The Canine Diet: Are Carbohydrates Bad for Dogs?

Some pet food companies increase the amount of flour in their products, while reducing nutritional, high-quality proteins.
The Canine Diet: Are Carbohydrates Bad for Dogs?
Paloma de los Milagros

Written and verified by the biologist Paloma de los Milagros.

Last update: 21 December, 2022

Over the last few years, we’ve seen an increase in the number of high-protein dog foods. This is because certain scientific studies have indicated that carbohydrates could be bad for dogs.

Marketing has played an important role in the spread of misinformation, leading many owners to believe that dogs don’t actually need carbohydrates in their diet. This belief isn’t entirely wrong – a number of studies have already proven the benefits of a grain-free diet. However, the total exclusion of this type of nutrient is only really recommended for dogs that are allergic to cereals.

Another reason many people claim that carbohydrates are bad for dogs is their supposed “inability” to digest them. Except in cases of intolerance, this is physiologically untrue. Despite the fact that dogs lack salival amylase – an enzyme that is important for the breakdown of complex carbohydrates, they do have pancreatic amylase. The presence of this pancreatic amylase means that they are able to digest starches.

When are carbohydrates bad for dogs?

The problem with pet foods containing carbohydrates doesn’t actually lie in the presence of carbohydrates. The real issue arises when it’s used as a substitute for high-quality proteins. The main reason manufacturers choose to replace protein with carbohydrates is because it can help to lower production costs. However, this comes at the expense of our pets’ health, especially those that are on a dry food diet.

Proteins, especially those found in meat, are a direct source of essential aminoacids. Furthermore, they also contain a large amount of vitamins A, E, B and D, which are recommended as part of a healthy daily diet, as well as other essential vitamins, such as vitamin C.

Dog food.

Investigators have shown that the excessive consumption of carbohydrates could contribute to vitamin deficiency in dogs. In fact, Theodore Van Itallie, an investigator at the University of Columbia, stated that levels of both Vitamin B and Vitamin C fall after ingesting large quantities of grain. This could also be related to the presence of large amounts of fiber, which reduces the body’s uptake of vitamins and minerals.

On the other hand, it’s important to consider the presence of food allergies. Corn and wheat are two of the five main ingredients that cause intestinal sensitivity in dogs. At the same time, experts have observed that some breeds, such as Irish setters, are more prone to celiac disease.

The benefits of carbs (in moderation)

Unless your dog is allergic to some type of grain, claiming that carbohydrates are bad for your dog, and acting on this belief, could be dangerous for your pet’s health. When given as part of a balanced diet, carbohydrates can have a number of nutritional benefits.

  • Whole grains contain a large amount of vitamins (particularly Vitamin B) and minerals
  • The fiber in whole grains can help to maintain healthy gut flora, which is essential for eliminating toxins and facilitating digestion
  • Soluble fiber, such as that present in oats, regulates the blood glucose and cholesterol levels
  • Carbohydrates, as well as fats, are the greatest sources of energy
A border collie in the park.

So, when it comes to feeding your dog, the best option is to choose pet foods that guarantee a balanced diet. The protein content should be higher than the fat content, and can be meat, dairy, egg, fish or soy-based. Unless recommended otherwise by your vet, you should look for whole grains rather than refined ones.

Softening their kibble, switching to wet food or homemade diets, or excluding certain ingredients from your pet’s diet are changes you should only make after consulting with a specialist. It’s also important to monitor your pet’s reaction to the change, to make sure there are no adverse effects. However, when it comes to gut health, a balanced diet should guarantee your pet’s well-being.

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