The Proof is in the Pudding, or rather in not having Pudding as an Output

I see some pockets of homemade diet critics (from people I respect) opining on overuse of carbohydrates in homemade diets as well the use of supplements .  Both Dr. Pitcairn and Dr. Strombeck rely on carbohydrates and supplements to make their recipes nutritionally complete.  When I started feeding, I did not use any carbohydrates--buying into the argument that dogs did not need them.  Rather, I used ground vegetables, organ meats along with bone-in and muscle meat grinds.  My dogs seemed to be doing well, but as I read more from other trusted sources, I have relaxed my view on carbohydrates.  In fact, I have been adding them to my raw mix with great results. I expect as I continue this journey, my opinions will change with my experience as well as with increased education. 

As I frequently say, there are lots of opinions paraded as facts regarding canine/feline nutrition.  Dr. Pitcairn is a noted Homepathic veterinarian, author of Dr. Pitcairn's Complete Secrets to Natural Health of Dogs and Cats.  His recipes, as with Dr. Strombeck's (DVM, PhD and a career devoted to animal nutrition), are a mix of meat (raw for Pitcairn, cooked for Strombeck) and carbohydrates.  With respect to carbohydrates,

Dr. Pitcairn notes (click for source)
. . .  grains are very well digested by dogs, do not make them fat and have the advantage of being obtained in organic form. Meat and bones are very contaminated foods and should not be fed in excess as those chemicals and contaminants will build up in the tissues of your dog and cause problems.

Dr. Strombeck notes (click for source) (Italic&bold emphasis mine)

Health Problems Due to High-Carbohydrate Diets6
Feeding high-carbohydrate diets can cause physiological abnormalities and signs of disease. High-carbohydrate diets affect performance and nutritional state of working dogs. Such dogs cannot maintain normal weight, and their performance as herding, hunting or sled dogs shows reduced stamina and ability to work. Diets containing excess carbohydrate that exceed capacities for digestion and absorption usually cause diarrhea, abdominal distention (from gas accumulation) and flatulence. Poorer digestibility is evident on feeding uncooked carbohydrate and on feeding many of the cereals mentioned earlier. Cooking increases starch solubility and digestibility. Undercooking results in incomplete starch digestion. Cooking is important to solubilize carbohydrate in soybeans. It is also necessary to inactivate a protein that binds digestive enzymes and reduces protein digestion. Diets should be formulated with the most highly digestible carbohydrates. (emphasis mine) Rice is the most completely digested carbohydrate and is economical to feed.

 I have seen Dr. Strombeck's work cited incompletely as support of no carbs in a canine diet.  Rather, as you can see from the more complete citation above, a balance of fully-cooked, easily digestible carbohydrates paired with protein produces a wholesome diet.  In my view, Dr. Strombeck and Dr. Pitcairn's dietary approaches are similar except that Dr. Strombeck relies on cooking meat, and Dr. Pitcairn recommends raw meat. (I'm comfortable with raw meat.)  The similarities are
  • balance of meat and carbohydrate sources (though Pitcairn uses more variable sources of carbs than Strombeck, but Dr. Strombeck makes reference to other sources in the recipe that I show below.
  • Supplementation with bone meal/calcium as needed to add correct levels and ratios of Ca:P 
    • Dr. Strombeck notes that the ratios of Ca:P are less important so long as there is sufficiency in the limiting element.  As I obsess over the Ca:P ratios, I found this to be helpful.  Nevertheless, I strive to stay within the guidelines.
  • Supplementation for iodine (through iodized salt/kelp). 
  • Supplementation for potassium through salt substitute (Strombeck) (and through kelp additive in Pitcairn, though I've not specifically researched that).
  • additions of proper oils
I also enjoy Steve Brown's work very, very much.  One of the most excellent pieces of information in his Ancestral diet book is the supplementation of oils in poultry v. beef diets.  I would recommend your buying his book alone for that information to enhance your home feeding. Also, like Drs Stombeck and Pitcairn, there is a reliance on very lean meats.  The exposition of lean v. fatty meats in the recipe profiles is also excellent information that Steve provides, and another strong reason to purchase his book. There is NO substitute for factual data from respected resources for opinion or idealized views on canine or feline nutrition.

