In this entry I want to take a closer look at some of the main foods we could use to form the carbohydrate portion of our dogs’ home made diets, and then look at a sample diet. The  higher-calorie/starch foods I  see people using in home made diets often include:

  • Rice
  • Sweet potato
  • Quinoa
  • Winter Squash
  • Buckwheat
  • White potato
  • Oatmeal
  • Barley
  • Millet
  • Legumes

I know that even THINKING about these foods is problematic for people who have been working with a no-carb, no- grain diet and seeing good results with it. I understand controversy; in my work I face it from every quadrant  – vets who feel that no one should formulate diets without (at least one) Phd; dogfood companies who insist dogs are omnivores; raw feeders who claim any carb is deleterious to the diet; home feeders who have dogs doing poorly on raw but find the cooking “too much fuss” so stick to the raw because “kibble is poison”. It’s not always comfortable to confront these ideas, they can be contentious – and I believe a dispassionate approach is best! I have learned that while none of these ideas make sense to ME, I am in a unique position; I make my living finding what works best for individual dogs with a wide range of conditions and often, more than one.  People are all doing what makes sense to them as well, based on their background, experiences –  – part of the point of this blog is to share  the many experiences I have had, that have brought me to the position I take on foods.I started my blog with carbs because they ARE so heated a topic; however, as a therapeutic nutritionist there is no way I could do my job without them. I’ve learned to see each food, and food group, and nutrient as neither “good” not “bad” but simply useful or not, in a given scenario. That’s “thinking like a nutritionist”. What percentages will serve THIS dog best? What foods are best suited to provide those nutrients?  Let’s run a feeding trial and see how he reacts…that’s how my approach works. It is focused on YOUR dog.

In addition –  I doubt many would dispute that carbs need to be added in  diets for conditions like pancreatitis – I have come to respect their use and value in proactive diets. What we must do is, choose amounts and type, compensate for phytate (for one wellknown example) and prepare correctly. I want to state that I am not saying now or ever, that “only one type of diet is best” and that it must include significant carbohydrate. In rare scenarios I’ve worked with the standard raw “prey model” with little to no carb ( most I’ve seen come in at about 3-5% carb). I’ve seen dogs doing well on those diets over two generations – which is encouraging; whenever I hear that someone switched to raw and the dog is doing so well, it means only that the raw has helped improve the dog at that time; we don’t know A) that it will serve him well over the course of his whole life, or B) that cooked wouldn’t have initiated the same improvement (believe me, I’ve seen dogs on home made cooked diets improve every bit as dramatically, and stay well for years, too). While I am committed to a moderate and balanced approach to diet, and no-carb diets are worrisome to me, I am seeing *some* dogs do well on them. I am also seeing dogs do fabulously well on vegetarian diets (for health reasons or owner preference)  and that of course, would not be my choice.  We can never  have all the answers, even with a lifetime of study and practical experience we can never know all. For me, this is the foundation of the individualized approach I believe in. A recipe or a book can give you a lot of ideas and a starting point, but there is no replacement for individual adjustment and nowhere is this truer than with the sick or stressed individual.

So let’s look more deeply at these foods-for your information,and empowerment – and because this topic so badly needs de-mystification. And because there’s a lot of info, I’ll do this in  individual parts.
Starting with rice.


First of all, rice is indeed a grain. It is also different from grains like wheat, rye and barley, in that it contains no gluten. Gluten, as we have seen, is a type of protein very problematic for daily, longterm use. Brown rice does not contain this protein. It does contain a type of insoluble fiber that is fermented at a rate ideal for the canine digestive tract – on paper, and in practise, much  if not all of the time. Dogs  can be allergic or intolerant of rice in the diet (these are not the same things) and of course, in those scenarios, rice won’t work.

Many dogs benefit from a modest addition of brown rice. Some do not.

Some owners will tell me they “tried that but it didn’t work”. In some of these cases, they were simply adding too much. In others, the rice was undercooked or not pre-soaked. In still others, the problems they experienced and attributed to the rice were actually due to something else – a lot of greens in he diet too much or the wrong type of fat, a type of chew treat. But when people decide in advance that a food is “bad” they will often attribute any unwanted issues (loose stool!) to that food. Here is a nutrient profile of brown rice, what it offers your dog aside from excellent fiber and readily available energy (sparing the dietary protein to be used for all the things protein  is needed for, no conversion to energy).

