The value of carbohydrates to a dog’s health and wellbeing is extremely misunderstood with carbohydrates being considered by many to be a cheap filler. This misconception has simply been driven by unfortunate marketing strategies which have been potentially detrimental to dogs’ overall health. The fact is carbohydrates are highly nutritious and beneficial to the health of your dog and have been a vital nutritional component throughout evolution. At Old Guard Pet Company, we include a mix of wholesome “ancient” grains, fiber sources, and prebiotics within our premium recipes. In this blog we will walk you through the scientific, fact-based benefits of carbohydrates for dogs and why they are critical to your dog’s health.
Let’s Start by Clarifying the Definition: What Are Carbohydrates?
Carbohydrates are the main source of energy for dogs and play several important roles in dog food. Carbohydrates are mostly found in plant/vegetable sources and can be divided into two groups, simple or complex. Simple carbohydrates or sugars, like glucose, are readily digested and absorbed by the dog with the brain and red blood cells being solely dependent on glucose to fulfill energy needs. Chains of simple sugars form complex carbohydrates and require digestion by enzymes (for more starch-based carbohydrates) or through fermentation or the breakdown (of more fibrous carbohydrates) by the microbes in the canine gut.
What Are Some of the Most Popular Types of Complex Carbs?
- Grains- Corn, wheat, rice (brown/white), oats, millet.
- Starches- Potato, Sweet Potato
- Legumes/Pulses- Peas, Lentils, Pinto Beans, Chickpeas
- Fibers- Beet Pulp, Cellulose, Psyllium Seed Husk, Wheat Bran, Tomato Pomace
Carbohydrates Are Classified as Having a High and Low Glycemic Index
The glycemic index is a measure of the effects of carbohydrates on blood sugar levels.
High Glycemic Index: Carbohydrates that are quickly digested and metabolized and rapidly release large amounts of glucose into the bloodstream. (Ex: white rice).
Low Glycemic Index: Carbohydrates that break down more slowly, release low amounts of glucose, and are gradually released into the bloodstream have a low glycemic index (Ex: brown rice has a lower glycemic index vs. white).
Depending on a dog’s energy needs, age, body condition, and other variables, it is important to balance and tailor diets and the carbohydrate sources used. For instance, puppies or gestating females can benefit from higher glycemic carbohydrates while overweight dogs might benefit from lower glycemic carbohydrates.
What Are the Main Health Benefits of Carbohydrates in Dog Food?
Energy: Carbohydrates provide a readily available source of energy for dogs. They are broken down into glucose, which is then used by the body to fuel various essential metabolic processes including physical activity and maintaining bodily functions. Glucose is the only usable energy source for the brain and red blood cells.
Synthesis & Metabolism: Required for the synthesis of steroid hormones and fatty acids in the dog’s body which is essential for a variety of metabolic processes.
Digestive Health: Some carbohydrates, specifically dietary fiber like beet pulp, are essential for supporting a healthy digestive tract and microbial population of the gut. Fiber helps to regulate bowel movements and can aid in weight management through gastric emptying time and satiety.
Nutrient Balance: Including carbohydrates in dog food helps to create a balanced diet, ensuring that dogs receive an appropriate mix of vitamins and minerals with each bite of kibble. This is especially important for maintaining overall health and preventing nutrient deficiencies.
Palatability: Carbohydrates can improve the taste and texture of dog food, making it more appealing to pets. This can be particularly important for picky eaters or dogs with reduced appetites due to medical conditions or age.
Texture & Oral Health: The inclusion of carbohydrates is essential for cooking kibble. The final kibble texture or “crunchiness” can help improve oral health by cleaning the teeth during chewing.
Natural Nutrient Content: Carbohydrates, like grains, are a natural source of essential nutrients including antioxidants, essential fatty acids (both omega-3 and omega-6), vitamins, and minerals.
Carbohydrates Are A Highly Valuable Source of Premium Nutrition for Dogs. Decades of Research Proves It.
When designing our recipes at Old Guard Pet Company, we look at the dogs’ needs first. We leverage premium ingredients, for their nutrient content, with a history of safety, science-backed health benefits, and those that are appropriate for our dogs, not wolves or humans.
For Old Guard, that means including:
- A mix of wholesome or “ancient” grains, defined as those that have remained largely unchanged throughout time, in our diets. The grains we select are digestible, have balanced glycemic indexes, have historical data supporting their nutritional value, and metabolize efficiently.
- We include beet pulp as a fiber source in our diets. Beet pulp is one of the most researched fiber sources for dogs, has been included in dog diets since the 90s to improve stool quality, and has a history of proven safety and health benefits. To our knowledge, no other fiber source for dogs has such a wealth of science supporting a health benefit for dogs.
- Cellulose has a similar history of use for dogs and science proves its benefit on digestion and stool quality. Cellulose is an insoluble fiber, ideal for large breeds of dogs with more sensitive digestive systems.
In summary, at Old Guard, we will not shy away from ingredients that are not “trendy.” We will stand strong and do what is right for the dog’s health. That means selecting quality ingredients, with a rich history of science supporting their benefit on dogs’ health. That means creating diets with grains and fibers when it is beneficial for the dog. For each custom recipe, carbohydrate level, and type are tailored to the specific needs of a dog as dictated by the dog’s age, size, and activity. Our diets are appropriately customized to address these nutritional differences and ensure each bite is nutritious, digestible, and balanced and working to improve your dog’s health.
Carciofi, A. C., Takakura, F. S., De‐Oliveira, L. D., Teshima, E., Jeremias, J. T., Brunetto, M. A., & Prada, F. (2008). Effects of six carbohydrate sources on dog diet digestibility and post‐prandial glucose and insulin response. Journal of Animal Physiology and Animal Nutrition, 92(3), 326-336.
Di Cerbo, A., Morales-Medina, J. C., Palmieri, B., Pezzuto, F., Cocco, R., Flores, G., & Iannitti, T. (2017). Functional foods in pet nutrition: Focus on dogs and cats. Research in veterinary science, 112, 161-166.
Fahey Jr, G. C., Merchen, N. R., Corbin, J. E., Hamilton, A. K., Serbe, K. A., Lewis, S. M., & Hirakawa, D. A. (1990). Dietary fiber for dogs: I. Effects of graded levels of dietary beet pulp on nutrient intake, digestibility, metabolizable energy and digesta mean retention time. Journal of animal science, 68(12), 4221-4228.
Rankovic, A., Adolphe, J. L., & Verbrugghe, A. (2019). Role of carbohydrates in the health of dogs. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 255(5), 546-554.
Five Dog Food Nutrition Secrets From a PhD
With so much information floating around out there on dog nutrition, how can you be sure you have the facts? In this guide, Founder Maggie Gooding, PhD, in Animal Nutrition and Behavior, with over a decade experience in R&D working on some of the largest pet food brands share five nutrition secrets to help your dog live a longer healthier life.
Get the inside scoop on:
- Energy Balance
- Weight Control
- Dog Eating Habits
- Fibers and Fillers
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