Sunday, January 3, 2010

Dogs Gone Wild, What Do They Eat?

Owners commonly observe their cats stalking, catching, and consuming, or partially consuming, unwary rodents and birds.  Dog owners less often see their predators successfully complete a hunt, in part because suitable prey, such as rabbits and chickens, are less often found around the home.  If dogs could find foods on their own, what would they eat?

Around the world, people abandon dogs and leave them to their own devices to survive.  Many do not survive, of course.  Groups of domestic dogs that became feral dogs can be found around African villages, on the periphery of game reserves, in Costa Rican forests, and in Boston suburbs.  Feral dogs reproduce among themselves and sometimes recruit domestic dogs to join them.  They range over areas large enough to support their dietary needs -- some ranges as small as a village perimeter, other ranges as large as several square miles of game reserve.

Many studies have looked at feral dogs as competitors with wild carnivores for small game. Feral dogs compete with hyenas, wild dogs, jackals, coyotes, and wolves in various parts of the world.  As a subspecies of gray wolf, domestic dogs gone wild are effective predators, effective enough to reduce the food supply for wild canids.

Both incidental and deliberate assessments of feral dogs' diets show a preponderance of small mammals in their guts.  Feral dogs hunt and eat rodents, birds, chickens, rabbits, squirrels, and other local game.  Insects, amphibians, human garbage, nuts, and berries comprise a minority of feral dogs' diets.  No study reported that feral dogs' guts contained large amounts of starches.

If dogs have to feed themselves, they do what any good carnivore does: they hunt for suitable prey.  What does this fact imply for feeding your friendly, domestic wolf at home?  Surely, research on feral dogs does not suggest you should feed Fido commercial pet foods, heavy in cooked starches.  He needs a diet that approximates whole game -- raw-meaty bones.  If your dog could feed himself, he'd show you this is what he needs to stay healthy.

1 comment:

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