Whether people feed a commercial dog food, a home-cooked diet, a raw diet, or a special needs diet for a specific health condition, I am frequently asked questions about carbohydrates. The most common question asked is, ‘Which carbohydrates are the best to add into my dog’s diet?’ While the question may appear to be a simple one, the answer is not! The subject is complex, so we are splitting this newsletter into two parts.
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Part I addresses the many questions people ask about carbohydrates. We will look at the different types, which are best carbohydrates to feed, when they are needed, and how different carbohydrates can affect various health conditions.
Part II, which we will bring to you in March’s newsletter, addresses more health conditions, discusses the benefits of low glycemic (sugar) diets, and includes several low glycemic recipes, which benefit a wide variety of health conditions.
There are two kinds of carbohydrates: simple and complex. All grains, vegetables and fruits are carbohydrates. All carbohydrates break down into chains of sugar. However, there are differences between the sugar chains of simple carbohydrates and complex carbohydrates. Examples of simple carbohydrates that break down into simple sugar chains include white refined sugar, honey, molasses, white flour and fruit juice. Examples of complex carbohydrates that break down into more complex sugar chains include grains such as oats, rice, barley, and vegetables such as beans, lentils, and potatoes. It is important to know how these sugars affect canines and to understand what the purpose of carbohydrates are in a canine’s diet.
Commercial Pet Food
All commercial dog foods contain carbohydrates. The carbohydrates used in commercial pet foods are inexpensive, high-fiber ingredients that allow the dry food to maintain a longer shelf life and to help firm stools. Carbohydrates are a benefit in this regard; however, they are also a liability and can compromise the health and well-being of our dogs.
Carbohydrates offer less, or no, nutrition to dogs than animal proteins and fats. While the fiber helps firm stools, they also create larger, looser stools that have a much stronger odor and can cause gas and bloating. If you feed a commercial dog food, it is important to do your research. You want to select a food that contains a quality animal protein and offers the least amount of carbohydrates. Some commercial dog foods are ‘grain free,’ however; grain free foods are not carbohydrate (sugar) free! Most grainless commercial foods use either potatoes or sweet potatoes. These grainless foods can be a benefit to dogs that have certain grain allergies or gluten intolerance (which are rare), but these foods are still high in sugar and offer no nutrients.
Home Cooked Diets
Carbohydrates are used in home cooked diets simply to add fiber to the diet to keep the dog’s stool firm. Bones, which are used in raw diets for calcium and for firm stools, are not used in home cooked diets so a fiber source is needed. When using carbohydrates in home cooked diets, I recommend using about 75% animal-based protein and 25% carbohydrates. When selecting vegetables for home cooked diets, I recommend low glycemic (sugar) vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage, yellow squash and zucchini. I avoid using potatoes, sweet potatoes, peas, carrots, winter squash and beans. I also avoid all vegetables from the nightshade family, such as tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant. When feeding vegetables, they must be fully cooked or pureed to breakdown the cell wall of the carbohydrates. Dogs cannot break down this cell wall or digest the vegetables in their short, simple digestive tract unless they are fully cooked or completely pureed.
If you feed a raw diet, it is not necessary to add carbohydrates to the diet! Raw diets contain bone and the bone offers the fiber needed to keep stools firm. Carbohydrates do not offer dogs a nutrient value, so they are not needed in a raw diet. Some people like to add vegetables to the diet for variety. When adding vegetables to a raw diet, I do not recommend feeding more than 10% of the total diet with carbohydrates. Adding more than 10% of the total diet in carbohydrates will increase stool size and can cause gas. Again, the vegetables must be completely cooked or pureed in order for the dogs to digest them.
For further information on carbohydrates and more references, see the following link:
High Glycemic (Sugar Content) Vegetables
Dogs are carnivores and do not need carbohydrates. Their digestive system is not designed to digest carbohydrates and their bodies do not need, nor do they adapt well to, the constant influx of high-sugar foods and high amounts of fiber. Dogs get their energy from animal protein and fat, which are the nutrients they need to survive and thrive. When a dog’s diet consists of too many carbohydrates, more than 33% for example, there is a risk of ‘protein starvation’. When you feed a diet that is 33% carbohydrates, it does not mean the rest of the diet is 66 1/3% protein! This is because there is fat and moisture in the protein, and in some cases bone and connective tissue. Dogs rely on, and depend on, the amino acids found in animal-based proteins. They are important for stamina, endurance, overall health and well-being, and are necessary for healthy kidney, heart and liver function.
