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What Percentage of a Dog's Diet Should be Carbohydrates?


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Feeding your dog the appropriate diet is a fundamental part of raising a healthy dog. Pet parents know that their canine charges need exercise, obedience training, positive affirmation and praise, and nutritious food. It’s essential to know that you can’t pick up any bag of dog food off the shelf and assume that it is manufactured with everything your dog needs. A lot goes into making good quality commercial dog food, and scientists and producers work together to formulate the best food possible.

The three macronutrients required to make up the typical diet are protein, fats, and carbohydrates, all 3 of them being essential to good health.

What makes dog food nutritional?

  • Water
  • Carbohydrates
  • Fat
  • Protein
  • Vitamins and minerals

Let’s look at your dog’s carbohydrate needs.

What are carbohydrates?

Carbohydrates are the macronutrient that gives your dog energy. Carbs provide your dog with the spunk they need to go about their day with vigor and loveable enthusiasm. 

The starches, sugars, and fiber in carbs work together to provide energy in the form of glucose. 

Sugars and starches: These are digestible carbs that give vitality to your precious pooch.

Fiber: Fiber is crucial to keep your dog’s digestive system functioning as it should. 

As long as your four-legger is fed a balanced diet (including proteins and fats), carbohydrates will do their job. Protein is essential as a muscle-building nutrient, fats support cell growth, and carbohydrates are the main source of energy.

What percentage of a dog’s diet should be carbohydrates?

While it’s commonly said that dogs with an active lifestyle should be on a diet of about 20% carbohydrates, the appropriate amount is really determined by your dog’s lifestyle and characteristics. 

Considerations when choosing dog food and carbohydrate content

Reading the ingredients on the dog food bag is important. Along with that, though, are other factors:

  • What age is your dog? Do they need puppy food, nourishment for a middle-aged dog, or a senior diet?
  • Does your dog have any medical conditions that may affect the type of food they require?
  • What is the gender of your dog?
  • Is your dog spayed or neutered? 
  • How active is your pooch? An athletic dog will need a different diet than a couch potato.

The activity level of your dog plays a big part. Dogs who do intensive hiking, day-long agility competitions, sprinting sports like flyball, and energy-sapping tracking and rescue work will need fast-burning carbohydrates. A dog who’d rather spend days lounging by the pool will require fewer carbs. 

To note, the AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials) does not have a carbohydrate requirement for dogs. Commercial dog foods will normally contain anywhere between 30% and 60% carbohydrates. The higher-end carbohydrate-containing foods may include more fiber (which is a form of carbs) to manage conditions like weight management and diabetes. 

Fibers from carbohydrates

Soluble fiber: In dog food, soluble fiber comes from sources like fruits, seeds, and plants, with the function of softening stools.

Insoluble fiber: This typically comes from grains and increases the bulk of stools.

Energy from carbohydrates

The energy from carbs and the energy from proteins and fats is different. Carbohydrates are simple and break down easily into glucose for energy. The canine body uses the carb energy first, before seeking it elsewhere. 

With protein, the process goes through three stages. First, the body processes the protein into peptides. Then the peptides are broken down into amino acids. Finally, the glucose for energy is made. It’s a long process, and that is why carbs are useful as a source of energy.

What else do carbohydrates do?

Besides providing energy, carbs give the beneficial fiber mentioned above. Fiber helps to regulate bacteria in the colon and works to keep your dog feeling full. It helps the digestive process, too.

Carbohydrates give kibble texture and make the dog food palatable. The starch also plays a part in getting rid of tartar by giving the food its structure.

Carbohydrates you may see on the dog food label:

  • Whole corn
  • Millet
  • Potatoes and sweet potatoes
  • Brown rice
  • Oats
  • Barley
  • Fruits

If you're concerned about what dog food will be most beneficial for your pooch, consult your vet to talk about it. The two of you can decide which food fits, taking carbohydrate content and your dog’s lifestyle and health into account. Together you will determine what percentage of carbohydrates your dog needs.

A high-quality diet is essential for keeping your dog happy and healthy. Digestive problems and food allergies can be expensive to treat. Compare pet health insurance plans to save more than $270 a year on vet care.

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