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Carbs were key in wolves' evolution into dogs

Comparing the DNA of dogs and wolves shows that dogs' ability to easily digest carbohydrates, originally from starch in scraps left behind by humans, helped enable their domestication, a study finds.

January 23, 2013|By Rosie Mestel, Los Angeles Times

In addition to the starch genes, Axelsson's team found others involved in brain and nervous system development that appear to have been important in the transition from wolf to dog.

That isn't surprising, said Adam Boyko, an evolutionary geneticist at the College of Veterinary Medicine at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., who wasn't involved in the study. Dogs differ behaviorally from wolves in myriad ways, he said — in tameness, curiosity, social structure, tail-wagging, novelty-seeking behavior and their penchant to bark (and bark) well into adulthood.

The next step is to study that list of genes to figure out how they affect behavior and development to make dogs distinct, Boyko said.

Oscar Chavez, director of the veterinary technician program at Cal Poly Pomona, said the findings served as a reminder that dogs don't eat like wolves. He said he and his colleagues were befuddled by the trend toward pricey low-carb dog foods and raw diets, which could stress dogs' kidneys with their extra protein load.

"Dogs are dogs — they're more reliant on starches and grains," he said, which is why commercial dog foods are formulated to contain about 20% to 30% protein and 40% to 50% carbs. "I don't know any veterinarian in my circle of colleagues that would recommend a low-grain diet."

rosie.mestel@latimes.com

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