Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Species Appropriate Diet for Dogs - Get the Grains Out of Your Dog's Diet – For Your Dog's Health

Species appropriate diet; get the grains out of your dog's diet

A dog’s species appropriate diet looks very different than a highly processed pet food diet (kibble, dry food).

The composition of a species appropriate diet for dogs:
Bones and Raw Food (BARF):
70% muscle meat (includes fat)
5% liver
5% another secreting organ
10% raw edible bone 
7% plant material (greens and herbs, seeds, berries)
Prey Model Raw:
75% to 80% muscle meat (includes fat)
5% liver
5% another secreting organ
10% to 15% raw edible bone
2% to 5% feathers or fur

No grains. No oatmeal, no oats, no rice, no bulgur, no ancient grains, no organic grains or any other type of grains.

No starchy carbohydrate seeds. No amaranth, no millet, no quinoa For example, cooked quinoa is approximate 21% starchy carbohydrate (similar to barley or rice). 83% of the carbohydrates in quinoa are starchy carbs.
Cooked amaranth is approximately 19% starchy carbohydrate (similar to quinoa).
No beans, e.g., chickpeas, lentils, navy beans, etc. See the complete list here.
No starchy root vegetables. No sweet potato, no potato, no yams.

Grains, legumes, starchy carbohydrate seeds, and starchy root vegetables are NOT species appropriate foods for dogs.

Why Are Grains Included in Dog Kibble?

In the 1950’s dog food manufactures began a love affair with carbohydrates because carbs are:

  • Easily obtainable;
  • Have a long shelf-life;
  • Enable the formation of hard/compact kibble;
  • Are cheap to buy compared to the cost of good-source protein.
The inclusion of grains in dog food is not for the benefit of a dog’s health.

Highly processed grains are a good way for the manufacturer to bulk-up food but the resulting product provides poor quality nutrition and is species inappropriate.  A very bad situation if you consider that the major ingredient in a lot of dog kibble is grain or grain by-products, starchy seeds and legumes of one sort or another.  For example:
  • Barley (pearled barley etc.)
  • Bulgur
  • Brewers rice
  • Cereal food fines (leftovers from human grade cereal production)
  • Chick peas
  • Corn, Corn Bran, Corn Gluten Meal, Corn Germ Meal
  • Corn Middlings
  • Grain fermentation soluble
  • Lentils
  • Millet
  • Oats or Oatmeal
  • Oat Hulls
  • Oat Bran
  • Quinoa
  • Rice
  • Rice bran
  • Rye
  • Soy, Soy Flour or Soy (Soybean) Meal
  • Wheat Flour, Meal or Middlings (wheat mill run)
  • Grain derivatives
  • etc.
Negative Impacts on Your Dog's Health

I will cover some of the impacts on your dog's health just below. The negative impacts of grains in your dog's diet are many, some are complicated. I will not cover all impacts here but will cover enough for you to see just how serious this issue is.
Unwanted Weight Gain and Obesity 

Many of the grains used in commercially manufactured dog kibble are processed grain (cereal) carbohydrates.  These are highly digestible, low nutrient, high bulk ingredients which the dog’s digestive system quickly converts to sugar, which in-turn spikes the amount of insulin in the dog’s system – over working the pancreas and resulting in a feeling of constant hunger.  

As the dog is constantly hungry (due to high-insulin levels) the dog’s human may continue to feed the dog more of the grain-heavy food which then results in excessive weight gain – a condition on its own that can cause massive health issues…stress on joints, diabetes, inflammation leading to cancer, etc. Unfortunately all too often a veterinarian will then recommend a low calorie high fibre kibble (invariably grain based but expensive i.e. Royal Canine or Hill’s Science Diet) which further exacerbates the problem.

Carcinogens and Toxins in Grain and Grain By-Products

The Proof is In The Numbers
Statistics recorded by veterinary organizations from the 1950's up to present day are very telling. 
  • The life-span of a companion dog in North America is now half of what it was in the 1950's;
  • In the 1950's the average life-span of a golden retriever was 15 to 16 years, today the average is in the range of 8 to12 years;
  • In 2005, 50% of older dogs dies from cancer, and the number is on the rise.
Cereal By-Products
The cereal by products used in the manufacturing of many dog foods are derived from the leftovers of human food processing.  It is important to understand that these are remaindered end of the line substances and as such, they can be full of chemicals.

If the grains/grain derivatives are not from human grade sources they are very likely to contain aflatoxins.  Aflatoxins cause liver cancer.

Aflatoxins grow mainly on grains but they also grow on legumes - like peanuts, walnuts and pecans. This is one reason why you will hear some people say do not give your dogs peanuts. Actually it is fine to give your dog peanuts or natural peanut butter – as long as you are using human grade product. Other nuts such as walnuts and pecans are toxic to dogs, regardless of whether they are human or animal grade.

