I occasionally get questions from folks on which carbohydrates are best for their dog’s diet. These questions are asked regardless of whether they are feeding home cooked diets, various commercial dog foods that use grainless recipes or for dogs with special needs.
Carbohydrates include all vegetables, fruits and grains. Carbohydrates are made up of chains of sugar and there are differences in these chains from simple sugars (white refined sugar, honey, and molasses white flour and fruit juice) to complex carbohydrates (grains such as oats, rice, barley to vegetables, beans, lentils, pears and potatoes).
Commercial Pet Food
Commercial dog foods all contain carbohydrates. These foods offer fiber (to help with firm stools), a less expensive food ingredient and to aid in the ability for dry foods to maintain a longer shelf life. While they serve a purpose in this regard, they also add some liabilities. Carbohydrates make stools larger and have more odor, and they offer less nutrition. It is important to do your research if you use commercial food. Shop for a food with the least amount of carbohydrates offered and with a good primary animal based protein. Some foods are now being offered as grain free. But remember, other sources offered are still carbohydrates, and the most often used is potato. This can be of benefit to dogs with certain grain allergies or gluten intolerance. Some dogs can have digestive issues when fed food with gluten. And commercial foods that are grain free can be a novel food source to try for dogs with allergies.
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Home Cooked Diets
vCarbohydrates are also used in home cooked recipes. The main reason for this is to offer a fiber source. Most carbohydrates are high in fiber and this helps keep the stool firm. When using vegetables sources, fully puree, blend or cook them. Dogs cannot digest grains or vegetables that aren’t fully cooked or pureed. They do not have the ability to break down the cell wall of carbohydrates, nor digest them well in their short and simple digestive tracts. When using carbohydrates in home cooked diets, I generally recommend using about 75% animal based protein, and 25% carbohydrates.
High Glycemic (Sugar Content) Vegetables
Equally important to note is that the type of carbohydrate used affects stool size. In most of the recipes I offer in the B-Naturals articles (in the newsletter directory) use low glycemic carbohydrates. These are vegetables, which offer the lowest sugar content. Dogs are carnivores, and genetically speaking, they do not have systems that need or adapt well to a constant influx of high sugar foods. Dogs need fat and animal protein to survive and thrive. High sugar foods contain more calories and also add unneeded and unnecessary weight gain. They may also offer poor health conditions, such as diabetes, allergies, yeast growth, propensity for urinary tract infections and may contribute to seizure activity in dogs with epilepsy. For more information, see the article on low glycemic recipes:
Carbohydrates are not necessary in raw diets. Raw diets contain bone, which offer fiber and help create firm stools. Some may wish to add some vegetables to the diet for variety, but I would feed no more than 10% of these of the total diet. They may not add to the nutrition of the diet, but they aren’t harmful either. Adding more than 10% of carbohydrates to the diet will only increase stool size and in some cases may cause gas.
For further information on carbohydrates and more references:
It is also thought that grains and starches may aggravate incontinence in spayed females and senior dogs. Incontinence is leaking of urine, and chronic conditions can lead to rashes, irritation and urinary tract infections. Removing grains from the diet can alleviate the problem and sometimes completely stop the incontinence, without having to resort to prescription medications. Also adding the herbal tincture blend, Kidni Care can help strengthen and tone urinary tract muscles.
For more information on incontinence and diet, see Aunt Jeni’s article:
Dogs with arthritis or other inflammatory affected problems need to avoid grains and starches. The sugar content of these foods may aggravate inflammation and cause pain. This would include avoiding fruit, as well as vegetables in the nightshade family, such as tomatoes, potatoes, peppers and eggplant. I have had many emails from people over the years testifying that moving their dogs to a raw diet or a low glycemic cooked diets has reduced arthritis pain in their dogs.
Other ways to help reduce inflammation in dogs with arthritis would include:
Bromelain (an enzyme from Pineapple) found in either the Pro-Brom or the Quercitin/Bromelain capsules. Both of these can also aid in digestion and help reduce gas.
Yucca Intensive, which is a liquid tincture made from fresh yucca. This plant contains saponins, which help reduce inflammation and pain. Use one drop per ten pounds of body weight, twice daily WITH food.
Bertes Flexile Plus is a blend of glucosamine, hyaluronic acid, bromelain, manganese and green lipped muscle. These ingredients can help to lubricate the affected area and reduce inflammation.
While carbohydrates are not necessary in a dog’s diet, they can be useful in certain conditions. This would include the benefit of adding fiber to a home cooked diet and in certain liver or renal issues that need carbohydrates to add calories, absorb ammonia or reduce phosphorus in the diet.
Using too many carbohydrates can cause larger stools with more odor and gas. They are composed of chains of sugar, so they add calories, and can adversely affect dogs with diabetes, seizures, arthritis, dogs with incontinence and dogs with hypothyroid conditions.
It is important to know these variables, to make the best decisions on whether carbohydrates can help or hinder your dog’s health. It is not a question of ‘good or bad’, but rather about the individual needs of your dog.
I hope September brings cool fall weather and safety for all from the tropical storms. See you again next month!
Copyright Lew Olson 2008