Food spends less time in our stomach and a longer time in our intestines. The time food spends in the human intestinal tract allows foods to digest and ferment. Humans have a much longer and more complex digestive system than canines. Canines have a short, simple digestive tract and do not digest foods the same as humans do. Canines have more gastric juices in the stomach. As a result, food spends a longer time in the canine’s stomach to break down nutrients and kill bacteria. As a result, food spends a much shorter time in the intestines. Dogs are unable to ferment or break down carbohydrates as efficiently as humans (omnivores) or herbivores can. Because of this inability to break down the carbohydrates, it causes gas and cramps, and creates large, smelly stools. Additionally, it can irritate the intestinal tract and create intestinal inflammation.
Carbohydrates may also contribute to health conditions such as diabetes, allergies, inflammatory bowel disease, infertility, low thyroid and yeast growth. They also have the ability to promote urinary tract infections and may contribute to seizure activity in dogs with epilepsy. Additionally, high sugar foods contain more calories, which can result in unwanted weight gain. In the home-cooked recipes I will bring you in next month’s newsletter, I always suggest low glycemic carbohydrates be used. Low glycemic vegetables offer the lowest sugar content.
Low Glycemic Diets
While the diseases Epilepsy, Hypothyroidism, Diabetes, Allergies, Arthritis, Yeast Infections and Cancer are all very different, they share a common denominator. Diets that are high in sugar and starch can negatively affect these diseases. In my series on Canine Nutrition, published in the B-Naturals newsletters between August 2005 and June 2006, I explained that dogs are carnivores and their bodies are designed to best utilize and digest animal protein and fat. The advent of commercial diets in the last 60 years introduced large amounts of grains and starches. These foods are high in carbohydrates, which all convert to sugar. Besides adding unnecessary sugars to the diet, these foods also add more fiber and bulk to the dog’s system.
Sugar directly affects the blood sugar in the body. Canines are designed to make glucose from amino acids (proteins), which keep the dog’s blood sugar levels even. Feeding diets high in grains (wheat, corn, oatmeal, barley, amaranth and rice, just to name a few) and starches (potatoes, sweet potatoes, beets and carrots) cause blood sugar levels to rise and then fall. This type of action has a direct affect on diabetes, can trigger epileptic seizures, creates aggravation in the joints of dogs with arthritis, affects thyroid conditions and lastly, offers energy to cancer cells.
As stated in canine nutrition textbooks, no nutritional requirement is given for these types of foods for dogs. The Waltham Book of Companion Animal Nutrition states, “There is no known minimum dietary requirement for carbohydrates”
For more information on Carbohydrates in the Dog’s Diet:
With each health condition discussed below, be sure to get a confirmed diagnosis and receive the advice and full treatment recommendation from your veterinarian. The correct diagnosis under proper veterinarian care is the best defense for treating any disease or ailment.
Depending on the dog’s condition, there are two different types of low glycemic diets. This month we are including the “LOW FAT, Low Glycemic” diets, which are suggested for dogs with epilepsy, diabetes, hypothyroidism and Inflammatory Bowel Disease. Next month, when we bring you Part II, we will bring you Low Fat, Low Glycemic Diets, a different low glycemic diet, for a few other health conditions.
While research has been done on a low carbohydrate diet for dogs with epilepsy, the results showed that these diets did not help. However, the research did not indicate the type of protein used, or the nature of the diet (dry, fresh, cooked), but the research did contain an extreme amount of fat. Additionally, the diet was inconclusive due to the loss of some participants (owners not complying) and a subsequent low number of dogs that completed the study. 1
Other factors that may precipitate seizure activity by feeding carbohydrates could be related to food allergies, gluten intolerance (found in grains) and lack of certain amino acids, such as taurine, which are lost through the process of heavily cooked diets. For more information on this, go to the link below and read the section titled, “The Possible Connection between Grains and Seizures”.
While the connection between carbohydrates and seizures is uncertain, a fresh food diet, which is medium to low fat, high in animal protein, and low in carbohydrates is worth a try, and may help in some instances. Again, removing grains from the diet reduces the chance of gluten intolerance and some allergies. The animal protein provides the amino acids a dog needs and fresh food diets offer more nutrients.