Aflatoxins can also be found in cottonseed oil, fish meal and peanut oil. Human grade foods are monitored closely for aflatoxins - if present the raw product (i.e. grain) is not allowed to be used in human grade food production. There are no such regulations for animal grade foods so most commercially manufactured animal food (dog, cat, bird, etc.) will contain aflatoxins. While the body can usually detoxify small amounts, constant ingestion of aflatoxins is not manageable and therefore causes toxic loading.

The majority of corn and soy grown in North America are from Genetically Modified Round-up Ready seeds.  GM corn has now been proven to cause the growth of massive tumours, organ damage and death.  All of the long-term effects of eating GM food is not known. In addition, large factory farms in North America use a method to process soy that creates very high levels of photoestrogens and phytates in the resulting product.
  • Photoestrogens have been proven to interfere with reproduction and thyroid function;
  • Phytates prevent mineral absorption (further exacerbation of poor nutrient intake);
  • Phytates interfere with the normal function of enzymes required to digest protein.
Herbicides and pesticides - another thing to keep in mind , the grains used in many pet foods are purchased for their low cost not for their quality. Crops for this market sector are grown based on high yield and that is usually accomplished with the profuse use of pesticides and herbicides - resulting in more toxins and carcinogens ingested by your dog.

Gluten Hypersensitivity

The number of dogs today developing and living with gluten hypersensitivity is epidemic. One of the ailments of gluten hypersensitivity is Candida (overgrowth of bad bacteria in the GI Tract). Overgrowth of bad bacteria is an assault on the dog’s immune system and is a common cause of yeast-based ear infections – that can become chronic and debilitating; yeast-based skin infections located at the paws; leaky gut syndrome, chronic diarrhea and more.

Lack of Nutrients
High grain content is used when making kibble - to create volume at the lowest possible cost to the manufacturer, which serves profit while creating serious gaps in a dog’s nutrient intake. Compound this with the many other ‘indiscretions’ (i.e. fish meal, low levels of Omega-3 fatty acids, poor source protein) adopted by pet food manufacturers in the production of dog food and your dog’s health is in serious trouble. Did you know that 10 of the top 10 reasons for a veterinarian visit can be directly related to inappropriate diet and exposure to ingested, inhaled and topically absorbed toxins – plenty of which are found in commercially manufactured dog foods and treats.  
Kidney disease
Metabolic disease
Parasitic infestations

So What Can You Include Instead of Grains?
Include appropriate greens, herbs, seeds and fruit in your dog's diet. See the list here.
If you would like to try making a homemade dog food that is rich in nutrients you can read more here.

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Article and graphics by Karen Rosenfeld 


  1. I'm new to your blog, and am wishing either I lived in Ottawa or you lived in Arizona! I Googled my way here looking for homeopathic/holistic help for itchy paws on my 2 yr. old Bouvier/Poodle mix Stella. I have ACV and peroxide on hand so the soak comes tomorrow. Thank you ahead of time! But tonight I'm curious about your thoughts on diet. I've read a few mentions of "species appropriate" foods and was surprised to see you write that dogs are omnivores. Canines are carnivores, they live with humans who are omnivores, but the species canis familiaris are carnivores. I don't think any canine in the wild would be eating apples, pears and carrots. Maybe bacon wrapped apples, pears and carrots? The statistics you mention on the rapid decline in dogs average lifespan make me hope I'm doing the best I can for Stella. I feed her raw meat, bone-in chicken, beef, pork and organ meat. It costs me about $2.00 on average per pound.I don't want to sound preachy, but dog's eat meat. Their compact digestive system, their teeth and jaws are designed to rip and grind, lysine in their mouths to protect them from bacterial issues, even to the social importance of feeding as a pack member , all speaks to the importance of meat in dogs diet. I have read that unless starving, wolf pack won't eat the contents of their ruminant prey's stomachs. The stomach lining yes, but grains and grasses, no.

    Stella does have itchy paws, but also beautiful white teeth, loads of energy, no doggy odor or bad breath at all, a wonderful disposition, she is bright, intelligent and was easily house trained and I hope she has a long healthy life ahead. Please let me know your thinking. Thank you for this very informative blog! Catherine Peagler

    1. Hi Catherine

      'Carnivore' refers to a living organism that obtains most( and in some cases all) of its nutrient requirements from animal tissue.

      Domestic dogs, unlike cats - are not considered to be obligate carnivores.

      Dogs should NOT be put on a vegan diet as to do so defies the natural requirements of a dog - including domestic dogs.

      Dogs have lived and evolved with humans for 30,000 years - our companion dogs are domesticated dogs - not wild dogs. Domestic dogs are omnivores in the sense that they are accustomed to (over the many 1000s of years) eating foods other than animal flesh. However in recent times the pet food industry has taken that to an extreme that is very dangerous for a dogs health.

      Is a raw food diet better than a cooked or processed food diet?
      Well a truly appropriate raw food diet is an excellent and species appropriate diet for a dog - however to asses the quality of that diet you need to look deeper into the source of the ingredients that make up that raw food diet...

