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, raw diets, or various commercial dog foods that offer grain-free recipes or foods for dogs with special needs.
Carbohydrates include all vegetables, fruits and grains – or anything grown in plant form. Carbohydrates are made up of chains of sugar and there are differences in these chains from simple sugars (white refined sugar, honey, 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
All Commercial dog foods contain carbohydrates. These foods offer fiber (to help with firm stools) as 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 with more odor and gas, but offer little, if any, 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. However, remember that the other ‘grain-free’ sources are still carbohydrates, with potatoes being the ingredient most often used. This can benefit dogs with certain grain allergies or a gluten intolerance. Some dogs can have digestive issues when they are fed food with gluten. Additionally, commercial foods that are grain free can be a novel food source to try for dogs with food allergies, however, in my opinion, food allergies are rare and over diagnosed.
Carbohydrates are used in home cooked recipes. The primary purpose for adding carbohydrates is to offer a fiber source, not nutrition. It is doubtful that dogs get much nutrition from carbohydrates. They are carnivores and require animal-based proteins which provide the amino acids, vitamins and nutrients they need. Most carbohydrates are high in fiber and this is what helps keep the stools firm. Without using fiber in cooked meals, the stools would be VERY loose. When using vegetable sources, they must be fully pureed or cooked. Dogs cannot digest grains or vegetables very well unless they are fully cooked or pureed as they do not have the ability to break down the cell wall of carbohydrates and they can’t ferment grains in their short, simple digestive tracts. When using carbohydrates in home cooked diets, I generally recommend using about 75% animal-based protein and only 25% carbohydrates.
High Glycemic (Sugar Content) Vegetables
Equally important to note is that the type of carbohydrate used affects stool size. Most of the recipes offered 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 contribute to poor health conditions such as diabetes, allergies and yeast growth. High-sugar foods can also cause urinary tract infections, adrenal gland and hormone imbalances, and they may contribute to seizure activity in dogs with epilepsy. For more information, see the following article on low glycemic recipes:
Carbohydrates are not necessary in raw diets. Raw diets contain bone which offers the fiber needed to help create firm stools. Some may wish to add vegetables to the diet for variety, but in this case I would not feed more than 10% of the total diet in vegetables. They may not add to the nutrition of the diet, but they aren’t harmful either. Please note that adding more than 10% of carbohydrates to a raw diet will only increase stool size and in some cases may cause gas as the dogs short and simple digestive system struggles with TOO much fiber. Their small intestine is simply not designed to ferment or handle large amounts of fiber. In fact, too much fiber can cause intestinal lining inflammation, which leads to Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD), colitis, diarrhea, cramping and pain.
For further information on carbohydrates and more references please read the following article:
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 oftentimes alleviate the problem and sometimes completely stop the incontinence without having to resort to prescription medications. Also adding the herbal tincture blend, Kidni Kare 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 – ESPECIALLY 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 adding the following supplements:
Omega 3 fatty acids found in animal-based fats can help reduce inflammation and pain. The best source for these omega 3 fatty acids is found in fish or salmon oil. The EPA and DHA in fish oil helps reduce inflammation throughout the body and also supports the immune system, heart, liver and kidney function and is great for healthy skin and coat. Give one capsule (180 EPA/120 DHA) per 10-20 pounds of body weight daily.
Yucca Intensive, which is a liquid tincture made from fresh yucca, also helps fight inflammation. This plant contains saponins, which help reduce inflammation and pain. Use one drop per ten pounds of body weight, twice daily WITH food. NEVER combine Yucca with any other NSAID, such as Rimadyl, Metacam or steroids!
If your dog has a low thyroid condition, it is important to avoid raw vegetables in the cruciferous family such as cabbage, kale, Brussels sprouts, broccoli and cauliflower, as they contain natural chemicals called goitrogens (goiter producers) that can interfere with thyroid hormone synthesis. Interesting, these vegetables are fine when they are cooked, but do not give them raw to dogs with low thyroid problems.
While carbohydrates are not necessary in a dog’s diet, they can be useful in certain conditions. They add the needed fiber to a home cooked diet and they are beneficial in certain liver and renal issues where carbohydrates may be needed to add calories, absorb ammonia or reduce phosphorus in the diet.
Using too many carbohydrates however, 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.
Additionally, sugars in the diet can cause tooth decay, staining of the teeth, tear staining, and they can cause yeast to grow topically on the skin, feet, face and ears.
Even more concerning, sugar affects the adrenal glands and hormone production. They can adversely affect fertility in dogs which can result in reduced litter size. Sugars may affect sperm production and it also seems to cause heat cycles to occur more frequently in female dogs. Heat cycles occurring more frequently results in poor fertility due to the uterus lining not recovering well enough to sustain fertilized eggs. Raw fed females, typically cycle every 6-12 months, which results in better fertility.
Lastly, high carbohydrate and sugar intake can create a hormonal imbalance which affects the adrenal glands. This can lead to Addison’s or Cushing’s Disease.
In certain health conditions, when fat must be reduced, such as pancreatitis or chronic liver disease, high calories carbohydrates such as sweet potatoes, white potatoes or carrots can be helpful for weight gain. When formulating a diet that is low in phosphorus for dogs with chronic renal problems, using low phosphorus carbohydrates is beneficial. However, fat is usually fine for dogs with renal problems.
In order to make the best decision on whether carbohydrates will help or hinder your dog’s health, it is important to know all these variables. It is not a question of whether or not carbohydrates are ‘good or bad’. It is about the individual needs of your dogs.
The best benefits of a carbohydrate free diet are:
It is only in specific health needs (pancreas, liver, certain stone forming conditions) that I would recommend using carbohydrates. For dogs with these ailments, they can be useful for weight gain and to able to offer a full ration of food for calories to help keep the dog satisfied.
I hope you found this newsletter helpful. Your feedback is always welcome.
If you have questions about your dog’s diet or about specific health conditions, please take advantage of the B-Naturals Newsletter Archives. Chances are what you are looking for is right here!