An additional supplement that helps reduce seizure activity is DMG, or dimethylglycine. Diethylglycine is a derivative of the amino acid, glycine. DMG helps the neurotransmitters in the body. It is also been found to help control cholesterol; however, this is not an issue with dogs. It also helps boost endurance and stamina. It is thought to help oxidize the blood, which is not only useful for fighting fatigue, but may also be helpful in immune problems and with certain types of cancer treatment. It may also have some usefulness in controlling glucose metabolism and be helpful with brain function.
DMG for possible seizure control in dogs:
In small animals, Diabetes is a complex issue. The type of diabetes found in cats and dogs is different. Cats often have Type II diabetes, while Type I is more common in dogs. New research has indicated that higher protein diets are more effective for cats and this research suggests the same may be true for dogs as well.
“Diet in the prevention of diabetes and obesity in companion animals”
“Conclusion – Consumption of diets with low carbohydrate, high protein, and moderate fat content may be advantageous for prevention and management of obesity, impaired glucose tolerance, and diabetes in cats and dogs. Use of low glycemic index carbohydrates and supplementation with carnitine, chromium, and vitamin A may also be advantageous.” The full article can be seen here: http://www.vetcontact.com/en/art.php?a=1268&t
While studies on cats discuss that cats are carnivores and need protein, dogs are carnivores as well and the same is true for them. Higher animal protein diets create a more even blood sugar level in the blood stream. Fresh food diets provide more optimum nutrition than processed foods by offering a more easily digestible food with bioavailable nutrients. In addition, DMG (Dimethylglycine) is also thought to be beneficial with both hypoglycemia and Diabetes.
Hypoglycemia, Diabetes and DMG:
Dogs with low thyroid (hypothyroidism) can have issues with pancreatitis until treatment with proper medications can help bring thyroid levels back to normal ranges. Dogs with hypothyroidism tend to do better on homemade diets that are low glycemic, medium fat and contain higher protein levels. For dogs with hypothyroidism, avoid goitrogenic foods. Some goitrogenic foods include soybean and soy products, cabbage, broccoli, turnips, rutabaga, mustard greens, kale, spinach, Brussels sprouts, peaches, pears, strawberries, cauliflower, potatoes or corn. Fully cooking these foods will render them safe to consume for hypothyroid conditions; however, do not feed them as the majority of the diet.
“Some experts contend that as little as 30 mg of soy isoflavones will cause trouble by competing with hormones for the same receptor sites on cells. Because of that, they can cause endocrine disruptions. The endocrine system may mistake the isoflavones for a hormone and therefore may not send out signals that the hormone needs to be produced. This can be problematic if you already have lower than normal levels of thyroid hormone production.”
To find more information on the warnings about soy, read this article:
Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)
IBD has recently become a more common health problem in dogs. When a dog struggles to digest high fiber commercial foods, laden with carbohydrates, it sets up an inflammatory condition in the intestinal lining. Then, as the inflammation continues, the dog also has difficulty digesting fats. The dry food that consists of large amounts of carbohydrates and fiber aggravates this condition even further. As this occurs, dogs can also develop an intolerance to fat due to the inflamed intestinal lining. When this occurs, veterinarians will often prescribe dry dog food manufactured for this condition. Unfortunately, these foods are even higher in fiber and carbohydrates, are low fat, and often carry a less bioavailable source of animal protein. These higher fiber diets achieve nothing more than additional absorption of the moisture from the dog’s colon. This makes the stools ‘firmer’, however the irritation and inflammation continues in the dog’s digestive tract. The low fat, low glycemic diet (or a raw diet, which is even more ideal), puts less strain on the digestive tract to handle and ‘ferment’ the fiber. At the same time, it offers the dog better nutrition to help heal this condition.
Supplements that help heal IBD include probiotic powder (beneficial bacteria to aid digestion), l-glutamine (which helps heal the digestive lining) and animal based digestive enzymes (which help pre-digest fat and protein in the stomach, before reaching the small intestine). A product that contains a good combination of all of three ingredients of these ingredients is the Berte’s Digestion Blend. Taken together, these three products help in cases of poor absorption, diarrhea, and nausea and help heal the intestinal lining.
As you can see, the subject of carbohydrates is not a simple one! Please stay tuned for next month’s newsletter when we will bring you information on cancer, arthritis, allergies, incontinence and yeast overgrowth conditions and several low glycemic recipes to benefit these health conditions.
1 Publication: Patterson EE. Results of a Ketogenic Food Trial for Dogs with Idiopathic Epilepsy. University of Minnesota PhD Thesis (Chapter 4). © Edward Earl Patterson 2004.