      If the raw food is comprised of meat obtained from antibiotic, steroid, growth hormone, GMO corn fed cows I would not consider that diet to be wonderful for the dog - that is not the type of meat that a dog in the wild would eat either :>) In addition, animal flesh obtained from factory farms is high in Omega 6 fatty acids and low in Omega 3 fatty acids.

      Even a dog on a raw food diet should have that diet supplemented with certain key supplements such as Omega 3 fatty acids, probiotics (I prefer real food source as opposed to supplement form), they can also derive immense benefit from certain vegetables, fruits and herbs.

      My dogs will often choose to seek out and pick their own fruit (i.e. wild or cultivated berries, tomatoes, etc.) and even herbs such as juniper berries.

      Dogs self select to eat grass in small often daily amounts due to the beneficial enzymes in grass ( you can read my article on that). But given a choice will NOT eat the seed of the grass - which is the gain. In places like South Africa they will eat the leaf of a certain plant which contains the same enzymes as the grass found on many North American lawns and meadows.

      The importance of feeding meat to a domesticated dog resides in the dog's biological make-up and not in their social make-up :>)

      Domesticated dogs are not wolves - they have some similarities but also differences. A wolf mates for life or until the death of its mate, a dog will mate with any dog. The hierarchical structure of a wolf pack is patriarchal and matriarchal - it is not as many people presume based on the 'alpha' thing http://ottawavalleydogwhisperer.blogspot.ca/2011/11/debunking-alpha-dog-myth.html

      Cheers, and good health to Stella

  2. Hi Karen,
    I am so happy to have found your site! I came across is while searching out natural flea repellent remedies. Now I'm looking at your food posts/pages and was wondering how much (amount) to feed your dogs.. I have 2, 37lbs and 78lbs. THANK YOU FOR ALL OF YOUR INFORMATION! Cynthia Fox, Portland, OR

    1. Hi Cynthia read the section of the article before the ingredients - the fore section explains amounts to feed.
      Cheers, Karen

  3. I have a 9 year old border collie that went on a diet eating diet kibble from the vet a year ago. She had a small fatty tumor that grew into about 10 pounds. I think the diet dog food made the tumor grow. I swtched her to raw and give her omega vitamins. What other supple,nets should I be using?

    1. Veterinarian prescribed dog 'food' is 100% unethical toxic, and carcinogenic - it is a major trigger for lipomas and other inflammatory health issues. The majority of made-for pets vitamins also contain toxins and carcinogens. If you want to address her tumor properly I
      recommend that you do this http://ottawavalleydogwhisperer.ca/diet-nutrition-wellness-plans/

  4. Interesting and informative. Very scary about specialized diets from big brands. My cat is 11 and I am finishing weight loss diet. Asked vet to suggest
    diet, said Royal Canon for kidneys. Compared "Big 3" I see cellulose, guar gum, grain first ingredients etc. and "white lined" tins (wasn't it banned for humans?). I will have to have faith in her genetics and supplement with human grade food.
    Appreciate your insights.


Important Note

1.0 Use of Foods, Herbs, Alternative Medicines:

Safe use of items and protocols in the article above, is your sole responsibility.

Foods, herbs and alternative medicines have health issue, condition and conventional drug interactions. Safe use of all substances and protocol are your responsibility.

Before you use any substance or protocol do your research. Check for cautions, contradictions, interactions and side effects. Do not use substances or protocols not suitable to your animal's individual circumstances.

If your animal has an underlying condition substances and protocols may conflict.

2.0 Definition of Holistic…

Food, herbs, alternative medicines are NOT ‘holistic’ they are a substance and MAY, or may NOT be ‘NATURAL’.

If you use a ‘natural’ substance (ie. an herb) you are using a natural substance, not a holistic substance.

Holistic is not defined by use of one or several substances. Holistic is an approach.

Definition of “holistic” from the Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary & Thesaurus © Cambridge University Press


"relating to the whole of something or to the total system instead of just to its parts"

"Holistic medicine attempts to treat the whole person, including mind and body, not just the injury or disease."

Holistic is a way of approaching life, and within that health, and well-being.

3.0 Expectation a natural substance remedies a health or behavioral situation.

A natural substance used to treat symptoms. But, if factors causing the underlying issue remain you do not have a remedy.

Remedy requires a comprehensive approach. It is necessary to identify root cause. Remove items that trigger, cause or otherwise contribute to issues. Holistic approach includes design, implementation to treat, remedy and maintain long-term health.

4.0 Leave a Comment

I review all comments and publish those deemed appropriate for this site.

I answer questions deemed appropriate when I have time to do so.

Wishing your dog and cat the best of health!

Karen Rosenfeld
Ottawa Valley Dog Whisperer
Holistic Behaviorist - Dogs
Holistic Diet Nutrition Wellness Adviser – Dogs and Cats