Given my initial reliance on the respected naysayers regarding carbs, I omitted carbs in my dogs' homemade diet.  However, as I have come to read more and form my own opinions based on factual nutrition data from knowledgeable and trusted sources (to include improving my understanding of that data), I have made some changes to my original offering.

Specifically, I have been adding rice and macaroni to recipes, and I will be introducing more carbs as we adjust.  I appreciate that these carbohydrates are tolerated very well in my dogs, increase the palatability of their food (bonkers!!!), and increase the affordability and ease of preparing food for my dogs. Even Angel, who purportedly had grain allergies, is doing very well with the carbohydrates.

A picture is worth a thousand words.  Dr. Strombeck notes the biological value of the proteins in various meat/carb sources in the following table:

Eggs and milk are not surprisingly at the top.  He further notes

Biological Value of Proteins
Biological value describes how efficiently a protein is used. This value is high for proteins from meat, most meat by-products, eggs and dairy products. Dog and cats digest these proteins efficiently and they provide amino acids in proportions suitable for tissue protein synthesis. In contrast, the biological value of most plant proteins is low, due to insufficiencies of specific amino acids and lower digestibility. Careful balancing of proteins from plant sources can improve a diet’s protein quality and make them suitable for meeting pets’ needs. The biological values of pet food proteins are largely unknown, however. Their value or availability changes when combined with other ingredients and after processing. A nutrient’s adequacy and availability can be known only through feeding trials, something the pet food industry wants to avoid.

  (Emphasis is mine)  Source: http://dogcathomeprepareddiet.comFood%20Quality%20and%20Wholesomeness.html

I trust the science behind Dr. Strombeck's (and Pitcairn's) diets, and it makes sense to me that carbohydrates have a place in homemade diets if one's dog does well on it.  Dr. Strombeck's science is readily available at his website which I've referenced. If you were to do nothing more than to read the Wholesomeness page, you will have fortified yourself with a great deal of information that will be useful to you.

The factor, then, in balancing foods is to achieve the right caloric, protein, fat, carbohydrate, and vitamin/mineral balance to achieve the correct bioavailability to meet a dog's nutritional needs without providing excess calories.  I suppose, then, that is why rice is not quite as nutritious from the get-go with respect to protein v. whole wheat, but given that it has improved digestion, it evens things out.  It is a useful thing to understand:   Poor biological values require more food to be eaten to meet minimum requirements.  Notice where corn is on the food chain above.  It is a key ingredient in Purina's food. If you wish to see how the conversation about corn goes by those who supply it as a key ingredient to their food offerings, you can read about it here. I'll leave it to you to determine if their argument is a compelling one.

Ultimately, seeing how our dogs respond to a diet through energy level and body condition is the bellweather for opining on the appropriateness of ingredients (so long as the meet the dog's underlying nutrition requirements--as nutritional deficiencies can accumulate over time and result in irreversible problems down the road).

Further, donning one's scatologist hat and performing routine inspections of output (scat) is a good way of assessing our dogs' sufficient processing of inputs by the quality of the output (form and quantity). I have been doing this since the inception of our diet.  Routine scat inspections tell me how well things are balancing between inputs and outputs.  Ideally this is not through looking at the bottom of my shoe!  Our own body's sufficiency of digestion of the things that we eat and sufficiency of digestion can also be examine this way.

My scatological evidential matter collected reveals that my dogs are processing well the addition of carbohydrates into their diet.  FURTHER, their level of excitement AND enjoyment of their meals is off the charts.  They loved their raw food, but they go bonkers for their raw/carb mix food. One of the most noticeable differences in my dogs' behavior is their reduction of water intake.  (Which makes sense given the water content of their food is probably upwards of 65+%.)

