One of the much debated and controversial topics in canine nutrition is on the inclusion of carbohydrates in a dog’s diet.
Do you or don’t you?
Let’s start with what carbs are and their purpose…
Carbs are made of sugars, starches, and fibre, each serving a different purpose.
Sugars, converted to glucose in the small intestine, are easily digested and used for immediate energy. Glucose can also be stored by the dog for later use.
But if the dog eats too much and exercises too little, these stores of glucose (glycogen) turn to fat causing weight gain. Which, if diet and activity levels don’t change, can lead to obesity and other major health problems.
Starchy carbs are a little more complex and therefore take longer to be absorbed, but they also provide a great source of energy for your dog.
Fibre helps promote a good gastrointestinal tract, maintaining colon health, helping digestion, as well as helping your dog feel full for longer. And can also help control blood sugar levels in a diabetic dog.
Insufficient carbohydrate intake means the dog’s body will need to use protein for fuel.
But this can cause issues.
Protein is the building block for a dog. It’s used for muscle development and growth, as well as to keep your dog healthy – her coat, teeth and skin. If your dog digs into her protein source to sustain her energy requirement, she may lack the amino acids needed for muscle repair and growth which can lead to muscle loss and her health declining.
Protein being used for energy rather than building, can be particularly damaging for pups, or pregnant and lactating dogs.
So why the controversy?
Well if we look back at our domesticated dog’s ancestor, the wolf, they were full-on carnivores. No need for carbs, although even they would have naturally consumed some carbs in their diet by eating vegetables or via the omnivore or herbivore animals they ate.
For this reason, there are many people in the pet industry who maintain that a dog should stick to its roots by existing on a carnivore diet.
And yes, technically our domesticated dog is also a carnivore, but many would argue that with domestication, today’s dogs are in fact omnivores, just like us.
They have structurally adapted to be able to digest starches, one of the sources of carbohydrates present in vegetables.
It’s for this reason, that carbs – in controlled quantities, and in proportion to protein and fat intake – can be a healthy nutrient to add to your dog’s diet.
But remember, it’s important to consider your dog’s breed, age and medical history before embarking on any significant change in diet.
Here are a few examples of functional carbs:
- Brown rice
- Whole wheat
- Whole corn
- Sweet potato