By Emily Gantt
Published: 02/12/2021, edited: 08/10/2021
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Carbs are arguably the best part of the human diet and the mortal enemy of dieters. Modern diets like keto have shown us that humans can live without carbs, but what about our furry companions? What role do these macronutrients play in a dog's bodily processes? Can dogs live without them? Should your dog be on a low-carb diet? We’ll dive into the answers to all these questions and more to help you can devise the right diet for your fur-baby.
Do dogs need carbs?
Dogs' nutrition requirements are quite similar to humans'. They need protein, fat, glucose, vitamins, and minerals. Protein helps regulate hormone production, bodily healing processes, and muscle growth, and provides energy. Besides providing energy, fats help puppers metabolize fat-soluble vitamins and reduce inflammation. Not to mention they just taste yummy! Carbs are another normal dietary component in dog food, though according to the Association of American Feed Control (AAFCO), they aren't a requirement.
Some feeding guidelines say that dogs need 30% to 70% of their calories to come from carbs if they aren't on a weight loss regimen. This is unsurprising since grains, potatoes, and other carbs comprise most ingredients in commercial dog food. What is surprising is that carbs aren't mentioned once in the 2014 AAFCO testing methods for the substantiation of nutritional adequacy claims publication.
While dogs technically have no carbohydrate requirements, they do need glucose for normal bodily processes. Carbs are a simple and generally cheap source of glucose in dog food, but glucose can also be metabolized from protein and fat. The truth is dogs don't actually need carbs, and many thrive on low-carb diets.
Low-carb lifestyles for dogs
Carbs constituted only 14% of your pet's wild ancestors' diet, a fraction of what most modern dogs are consuming. The general consensus of the scientific community is that low-carb diets are safe for most dogs. In fact, low-carb might even be better than a carb-balanced diet. Like in humans, low-carb diets are exceptional for weight loss and maintenance, but there are maybe more benefits than just improving the waistline.
Some vets suggest low-carb or keto diets for dogs with cancer. It's thought that the carb deficit controls the spread of cancer by eliminating the cancerous glucose cells need to thrive. What's more, promising data suggests carb deficient diets may prevent seizures in epileptic dogs as well.
What about grain-free dog food?
Grains are a common ingredient in commercial dog foods, especially in the less expensive options. Like some humans, some dogs must go on grain-free diets due to gluten or grain allergies. While grain-free dog foods can be low-carb, most contain potatoes, carrots, and beans which are all high-carb vegetables. If you’re looking to put your dog on a low-carb diet, you’ll need to look for a grain- and carb-free dog food.
Benefits of high-carb diets for dogs
Contrary to popular belief, carbs aren’t inherently bad. High-carb diets are often preferred for working dogs since they are a source of easily metabolized and quickly accessible energy. Sometimes, vets prescribe high-carb diets for dogs with pancreatitis and occasionally for weight loss. Dogs can get most of their needed nutrients from carbs, depending on what they're derived from. Sweet potatoes, for instance, are high in vitamins and minerals, whereas beans are a great source of vegetable-based protein.
Restricting carbs usually isn’t necessary for healthy dogs. Whether your dog needs carbs in their diet should be a decision made between you and your vet. Many things factor into what your dog’s needs are, and every canine is different. High-carb diets and low-carb diets both have their place in the canine world but they’re not for every dog. Remember to always consult with a vet before placing your dog on an extreme diet like low-carb or keto.