In introducing carbs to my dogs, I used Dr. Strombeck's Beef Meat and Macaroni Diet (as well as his poultry and rice diet first).

Beef Meat and Macaroni Diet
1/3 pound (weight before cooking) very lean beef (152 grams)
2 cups macaroni, cooked (280 grams)
2 tablespoon sardines, canned, tomato sauce (38 grams)
1 tablespoons vegetable (canola) oil (14 grams)
1/2+ teaspoon bone meal powder (4 grams)
1 multiple vitamin-mineral tablet
provides 951 kcalories, 51.2 g protein, 37.1 g fat
supports caloric needs of 33 pound dog
Omission of sardines reduces caloric content by 68 kcalories, protein by 6.2 g and fat by 4.6 g. It is possible to substitute other pastas for macaroni without changing the nutrients provided. In comparing these diets, feeding macaroni provides a medium size dog eight grams of protein more than rice or potato. The digestibility of macaroni is poorer than for rice or potato.

As you can see, it is a simple recipe. In fact, Dr. Strombeck's goal appears to be to make the matter of creating a homemade diet
  •  EASY v. difficult. 
  • Achievable v. idealistic.  
  • Affordable v. costly.  
Rather than use a wide variety of foods to achieve sufficient vitamin/minerals and expensive equipment to grind bones, etc, the recipes rely on bone meal powder (v. raw bones) and vitamin/mineral tablet.  I'm okay with having the convenience of knowing that my dogs' diet is balanced using supplementation over having to source and measure lots of different ingredients (to include that one oyster).

Regardless of what one thinks about supplementation in homemade foods, the supplementation of kibble is through additives v. food variety.  The same can be said of our breakfast cereal or other enriched or fortified products we consume--to include iodized salt. Accordingly, by substituting freshly prepared food for kibble, bioavailability of nutrients from the main ingredients has to improve.  Further, rotating proteins sources (poultry and beef) and carbohydrate and vegetable sources provides variety--perhaps not the variety that goat, duck, kangaroo, oxtails and the like provide (at exceptional cost in some cases), but variety over a kibble diet without exorbitant pricing.  I do put freshly ground fruits and vegetables (though frozen)  into my meat grinds (17%-25% of total weight), so I believe that I'm doing well by my dogs.

On the matter of raw v. cooked:  I have also read a couple of places (and perhaps it was at Strombeck's site) where the digestibility of cooked proteins is higher than raw proteins.  Such information (v. RAW is more digestible) is why it is difficult for mere mortals to make assessments of what is best.  However, much of this homemade diet preparation is about improving wholesomeness while meeting basic nutritional needs.  Accordingly, a home-prepared diet supplemented to make complete (whether it is fed raw or cooked), v. a formulated diet from lots of different ingredients to make complete, has got to be a as good if not better than the most premium kibble that one could buy.

I've never been on the top tier of kibble. I've been solidly mid to lower tier by sheer lack of knowledge. Rather than graduate to the top tier, I opt for homemade, and my dogs accept it with vigor.  And there may be a time when I no longer feel that I can do this.  However, on this 87th day of making homemade meals for my gang, to see Daisey, who previously would not touch raw food of any kind, jump for joy at being fed (as well as the rest of them), is proof in the pudding.  And the fact that we don't have pudding come out the other end nor nary a fart tells me that their bodies are digesting their food well.  For those looking for quality, recommended kibble, you can go to Dog Food Advisor:

With regard to folks who say that their dog's scat comes out dry and crumbly (this from folks feeding primarily raw, meaty bones), I believe that this is not a good thing, but rather evidential matter that the bone content of the dog's diet is too high. If you wish to view dog, wolf, and coyote scat, you can do so here.  You will see that wild animals do not have chalky stools.  I would suggest that your dog should not either.


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