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What do wolves’ diet tell us about how to feed domestic dogs?

17 Mar, 2020

Studies comparing the genetics of domestic dogs and other canids such as wolves, foxes and jackals indicate that domestic dogs are direct descendants of one or more types of modern day wolves. As such, it stands to reason that what we feed our dogs can, to some extent, be informed by the diet of wolves.

A longitudinal study of the feeding behaviours and diet of the wolves of Yellowstone National Park observed seasonal differences in wolves’ diet and feeding patterns. The study observed that wolves are social carnivores that hunt in groups and typically, two to three animals are involved in killing prey. After the prey animal is killed, the group consume the carcass following a fairly consistent feeding pattern. Firstly, the wolves open the cavity of the carcass and consume the internal organs including the heart, lungs, liver, intestines, spleen and kidneys. The internal organs largely meet the wolves’ nutritional needs for vitamins (particularly B group and vitamin A), minerals and fatty acids. Next, the muscle meat is consumed followed by the bones and hide.

Wolves were observed to eat approximately 10 kilograms of meat (including organs) before resting. After rest, the wolves continued eating the carcass. Interestingly, this study observed that the rumen of the prey was not eaten.

This feeding pattern was repeated every two to three days indicating that wolves are adapted to a feast – famine eating pattern. In the days, where wolves didn’t hunt and kill, they were observed scavenging previous carcasses and consuming any remaining bone and hide.

The Yellowstone National Park wolves’ kill rate was dependent on the seasons. In late winter, the kill rate is higher than in early winter when it is presumed that prey animals are in better condition. In summer, the kill rate dropped by 25%. As such, the diversity of the wolves’ summer time diet increases significantly. During summer, an analysis of wolf scat indicates that wolves consume small prey such as rodents and birds. They also consumed plant matter, largely grasses. They also scavenge old carcasses and consume remaining bone and hide.

Takeaway messages for dog owners

Based on this study here are some considerations when formulating a species appropriate diet for domestic dogs.

Include organ meat

This study suggests that wolves selectively consume organs before muscle meat. Supplementing domestic dogs’ diet with organ meat mimics this pattern and provides dogs a rich source of vitamins and minerals.

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Add diversity

This study shows that throughout the year, wolves’ diet is quite diverse. It includes large prey, small prey, and plant matter. Such diversity can be incorporated into domestic dog’s diet by providing a range of protein sources such as beef, lamb, turkey, and goat. Additionally, adding some plant matter like vegetables and fruit provides additional sources of nutrients.

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Add a fast day

The study of the Yellowstone wolves reveals that wolves hunt for large prey every two to three days. On the other days, they forage and scavenge old carcasses. A similar pattern of “feast and famine” can be reflected in domestic dog’s diet by introducing a day where the dog doesn’t eat and is allowed to rest. Even feeding the dog a smaller meal once a week, can achieve similar benefits.

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Full Stride offers nutritional consultations to assist dog owners formulate a nutritious whole food diet for their dogs.

Until next time, enjoy your dogs.


Stahler, D. R., Smith, D. W., & Guernsey, D. S. (2006). Foraging and feeding ecology of the gray wolf (Canis lupus): lessons from Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, USA. The Journal of nutrition, 136(7), 1923S-1926S.

Tsuda, K., Kikkawa, Y., Yonekawa, H., & Tanabe, Y. (1997). Extensive interbreeding occurred among multiple matriarchal ancestors during the domestication of dogs: evidence from inter-and intraspecies polymorphisms in the D-loop region of mitochondrial DNA between dogs and wolves. Genes & genetic systems, 72(4), 229-238.

Vilà, C., Savolainen, P., Maldonado, J. E., Amorim, I. R., Rice, J. E., Honeycutt, R. L., … & Wayne, R. K. (1997). Multiple and ancient origins of the domestic dog. Science, 276(5319), 1687-1689.

Wayne, R. K., Geffen, E., Girman, D. J., Koepfli, K. P., Lau, L. M., & Marshall, C. R. (1997). Molecular systematics of the Canidae. Systematic biology, 46(4), 622-653.

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