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Role of Carbohydrates in the Health of Dogs

Alexandra Rankovic, Jennifer L. Adolphe and Adronie Verbrugghe 2019


  • Like all animals, dogs have a metabolic requirement for glucose, which is easier to obtain from carbs, than protein
  • A wolf's overall diet can consist of 0-50 percent plant matter
  • Adaptation to a starch-rich diet was an important step in domestication
  • Dogs have a dietary requirement for carbohydrates during pregnancy and lactation
  • When given the choice, dogs will select a diet containing 7% energy from carbs, 30% from protein and 63% from fat
  • Including dietary fiber in the diet will reduce caloric density, slow digestion, and stabilize blood glucose levels, which may be helpful for weight loss and diabetes
  • Since cancerous cells use simple carbohydrates for energy, a diet low in simple carbohydrates is indicated for dogs with cancer
  • Reactions to proteins (not carbs) in wheat or soy may be responsible for ~20% of adverse food reactions in dogs


Health has become one of the most important factors for dog owners when choosing a diet for their pets. This growing consciousness in health has resulted in a large number of pet foods that boast various claims. Often, these claims mimic trends in human nutrition. Low-carbohydrate, high-protein diets have become increasingly popular for both humans and pets. An increasing number of pet owners believe that dietary carbohydrates are unnecessary and may even be harmful. Obesity, diabetes mellitus, cancer, adverse food reactions, and gastrointestinal diseases are common medical concerns for dogs. Diet, and carbohydrates in particular, plays an important role in the treatment of these conditions. The intent of the information reported here is to provide an overview of dietary carbohydrates in canine nutrition and examine the role of dietary carbohydrates in the treatment of obesity, diabetes mellitus, cancer, and adverse food reactions in dogs. The role of carbohydrates in gastrointestinal health has been reviewed elsewhere.

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