Do dogs need carbohydrates?


Dr Jennifer Adolphe
Although carbohydrates are not considered essential nutrients in the diets of dogs, and are often considered fillers, carbs do play critical roles in your dog’s body. In particular, carbohydrates provide a highly digestible, readily available energy source.
Carbohydrates perform many important functions in dogs. During digestion carbohydrates are broken down to glucose, the preferred source of energy for certain body cells, including the brain. In addition, the consumption of carbohydrates allows protein to be spared for producing and maintaining body tissue, rather than being used for energy production. In humans, some digestion of  carbohydrates begins in the mouth. Dogs have limited amounts of this oral enzyme, so carbohydrates are mostly broken down in the small intestine. Including carbohydrates in pet foods allows more flexibility to create recipes with different nutrient values. This is important for animals requiring less protein or fat in the diet, or for pets requiring specific mineral levels due to a health condition. All dog foods contain a balance of carbohydrates, fats and protein. As an example, ecreasing the amount of carbohydrate in a food will increase the fat and/or protein content. Dietary fibre is a unique type of carbohydrate that cannot be digested by a dog’s enzymes. However, it has many benefits. Fibre can help with weight management, improve digestive health and aid in the control of blood glucose levels. The shape, texture and density of kibble is dependent on the carbohydrate (starch) content of the food. This is very important, as mouth feel and the structure of the kibble help to determine palatability, particularly for small breed dogs. Grains are a common source of carbohydrates in dog foods. Examples of grains include oats, barley, rye, corn, rice and wheat. Non-grain carbohydrate sources include pulses (peas, lentils, beans, chickpeas), potato, sweet potato and tapioca.
(Dr Jennifer Adolphe is Senior Nutritionist at Petcurean. She graduated with a rare and coveted PhD in companion animal nutrition from the University of Saskatchewan. She previously completed a master’s degree in human nutrition and is a registered dietician with the College of Dietitians of British Columbia, and is the recipient of more than 20 awards and scholarships for her academic work)