One Cup of Well cooked, Long Grain Brown Rice –  that’s 195 grams measured hot – provides:

232 calories

4.8 grams protein

49 grams total carbohydrate

3.3 grams fiber

1.1 grams fat

23 mgs calcium

72 mgs magnesium

142 mgs phosphorus

136 mgs potassium

1 mg zinc

9.75 mcgs folate

2.73 mgs niacin (Vitamin B2)

Brown rice also provides lignans, gamma oryzanol, and  the much-discussed and vilified phytate – which may surprise some to know is also known as inositol hexaphosphate  or IP6, and has potent anti-cancer properties.If you’re interested in natural prevention of and therapy for cancer, you’ve probably heard of all of these. A brief summary:Rice bran oil, which is present only in brown rice, contains gamma-oryzanol, a compound with multiple health benefits. .(More on this here – PubMed abstract regarding the antioxidant value of gamma oryzanol in rice bran).

As for phytate;

Phosphorus in the bran of whole grains is tied up in a substance called phytic acid. Phytic acid combines with iron, calcium, magnesium, copper and zinc in the intestinal tract, clocking their absorption. Whole grains also contain enzyme inhibitors that can interfere with digestion. Traditional societies usually soak or ferment their grains before eating them, processes that neutralize phytates and enzyme inhibitors and in effect, predigest grains so that all their nutrients are more available. Sprouting, overnight soaking, and old-fashioned sour leavening can accomplish this important predigestive process in our own kitchens. Many people who are allergic to grains will tolerate them well when they are prepared according to these procedures.”

Nourishing Traditions, Sally Fallon, Pg 25

So, what is the downside?  Brown rice provides moderately fermentable fiber, ideal for the canine digestive tract; it offers some powerful health benefits such as lignan, IP6 and gamma oryzanol; it spares protein (as part of the carb portion of the diet- and it’s glutenfree – even the phytate can be greatly reduced by pre-soaking and slow cooking – what’s the downside?

For me, the issue here is simply that we have to use organic. I am just too concerned about arsenic in rice bran, and rice bran products, even the smallest chance of it is way too much for my comfort zone.  A little info specifically on rice bran products here –     and of course, it’s also a concern in whole rice, too. So, organic rice is  safe, but much more expensive.   I use Lundberg, Abenaki or Bob’s Red Mill; to further complicate the expense factor, it’s wise to buy smaller packages  than bulk. Again I feel that if we are going to the extra work of making food, learning nutrition so we can balance diets well, it only seems reasonable that we would take care to obtain the safest, cleanest sources possible.

More discussion on the arsenic issue here with a list of certified organic products to use with confidence.

Bulk brown rice from the healthfood store can be contaminated, too with mold in particular; storage is very important with rice. Cooked brown rice should not be left sitting in the fridge,  for more than three days. I usually make a 7 day batch of food for my dogs, and freeze 5 days worth right away. A little on storage of cooked rice  from World’s Healthiest Foods:

“The storage of cooked rice is controversial. Most organizations recommend 4-7 days of storage in the refrigerator at most. From all of the available evidence, however, and to err on the safe side, we believe it’s best to cook only the amount of rice you can consume during the day it is cooked, or at most, the following day.Several potential toxins can be produced in rice under certain conditions involving time, temperature, presence of moisture, bacterial spores, or fungi. It appears that some fungi can turn one of the amino acids (tryptophan) in rice into alpha-picolinic acid, and that this substance, when excessive, can cause hypersensitivity reactions to rice in some persons. Another mycotoxin (fungus-triggered toxin) called T-2 can also be produced in rice by the fungus Fusarium. About 300 mycotoxins are commonly found in many grains, not only rice, when these grains are allowed to become moldy. All of the research we’ve see on these potential toxins involves cultivation and harvesting of rice at the agricultural level rather than cooking and storage of rice at home. However, we still suggest erring on the safe side here. Be sure to keep your cooked rice in a tightly sealed container when stored in your refrigerator.”

One way to get around any concern about storage post-cooking is to simply divide the amount of rice for the week by seven, and cook just that amount every day to add to the rest of the batch. That said,neither I nor any of my colleagues have ever seen a problem, with soaked, rinsed, properly stored rice. Just something to be mindful of.

I soak and rinse my onw rice over about 3 hours, changing the water several times, then bring water to a boil (I use a little more than twice the volume of the dry rice, so for 2 cups rice I would use 4.5 cups water)  add the rice, return to boil then cover, reduce heat and simmer slowly – 45 minutes is about normal.

Like all foods – pros and cons.

I’ll cover oatmeal, buckwheat, quinoa, sweet potato,and the problems surrounding legumes in upcoming posts.