn't a true carnivore. That's why it's important to feed your pet a high quality food like CANIDAE Life Stages which is made to meet the dietary needs of dogs, providing the right balance of protein and carbs. Every canine's dietary needs are different, however, and some dogs thrive on a grain free food. For those dogs, the CANIDAE super-premium pure formulas are an excellent choice.

Top photo by RikkisRefuge Other
Bottom photo by Rusty Clark

Read more articles by Linda Cole

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