Tag Archives: Homemade diets

Homemade Diet Series: Carbohydrates in the Canine Diet

Carbohydrates in the Canine Homemade Diet:

A controversial component of the canine diet is carbohydrates. Many people believe that carbohydrates are not needed by our carnivorous companions. Others say that carbohydrate rich foods provide many benefits. With so many differing opinions, it can be difficult to determine how much, or if any carbohydrate rich foods should be fed.

What are the Most Common Sources of Carbohydrates?

Usually, pet foods contain varying amounts of corn, wheat, rice, barley, potatoes, and peas, amongst other plant products, to provide carbohydrates and calories. In a homemade diet many of the same ingredients are also often used. Vegetables and fruits also provide carbohydrates, as do many dairy products, but these amounts are in much smaller quantities than what is provided from grains, potatoes, and legumes.

Are Carbohydrates necessary in a Dog’s Diet?

This is a difficult question to answer and the answer largely depends on who is answering the question. I have read many people who argue that dogs have no nutritional need for non-animal foods. Yet, others believe that the foods rich in carbohydrates provide many nutrients that dogs need.

It is interesting to note that while the book Nutrient Requirements of Dogs and Cats produced by the National Research Council (NRC) talks about carbohydrates and the many different types, it does not actually list minimum requirements necessary to feed to a dog. This could be because a minimum requirement has not been found, leading one to believe that dogs can live without carbs in their diet. This is the stance of the website www.whole-dog-journal.com. In an article titled “Carbohydrates and Your Dog’s Digestive System” the author writes that, “dogs have no nutritional requirement for dietary carbohydrates,” and she goes on to say that “There are two main reasons why we feed carbs to dogs. The first reason is because we can. Dogs can utilize just about anything we feed them… the second reason is economic; fat and protein sources are much more expensive than carbohydrates.”

Yes, dogs can utilize carbohydrates, but they could also live without them. So, the question is whether some carbohydrate rich foods can be beneficial, and how much, if any, should be fed.

Is there Benefit to Feeding Carbohydrates?

While dogs can live without carbohydrates, it seems that feeding non-animal foods that contain carbohydrates is beneficial. Our house pets are much more sedentary than their wild ancestors, and the fiber in plant products is often very beneficial to their digestive tract. Also consider that since our house pets are more sedentary, they don’t need as much fat as their wild cousins. When fat calories are reduced, something must take their place. Carbohydrate rich foods, when fed in moderation, do a good job of providing these calories along with other nutrients, such as vitamin A and manganese.

In her book Dr. Becker’s Real Food for Healthy Dogs and Cats, veterinarian Dr. Karen Becker recommends a diet that is quite low in carbohydrates when compared to many of the other homemade recipes for pets. The carbohydrates in her recipes come from fruits and vegetables. She doesn’t recommend any grains be fed to dogs, stating “You will not find rice, barley, oats, or high-carbohydrate foods in our program… For most animals, these foods contribute to poor gut health, slower healing, and the chronic inflammation that leads to general ill health.” She also states, “Dogs… are not designed to cope with large quantities of grains without long-term metabolic consequences.” While the diet she recommends is low carb, she does believe that the small amounts of fruits and veggies provide benefits, such as antioxidants and fiber, which would not be found in the animal products used.

Another veterinarian, Dr. Richard Pitcairn, has a much more amiable view of grains. “Whole grains are a very cost-effective and environmentally sensitive way to provide the mainstay of your pet’s diet,” he writes in his book Dr. Pitcairn’s Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs & Cats. He further says, “Not only do grains supply carbohydrates and an array of vitamins and minerals, they are inexpensive sources of protein as well.”

How much carbohydrate should be fed?

Carbohydrates can be a good component to a healthful diet, but it is extremely important to make sure your dog is getting good quality animal products, such as meat, poultry, organ meat, eggs, and fish in sufficient amounts. When designing a diet, I have seen recommendations as low as feeding 1/6 animal products in relation to other ingredients, but some recommend not feeding less than 80% animal products. So how much carbohydrate is appropriate in the diet?

A reasonable recommendation I like to follow is to prepare a diet that is no more than 50% plant products, which are the main source of carbohydrates. More animal products can be fed if desired but feeding this amount of plant based foods still allows for plenty of protein and fat in the diet without making such a dent in the owner’s wallet.

Remember that these are general guidelines for healthy dogs. Individual dogs may do better with more carbohydrates, and dogs with certain health conditions will also need more carbohydrates in certain situations.

What kinds of Carbohydrates are Best?

This depends on the dog and the owner. Some owners staunchly oppose grains for dogs, and prefer to feed diets that use legumes or potatoes. Personally, for most healthy animals, I don’t think grains are all that bad. While dogs with certain health conditions, such as arthritis, often do well with all starchy vegetables and grains being eliminated from their diet, many dogs do quite well with grains included in their daily meals. My one dog has a very finicky digestive system, and too little starch and grains makes her quite sick. My other dog gets bad tear stains that seem to go away when I don’t feed him grains, so he gets mostly grain free foods. Remember, all plant sourced foods, such as legumes, grains, and vegetables, need to be thoroughly cooked to be digestible by dogs (fruit can be fed raw).


