So I was sitting eating my lunch and watching the “mindless drivelbox” (the television) when I saw another one of those pet food commercials. You know the ones I am talking about, the ones that compare the domestic dog and the housecat to wild cat and dog species. Now some of these are fine, and some of them kind of get on my nerves. Actually, many of these commercials make me yell at the television, just ask my wife.
I would like to make something very, very clear… dogs are NOT descended from North American wolves, and cats are NOT descended from North American wild cat species. These are marketing ploys used by pet food manufacturers to make you want to buy their foods. Wolves and lynx and bobcat and others like them are actually “cousins” of our house pets not ancestors. Very much like our relationship with some of the wild primate species, like baboons and chimpanzees.
Our little domestic house cat is actually descended from small desert-dwelling wildcats from the middle east of Europe. National Geographic did some research and proved exactly where our little house-buddy’s ancestors lived. As any cat owner will tell you, it is ridiculous to call our little feline buddies “domesticated”. They just let us live with them in our houses and let us feed them food and keep them warm. Still, it is hard to say when the housecat’s ancestors were “domesticated”. As the article states, it was probably sometime between 10,000 and 100,000 years ago. The reason they began to hang around us is that lots of very small animals (like rats and mice) tended to hang around the campsites of our ancestors nibbling up our debris… easy to catch food!
The ancestry of our domestic dog is a little more complicated. Wolves and foxes and coyotes are certainly related to dogs but they are separate branches on the canine tree, not ancestors. The current theory is that all types of domestic dog (yep every single one of the breeds we have today) descended from the small South Asian wolf. Check out the article at National Geographic.
Dogs, and other members of their family, have a very simple genetic code. What is very interesting is that due to this very simple genetic code, dogs can actually inter-breed with wolves and coyotes, and coyotes and wolves can also interbreed! This simple genetic code has also allowed dogs to evolve (change) rapidly over very short periods of time producing all of the breeds that we see around today.
Domestication of our best friend began about 10,000 years ago when certain of their ancestors decided that it was easier to scrounge food from garbage piles around human campsites than it was to go out and hunt. What is truly amazing about dogs, and that simple genetic code they have, is the fact that during this period dogs evolved from being mostly carnivorous (like their ancestors) to becoming true omnivores (like us) by gaining the ability to digest starch. What this means to our best friends is that they can survive very well on diets that are lower in meat content than their wild ancestors… diets very similar to ours. So that little chihuahua is NOT a meat-eater, unlike what many pet food manufacturers would have you believe.
So please, take the ads on television with a grain of salt. They are very nice ads, but like most ads they like to present facts in ways that best serve their own purposes. If you really want some information about what is best to feed your pet ask the real expert… your veterinarian.
Dr. Mike Steen
Hillcrest Animal Hospital