The Ancestral Diet - opinions

There are a number of dog food companies that include the word ‘ancestor’ or ‘ancestral’ in either the title or description of their products. They do this to promote the fact that the formula is based upon the diet of the wolf, from which our dogs are said to be descended.

Certainly not all dog food companies agree with this and it may have something to do with production costs - meat is more expensive then some other products that they include. However, there are some companies who do a lot of research and the recipes reflect this in that the protein levels are much more moderate.

I have a feeling that maybe there are some of us who are being swept along by all this talk of ancestral diets and dogs needing nothing but animal parts. Thinking about the life of wolves, they have to cover a lot of miles and expend much energy in catching their dinner so it is entirely appropriate that they need that high protein and fat etc that the dead animal provides. Our domestic dogs have to travel no further than a few yards into the kitchen! The analogy of the athlete who requires protein drinks to build muscle and to provide energy comes to mind - it would be appropriate for them but not for someone who sits at a desk all day.

I’m beginning to wonder whether some of these new foods are a bit OTT in their nutrient levels when the average dog’s activity levels are taken into account. Of course I could be wrong (and probably am). What do you think?

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I am not sure about ancestral diet. What I do feel is that the more unprocessed the food is, the better. Both for dogs and humans.

I suppose we would all be eating raw had fire not been invented but hard to say if we have adapted to be more suited to eating cooked food because we have been eating it for a long time.

I have also come to believe that over consumption of one thing can lead to intolerance. For this reason, I have settled on a mix it up approach to feeding.

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I won’t quote the Nature publication again, having posted it a few times but what strikes me about the research into the canine ability to process starch varies from 4 to 30. This means that contrary to what the ancestral believers think, there is no “dog” as there is wolf. What we have bred is a great variety of animals which is obvious to anyone who has ever looked at them. Logic screams that if they vary from Pekinese to Great Dane on the outside then they probably do inside. This applies equally to commercial feeds coming in one adult version. Some dogs will need much higher protein and I would speculate that this might be true of the wolfy looking ones. This is just my view but breeds reared for centuries in human households may now actually benefit from a starchie mix.


Keeping that publication in mind. It would be interesting to know if the oldest known breed of domesticated dog, Saluki (as per Guinness book of records) which dates to years BC, when compared to a relative newly recognised breed the Silken Windhound 1990s. If there is a difference in ability to process starch. Also how do feral street dogs compare when they literally have to eat anything going.

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To Quote Dottie - 'Our domestic dogs have to travel no further than a few yards into the kitchen! ’
According to recent survey, dogs walk on average 548 miles a year, roughly the distance from London to Aberdeen - definitely the case of fitting the food/nutrient levels to the needs of the dog.

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This is a great question as ‘ancestral’ is certainly the buzz word of the moment and yet it hasn’t really come under much scrutiny.

As far as I can see, the question is not so much about whether dogs are best off being fed on the same food as their ancestors (since that is clearly true for all animals) but more about what you define as our dogs’ ancestors.

Sure, if you go back far enough, they were indeed wolves and ate a raw, largely meat diet. But that was a long time ago - conservative estimates put it at around 20,000 years since the common ancestor of almost all modern dog breeds was domesticated but some go as far back as 30,000 years or more. With an approximate generation time of 2 years, that means at least 10,000 generations of dog ancestors living and eating with humans!

For all of that time dogs have been eating whatever they could pick up around the human settlements - namely human cast-offs including vegetables, fruits and… brace yourselves… grains!

Add selective breeding into the mix which would have relentlessly favoured individuals that fared better on the new omnivorous diet and you have a strong case for the ‘ancestral diet’ including more carbs and less meat and being at least partially cooked.

From my experience, both versions of the ancestral diet can work exceedingly well, even for the same dog so it’s not necessarily a case of either/or. And for more sedentary dogs, high meat/high protein/high fat foods can still work wonders as long as you feed less.

The approach that certainly doesn’t work is adding ingredients that none of our dogs’ ancestors (at least prior to the invention of complete dog foods) would have ever come into contact with like wheat (modern common-wheat at least), refined sugars, chemical colourings and preservatives, vegetable protein isolates, added salt and so on. Unfortunately these are exactly the same ingredients that have become the staple of Big pet food.


Thank you for the reply, which clears things up somewhat. It fits in with what a friend told me about the history of our own native Scottish breed. She told me that that original working terrier would have been fed on oatmeal, fish (which was readily available) and any leftover meat and vegetables. They would probably have been very healthy on this diet. It stuck in my mind because when I look at the food that I have been giving my dogs it has been much richer than this and they don’t actually do anything except go for walks and play together in the house/garden.

To some extent I have been swept along by this notion of ancestral diet but I am changing my view, particularly in light of the problems I have had with weight control. I agree with your comments about feeding less and from experience I would say that it is useful to regularly weigh the dog when changing to these high protein/fat foods.

The approach that certainly doesn't work is adding ingredients that none of our dogs' ancestors (at least prior to the invention of complete dog foods) would have ever come into contact with like wheat (modern common-wheat at least), refined sugars, chemical colourings and preservatives, vegetable protein isolates, added salt and so on. Unfortunately these are exactly the same ingredients that have become the staple of Big pet food.
This statement is helping for filtering out foods that you don't want. I wonder if, when you have time you could provide us with a list (or link) to the ingredients that we need to avoid? There are so many confusing chemical names that it is difficult to tell good from bad. Also, how are refined sugars labelled (if at all) i.e. how do you know (without looking at the directory) that the food contains this?

I confess to being a little confused here, David.

There have been a number of posts on this forum suggesting that many believe that a ‘high meat/high protein/high fat’ diet is more likely to contribute to weight gain than a diet ‘including more carbs and less meat’, esp in less active dogs. Your post above seems to back up that view.

If dogs could not digest carbohydrates then that would make complete sense, even to an idiot like me. On the other hand, if is indeed true, as I myself believe, that dogs have adapted to be able to digest many carbohydrates when they are properly cooked/processed, then why would replacing some of the meat with carbohydrates make the diet any less likely to contribute to weight gain? After all, we ourselves can digest both meat and carbohydrates and we all know that a high carb diet contributes to weight gain in people…

I do know I see a lot fewer overweight dogs on raw diets than I see overweight dogs on kibble diets, and the Little Cav is maintaining a lean 6kg on a full 3% bodyweight of Nutriment.

the “ancestral” thing is the new fad pretty much the same as the paleo diet for humans imo,the majority of what our ancestors were eating doesn’t even exist any more,I do agree with less processed food(cant stand kibble) & more meat as our dogs are primarily carnivores.

I did try & post a link to a ted talk on debunking the paleo diet but I cant post external links


Sorry George, I could have been clearer there. I meant as long as you feed less than you would a dog at a healthy weight rather than less than you would feed of a low meat food if that makes sense. You’re absolutely right that starchy ingredients like potato or white rice can contribute to weight gain (indeed many vets suggest adding them to the diet of underweight dogs for exactly that reason) which does indeed suggest a certain ability to digest carbs.

Thank you David, that does indeed make complete sense.

Hi Dottie. The list of ingredients to avoid varies from nutritionist to nutritionist but all of the ingredients that are most commonly cited as potentially problematic for dogs are highlighted in red on the AADF site. You can filter the dog food directory to ‘avoid all red ingredients’ or scroll through the ingredients glossary to find out why the red ingredients might be a cause for concern for your dog.

As for added sugars, they are most commonly listed simply as ‘sugars’ or ‘various sugars’ but can also appear as syrup, sucrose, caramel or, feasibly, ‘natural flavourings’.

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