National Wolf Awareness Week
Category_The Wild Times
The Vet's Corner

National Wolf Awareness Week

by Andrew Ehlert

Written By: Tiffany Ruiz Dasilva, VMD, cVMA | Professional Services Veterinarian, Wild Earth

October 16 - 22, 2022 is National Wolf Awareness Week, and we want to celebrate these amazing creatures who gave rise to the dogs we know and love today. A common misconception that has been recently popularized in the media is that dogs ARE wolves, and should be fed like them. Dogs may have evolved from wolves, but they are certainly not wolves, and during the process of domestication have undergone many genetic, morphologic and behavioral changes, making them very different from wolves.

Fun Fact: Humans have coevolved with dogs, and it has been shown that when a human pets or interacts with a dog, both the dog and human experience an increase in oxytocin levels. A similar experiment was conducted with hand raised wolves, and there was no increase in oxytocin for either humans or wolves.

So just how did the grey wolf (Canis lupus) give rise to present-day dogs (Canis familiaris)? The current research suggests that the ancestors of dogs and modern wolves diverged sometime between 40,000 and 14,000 years ago, with evidence of the first actual domesticated dogs found in human campsites occurring around 15,000 years ago. Ancient humans, who lived in hunter-gatherer groups, and wolves lived near each other for thousands of years and would cross paths often as they hunted some of the same animals. Most wolves were afraid of people, and those are the ones that evolved to become today’s modern wolves. The wolves that were less fearful, ventured closer to humans, eating food scraps and waste near the human settlements. In turn, humans likely tolerated friendlier ones as they could more easily spot intruders. With a regular food source, these friendlier wolves flourished and had many offspring. They passed on their behavioral characteristics, namely that friendliness, to their offspring. Other traits that accompanied friendliness included: they became smaller, their teeth became smaller, their snouts shortened, they became less aggressive and they developed curly tails and floppy ears.

As humans shifted from hunter-gatherers to ones dominated by agriculture, starch became a larger part of their diet, and in turn, they had to become better at digesting carbohydrates. The enzyme responsible for turning carbohydrates, or starch, into energy is called amylase. Since the outset of the agricultural revolution, which took place sometime between 11,500 and 6,000 years ago, the genes responsible for creating amylase in saliva for humans have been copied many times over in response to this selective pressure. A similar process occurred in the ancestors of dogs. Since they lived alongside humans, they too began consuming more starch, and duplication of a gene called AMY2B gene, which is responsible for pancreatic amylase production, occurred. Modern day dogs have developed many more copies of these genes making them functionally omnivorous and able to eat more starchy foods. While gray wolves, who are primarily carnivorous, usually only have two copies of this gene, dogs can have anywhere from 4-34 copies, suggesting that dogs have adapted to a starch-rich diet.

Now fast forward 1000 years - during the ancient age humans began breeding dogs for different jobs like herding sheep. Fast forward even more, during the Victorian era humans bred dogs with interesting traits until we had hundreds of different breeds. Today we have 199 dog breeds, not to mention our beloved mixes such as the goldendoodle. Our dogs are able to digest starch just like we can, and switching them to a plant-based diet is better for the environment, farm animal welfare, and the health of your pup! Plant-based diets do not contain the top three most common food allergens in dogs which are beef, dairy, and chicken, and recent evidence has shown that owners of dogs eating plant-based diets reported fewer health disorders, and longevity was reported to be greater for these dogs. An added bonus - by switching your dog to a plant-based diet, you will help decrease deforestation caused by cattle farming which supports wolf protection efforts. Let’s work together to protect these wonderful animals!

Learn about some of the key differences between modern dogs and wolves:

Dogs: Wolves:
Diet: Omnivores Mostly carnivorous but will eat up to 50% plant matter
Starch Digestion: Many copies of AMY2B gene 2 copies of AMY2B gene
Human Approach: Approaches humans as they approach Will back away when approached by a human
Human Bond: Cause an increase in oxytocin in humans Even those hand-raised by humans, do not cause an increase in oxytocin in humans
Jaws & Teeth: Smaller jaw and weaker molars Stronger jaw to hold prey and larger teeth
Extremities: Shorter legs Longer legs and larger feet
Eyes: Range in color from brown to blue Shades of yellow
Ears: Floppy Pointed
Weight: 2 lbs - 150 lbs 50 lbs - 175 lbs
Reproduction: Give birth at any time of year Give birth in spring when food is more plentiful
Cycle: In heat twice per year In heat once per year
Vocalization: Yip or bark Howl

Tiffany Ruiz Dasilva, VMD, cVMA

Dr. Tiffany Ruiz Dasilva is the Professional Services Veterinarian here at Wild Earth. She received her Bachelor of Science degree in Biology from Brown University, and attended veterinary school at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine. Since graduation, she has worked in general practice, on telehealth platforms, and in animal rehabilitation. She has worked tirelessly to gain expertise in the field of canine nutrition through numerous certifications and coursework, and plans to pursue her Masters in Animal Nutrition.

Let's Stay Connected