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Dog food evolution, once upon a time - the history

the skull of the oldest domestic dog ancestor Prohesperocyon-wilsoni.Anyone with a passing interest in the history of the domestic dog familiaris canis, will find our extraordinary companions past, absolutely amazing.  But this is often because of how much history the average dog owner doesn't know, as much as how much DNA studies are currently revealing.

To make it more digestable, I will retell the REAL story of dogs and dog food evolution, as dog food corporate manufacturers might like you to see it, a fairy tale.

Once upon a time there were dinosaurs, a cataclysmic event wiped them out around 66 million years ago and allowed many other smaller diverse species to flourish including many members of the order Carnivora.

Around 50 million years ago the carnivorans  split into their dog and cat families.

" the first clearly identifiable member of the dog family itself, the Canidae, had arisen in what is now southwestern Texas. Named Prohesperocyon wilsoni," Ref 2  The image here is of its skull.

Over millions of years natural climate change occurred that caused these animals to adapt, evolve and thrive. " To a large extent, the history of the dog family is a story of how a group of cursorial predators evolved, through speed and intelligence, to catch changing prey in a changing landscape."  Ref  2

 "40 million years ago, the dog family (Canidae) diverged into three main subfamilies, each of which dominated in turn. All three subfamilies coexisted for a long time. Two (the Hesperocyoninae and the Borophaginae) became extinct in turn around 30 million years ago, but the Caninae, with thirty-six species, is going strong." Ref 2

The common unchanging thing in all of this time is that these were all 100% carnivores, with only accidental in consumption of berries (when starved) or grain (mostly accidently through eating prey). They never wanted to evolved away from being a carnivore, it was their purpose!

natural-history-dogs evolutionThe creation of the domestic dog

familiaris canis evolved from grey wolves only about 20-30 thousand years ago.  We have knowledge of about 14 ancient dog breeds that evolved up to 10,000 years ago, but most modern dog breeds are less than 500 years ago, much less. They are all carnivore.

The ancient breed domestic dog breeds

Originally domestic Dogs co-existed with humans in mostly roaming herds or farmland communities. It was only humans desire for an easier life, to grow rather than hunt, that gave rise to the increase in grain and grain crops in human's diet, which lead to the strong omnivore nature of us current humans. 

But this desire to grow crops was  a long time in the making, and we purposefully caused our digestive human systems to evolve from a more meat diet to a more vegetable based one.

Dogs initially were happy to get scraps from their humans and the warmth of the fire. Farming soon allowed for an increase in human population as food could now be more reliably gathered.  The sad thing for our dogs is that in this relationship is while dogs would get the full share of the prey they killed on a hunt (when they were wild), when they began living with a human, they would then get the off cuts, the fatty pieces and maybe offal and bones. 

Humans still desired meat, but as the proportion of hunters decreased, and human populations increased, and cities grew, meat became a much more valuable resource, that either the famer, or more rich people could afford.

The domestic dog diet circa 1850's onwards

Industrialisation meant that more people had access to more 'toys' like cars (1886), and better housing. Mega cities in UK, Europe and America formed. Farming (both livestock and crops) were being grown with much greater efficiencies. In theory people could afford better quality food for themselves and their dogs.  Food was grown locally, stored for only short periods, and dogs flourished. Back then, people instinctively new that meat and bones were the real dog food.

The World Wars and dog food devastation.

The World Wars were not only tough on humans, they were devastating for dogs too, long term devastating.

As wars consumed more and more resources, luxury items became unheard off except for the privileged and mega rich. Similarly meat became a prized possession and you had a very lucky dog if it tasted any kind of quality meat protein.

During this time there were also a loss of whole dog breeds, that subsequently some breeders tried to recreated after the wars, however the original breed stock were often unavailable.

The 1950's to 1983 (dog food)

Dogs had evolved and survived well at the hands of humans, so it seemed. Humans happily shaped the dogs size, look and work ethic through concentrated breeding programs. This has happened for the majority of breeds only over the last few hundred years. BUT it was found that it was much easier to purposefully bend a dogs DNA to a breed ideal and purpose, than accidently have it convert their whole digestive system from being a primarily carnivore to an omnivore.

Teeth and jaw shapes, stomach acid, intestinal tract and levels of amalyse still meant dogs remained 95% - 100% carnivore.

Post war, large corporations in America and UK were looking at where to invest their money. They were no longer making weapons and ammunition in such big quantities, and there was a massive pent up consumer demand. Advertising and Marketing divisions and companies prospered. People needed to be employed and factories  were a great place for the masses to earn a living. They didnt need to know what they were making.  This is when canned food really took over from butcher dog food.

Once upon a time everyone trusted governments and large corporations, to do the right thing by humans and their pets. Because they put the food on our tables. Sadly during this time, a time of optimism, domestic dogs became the most neglected mis-fed beasts on the planet.

The first warning signs should have appeared when Confectionary companies, pharmaceutical companies and grain companies banded together to create the cheapest possible bulk chaff they could to feed the rapidly growing dog populations. No livestock farms were involved in these conspiracies.

