Exploring Nature's Menu: A Study on Wolf-Hybrid Puppy Diets in Italy
The study conducted in recent years in Italy is a real treat for caregivers feeding their dogs, including puppies, a raw, meat-based diet. Italian researchers have examined what puppies eat in nature, and how their diet differs from that of adult individuals.
Diet of puppies in nature
Selective feeding of the young among wolves was suspected earlier, but there was no support for this hypothesis. While the diet of an adult wolf has been quite well studied, there was no data on the diet of puppies in Italy, and little has been collected in other parts of Europe and the world.
If you are wondering which puppies are in question, it is their identity that makes the study particularly interesting from the perspective of raw, barf or whole prey diets. Why? Because the analysis concerned neither completely dogs nor completely wolves. The researchers aimed at puppies raised by a pack of hybrids of both species, living in a suburban area among the hills around Pisa (Tuscany, Italy).
How it was studied, or divination from feces
Actually, divination is not the most apt term here, as this is usually how the diet of wild and semi-wild animals is studied: by examining their feces. In this case, fecal samples were collected between 2018 and 2021, coming from both adults and puppies, which allowed for a detailed comparison of their diet composition. The methodology included, among other things, DNA genotyping and microscopic analysis of undigested remains.
What do wolves eat in Italy?
The analysis of fecal samples did not reveal any major surprises. The study identified seven main categories of wolf prey:
- Wild hoofed animals,
- Medium-sized mammals,
- Plant materials,
Conclusions? As part of their general feeding habit, the diet of wolves in Italy focuses mainly on wild hoofed animals. However, the wolf, as is typical for wolves, shows excellent adaptation to anthropized ecological conditions, utilizing the availability of domestic cattle. According to the researchers' interpretation, livestock were a significant prey for both puppies and adults, as some sheep farms in the study area overlap both with the territory of the pack and with meeting places, making this prey more accessible and easier to transport, especially in the spring-summer period.
The consumption of roe deer in the spring-summer period was higher than in the autumn-winter period. This is probably due to the presence of small fawns, which are easier to hunt and transport, with less energy expenditure. Medium-sized mammals, mainly hare and nutria, were present in the diet of adult individuals in the autumn-winter period much more frequently than in spring and summer.
Both young and adult diets also included plant materials and invertebrates, but their percentage was small. Badger, crested porcupine, and weasel played a marginal role in the diet of both young and adult wolves.
Study results - Diet of puppies compared to adults
Despite similar food sources, researchers have demonstrated a difference in the frequency of consumption of certain species. The main differences in the diet of puppies compared to adult wolves concerned:
- Roe deer,
- Medium-sized mammals such as hare and nutria,
In the summer, hare and nutria were present much less frequently in adults than in young. There was also a significantly higher frequency of birds in the diet of puppies compared to adults. These results may suggest a key role for these three prey categories in the diet of puppies, confirming hypotheses about selective feeding of developing puppies by adult individuals.
Why do puppies eat differently and what does it mean for us?
The survival of puppies in nature depends largely on the effectiveness of food delivery by adult individuals. It is adult animals that hunt and provide food to the young. On what basis do they decide on the diet of the puppies? Researchers consider several factors.
It could be about simple pragmatism. Hunting and transporting prey to the den is much more energy-efficient in the case of a hare than a ram... But this doesn't tell us much, as caregivers composing a barf, raw, or whole prey diet.
It is different in the case of another, also highly probable factor, namely the presumed desire to provide puppies with access to nutrient-rich parts of prey, such as liver, lungs, or heart. This is associated with allowing the consumption of bones as a preferred source of calcium.
Taking this interpretation into account, we can venture conclusions about the diet of puppies raised in breeding kennels, and later in our homes. It seems that enriching the raw diet of young dogs with whole prey of smaller animals is an interesting and desirable path in the pursuit of mimicking nature.
The article was prepared based on the study: Pup feeding habits of a mixed wolf-hybrid pack living in a human-modified landscape in Central Italy, authored by: Alessia Di Rosso, Chiara Benedetta Boni, Samuele Baldanti, Lucia Casini, Francesca Coppola, Antonio Felicioli.
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