Contrary to popular belief, a study from 2019 has confirmed that dogs do in fact create Amylase in their saliva.
Amylase is an enzyme that breaks down starch during the digestion process. It has long been thought that dogs did not create ANY amylase in their saliva, only in the pancreas. Previous studies failed to detect amylase in canine saliva.
A lack of amylase in canine saliva has been used to support the notion that dogs are carnivores, not omnivores. So what is the relevance of this finding that dogs DO create amylase in their saliva? Does this mean dogs are actually omnivores?
Not so fast...keep in mind that what happens in the dog's mouth is just one small part of the whole digestion process. To understand what a dog's dietary needs are, the entire digestive process should be understood.
Now, even though canine saliva has been studied before, amylase was not detected because it is present at very low levels. It's not found at the same levels as seen in herbivores or omnivores. This is an important clue.
There was a study published in 1907 which showed that the properties of a dog's saliva will change as their diet changes. This finding was repeated in a more recent study from 2016 which showed that the amount of starch intake is linked to the number of copies dogs have for the (Amy2B) gene responsible for creating amylase in the pancreas. This is an adaptation that allows canines to receive some nutrition from carbohydrates/vegetation. Dogs eating higher starch diets had more copies of the gene compared to dogs eating low starch diets. Studies show that wolves have 2 to 8 copies of the Amy2B gene and dogs have between 2 and 20 copies.
This makes me wonder WHY not all dogs have the same numbers of these amylase genes. I would theorize that the number of genes present is not only directly relatable to the amount of carbohydrates that the dog is eating, but also is influenced by the amount of carbs the dog's ancestors ate. If a dog eating a higher carb diet has more Amy2B genes switched on this could be passed on to it's offspring.
With the study of epigenetics we know that diet can affect successive generations. The food that is consumed affects gene expression in the individual AND these changes are also present in their offspring. Read more about epigenetics HERE.
Whether or not dogs have a low level of amylase in their saliva is just one small piece of their entire biology that should be considered when ascertaining what an appropriate diet is for them.
The thing about dogs that seems to cause so much disagreement about what they should be eating comes from their adaptive and scavenging nature. Just because a dog can "survive" eating a starch based diet doesn't mean it's healthy for them in the long run.
There is a big difference between surviving and thriving!
Even conventional literature on the topic of canine nutrition states that dogs have absolutely ZERO requirements for carbohydrates in their diet. Yet processed kibble diets are filled with carbs!
Now if we as the dog's caretaker have to step in and cook or grind up veggies for the dog (because they don't have the ability to digest them well in their natural state) how much sense does that make? All animals have the ability to obtain the food that is appropriate for their species - without human help! In nature, any species that is unable to obtain their required foods will either adapt to the foods that are available or die out.
There is no denying that fruits and vegetables have many health benefits, but do dogs really need them?
Ask yourself - what kinds of foods would a dog eat in nature? what would be available to them and in what form?
Also keep in mind that each dog is an individual with unique requirements based on breed, age, activity level, genetics, epigenetics and environment.
I have had a number of clients that appeared to be doing everything right with how they cared for their dog yet the dog was still suffering with "allergy" symptoms. Simply removing all vegetation from the diet was all it took to get rid of those pesky symptoms. Yet, other dogs seem to do fine with a small amount of vegetation. Could this be reflective of the dogs individual genetic ability to digest carbs? More research is needed before this question can be answered.
When it comes to diet, bears are quite an interesting species to look at. Like dogs, bears are classified as carnivores - although their diets are quite varied among the different species. Black Bears have a diet of mostly grasses, roots, berries and insects along with some fish and other mammals. Polar Bears eat a mostly carnivorous diet, feeding primarily on seals, plus other mammals and berries and plants when their preferred food is unavailable. At the other extreme you have Panda Bears which feed on mostly bamboo plus a very small amount of meat, eggs and other vegetation. Looking only at the teeth of these three species we see differences that assist each type of bear with their specific diet. Panda's have broad and flat molars to aid in grinding up bamboo, Polar Bears have developed carnassial teeth designed to rip and tear flesh and crush bone, while a Black Bears teeth are in between the two extremes - reflective of their omnivorous diet.
To get a picture of any animal's natural diet we really have to look closely at their anatomy and physiology. What kind of foods are they equipped to acquire? Can they run fast and dispatch prey? do they have teeth made for grinding vegetation? Do they have a long and complex digestive system designed to break down and ferment cellulose or a short and highly acidic system ideal for digesting meat? Research these topics and you will get a picture of exactly what is a natural diet. And feeding a natural diet is the only path to good health!
For more details on this interesting topic grab a copy of my book The Inner Carnivore.
Author - Jennifer Lee
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