War was over and leisure time was in.  And if you were a big multinational looking to secure decades of prosperity the best way would be to spend millions on convincing people that a grain based dog food with very little redeeming value, with hardly any of the main food that dogs evolved to eat, hunted to eat, the purpose for their very lives, was now an ideal food?

Once upon a time, people knew to that to feed a rabbit a lump of steak was as farcical as to feeding a dog a bowl of cereal, but the great advertising tactics of the 1950's put all that to rest.

I have to admit that my parents were equally victims of dog and cat food manufactures as far back as the 70's.  We fed our cat cans of wet food "Snappy Tom".  If you didn't know, cats are 100% carnivores, but there is little in those cans besides water and soy, made to look like meat, its called TVP.

how the modern domestic dog breeds evolved1984 to 2006 (dog food then)

Once upon a time, children played sports and fun activities outside of the house. Properties in capital cities had one story houses and back yards. Dogs were taken regularly for off lead dog walks and it was a much simpler time.

In 1984 Apple introduced the world to the consumer orientated affordable PC.  By the mid 1990's Altavista search engine was commercialising the internet, and Intel's chips made shoot 'em up video games very exciting and time consuming.

Yes, the rise of technology killed the time people used to have to play with their dogs. People no longer had time for the due diligence of checking those pesky ingredients that the volunteer organisation Affco promised was going to lead to the best a dog can be. 

Grain levels in dog food continued to increase to the tipping point where regular grain could barely achieve the minimum essentials amino acid levels required - but being non bio-available, the minimum levels supplied by non meat sources in dog food lead to a rise in mystery dog illnesses, depression and complete boredom (no walks, no real food). 

We now took away their freedoms to hunt for food, then their freedom for off lead walks, and NOW the freedom to eat their real food source MEAT. Could it get any worse?

Auto-immune pancreatitis might be linked to grain dog food

2007 -   NOW (dog food )

Looking back on the recent decades, while real dog nutrition experts and raw feeders know that it was the beginning of the end of most dogs health, we now know that it was nowhere near as bad as it was going to get.

We thought that the multinationals pumping artificial minerals and vitamins and inappropriate protein with a dollop of oil for a glossy coat was no longer going to disguise the decades of neglect. But there were enough celebrity vets being bought off to keep the lie alive.

The only real studies into dog food were commissioned by dog food companies through subsidiaries and vet schools to "prove" that grain was good and meat should be a side dish. More and more money was poured into TV, radio and internet advertising to convince us that dogs were basically herbivores, with a small need for meat.

2007 is listed as the true death of honesty and integrity in dog nutrition with the release of the iphone. This wondrous tech just made people more time poor. People got run over crossing roads looking their screens or ran into cars while texting scrolling and driving. Smart phones, tablets and optic fibre internet connection for fast streaming compounded the issue.

In 2010 the dog food story took another sad mutation.  The rise of human vegetarianism and vegans (on social media) made it seem like we could force another species (dogs) to also join our conscience eating.  Dogs are hunters by nature, and carnivores by digestive processes. They will eat scraps, they will eat things that the owners give to them, they like sugar like any other animal on earth, but just because a dog can be directed to eat inappropriate foods, does not mean that it is good for them.

The final straw in this sad 'once upon a time' tale is globalisation and the rise of developing nations. We are told time and time again how healthy free trade is for our economy, but it is 100% completely unhealthy for dogs.

As half of the world's population (China and India) increase living standards, they have shown to have a massive appetite for buying Australian farms, and importing Australian Meat.  As this has happened at an vastly increasing rate over the last decade, our farmer are happily taking a massive profit and selling as much meat as they can overseas. The Law of supply and demand means that the cost of meat in the domestic Australian market has sky-rocketed and if people can't afford meat, or go out to restaurants, guess that that means for the outcome of dog food?

The artifical high price of Beef in Australia and dog food issues

We are barraged with fake news about the dangers of raw feeding dogs (what they have done for millions of years) and vets tell us that grain is good, and meat is now unaffordable for many humans in Australia, the very place we grow that meat.

I havent even mentioned the barrage of flyers in your letterbox hawking cheap dog food specials. The conveneince of buying all of your food shopping in a one stop shop. The glossy big bags of dog food with smilling dogs, and maybe even a picture of meat on the pack (even if its only 20-30% low qualty sraps in the ingredients).

It is just so much easier to not even want to know about a problem, than solve it.

Once upon a time, dogs roamed free and were carnivoresDogs are now rarely walked, are still carnivores, but are feed cheap vegetable matter, for cost and convenience sake, NOT HEALTH.

When they were not with humans, dogs satisfied their primal and nutritionial needs and where the happiest species on earth. 

They didnt have owners who kept them locked up and spent more money on grain, dog washes and dog beds, than they did on their true daily nutrition needs (meat, offal and bones).

Meat offal and bones soon became the enemy of the dog food industry, because you could buy these generic items at a butcher. Just like the soda industry (and cigarrettes) thrived for 50 years post war convincing us that they were perfectly healthy and fine, the dog food industry continues to pull the cotton over our dog's eyes.

 

REFERENCE

1              http://www.pnas.org/content/109/23/8878

2               naturalhistorymag.com/htmlsite/0708/0708_feature.html

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