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A good diet is what works best for your dog.

Dogs can live without carbohydrates, but they can also do quite well with carbohydrates in their diet. Since dogs aren’t obligate carnivores, they are very adaptable to a wide range of foods. Grains, fruits, vegetables, and legumes have many nutrients that are very beneficial to dogs. In addition, they also provide cheaper calories than those found in fat or protein, making them economically friendly to a pet owner’s budget. For most dogs, carbohydrate rich foods can be an excellent component to a healthful diet.

What to look for in a book on homemade diets for dogs?

Feeding Your Dog a Homemade Diet:

This post is the start of a series of posts that will be devoted to offering tips on how to feed your dog a homemade diet. First, we will take a look at books that either have sections on how to prepare your pet’s food at home or are entirely devoted to the subject. I am only going to discuss books that I have read myself.

Note: Another website that has several excellent reviews of canine nutrition books is www.dogaware.com. This website in general has excellent information on many dog care topics, and I would recommend the site to any dog owner that wants to learn about dog care.

What to look for in a book on homemade diets for dogs?

There are several aspects that should be covered in a book on dog nutrition. Sadly, many important components to a homemade diet are utterly ignored. Two things that are imperative in a homemade diet book are that the recipes contain animal products and that there are recommendations on supplementing calcium.


Good books on dog nutrition can help you design a diet that will serve as a foundation for your dog’s healthy life.


It is often debated whether or not dogs are carnivores or omnivores. One thing that is certain is that they are not herbivores. Dogs jaws and digestive tracts are those of an animal that is designed to handle meat. If a book recommends vegan diets, don’t use it to feed your dog. While some dogs have lived long lives on vegan diets, since the beginning of time dogs have been meant to eat meat. A book on dog nutrition should use animal products as the backbone of its recommendations.


This is extremely important. So many books, articles, and websites that talk about feeding your dog fresh food completely ignore how much calcium to add to the diet. If the homemade diet doesn’t include raw meaty bones, calcium must be added, because there is not enough calcium in any other food to provide the dog with how much they need.

Additional Considerations:


Some people prefer to feed a diet that is free of grains. Grains can help keep the cost of a homemade diet down, but they can be problematic for certain pets. Out of the three books that are recommended below, one used quite a bit of grains, whereas the other two do not recommend grains for dogs.


Fish is an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids. In addition to this, salmon and sardines in particular are rich in vitamin D. If the fish includes soft bones, it is also a wonderful source of calcium in the diet. Books that do not use fish in the recipes should have instructions on how to supplement vitamin D.

Life Stage:

If you are feeding a puppy a homemade diet, assure that the book you choose either contains instructions on how to feed a puppy specifically, or that the recipes are designed for all life stages. Puppies require more protein, fat, calcium, phosphorus etc. than adult dogs do.

Raw Meaty Bones:

If you want to feed a diet that contains raw meaty bones, look for books that use RMBs to make up 30% – 50% of the diet.

Dog Nutrition Books that Stand Out:

The three books listed below are really good compared to many of the books available on dog nutrition. All of these books rely on animal products as the backbone of their recipes, and each also contain accurate information on supplementing calcium.

Dr. Pitcairn’s Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs and Cats

I don’t like all of the information provided in this book (non-nutrition related), but the diet section gives clear guidelines on how to prepare a homemade diet that is complete and balanced. The recipes do contain grains, which may make this book more budget friendly than other dog nutrition books. Nutritional analysis of each recipe is provided. Instructions are given on creating a supplement to add to the diet to assure all vitamins and minerals are provided.

(Note: The only tricky part is the information on providing vitamin D. This information is slightly vague. It is briefly included in the section on vitamin A.)

Dr. Becker’s Real Food for Healthy Dogs and Cats

This book provides instructions on how to prepare a meat-based diet for your pet. No grains are included. Nutritional analysis of the recipes can also be found in the book. The instructions for this diet are very detailed but can be a little confusing. Despite this, the book is excellent. When fed as instructed, the diet is complete and balanced for all life stages. Instructions are given on creating a supplement to add to the diet to assure all vitamins and minerals are provided.

Raw and Natural Nutrition for Dogs

Raw and Natural Nutrition for Dogs by Lew Olson gives more guidelines than actual recipes. While sample recipes are given, the reader is encouraged to rotate through many different meats. Grains are not recommended. Unlike the other two books mentioned here, this book does not contain instructions on creating a supplement, but it does contain two chapters dedicated to vitamins and minerals, and which foods are naturally rich in them. It also provides guidelines on supplementing certain vitamins and minerals, including vitamin D. There is information on how to feed a diet containing raw meaty bones and how to feed one without. Nutritional analysis are not available for recipes. For this reason, a person new to homemade feeding may be more comfortable strictly following one of the other books mentioned above.

The only thing I don’t like about this book is that several of the raw meaty bones recommended are much to big for many dogs. Even if the dog is able to handle chewing and eating some of the bones recommended, such as pork necks, they may still become constipated from the high bone content.


It is good to read a variety of books on dog nutrition, but any one of the above recommended ones will give you a firm footing when getting started in home cooking. Always remember to consult your veterinarian before making changes to your pet’s diet.