How Much Sugar Can Hurt a Dog?

How many of us can resist the tantalizing sweetness of sugar? This irresistible ingredient has become an everyday part of human food and way of life, so much so that it transcends the boundaries into dog food. That's right — did you know that various forms of sugar lurk behind many dog foods, especially kibble and treats?

In general, dogs should not eat sugar. Dogs can consume foods with naturally occurring sugars, like fruits and vegetables, but dog owners should avoid feeding their pets food products containing added sugar. Semi-regular sugar consumption can cause weight gain and impact various organs and metabolic processes.

Should Dogs Eat Sugar?

No is the answer: with 25-30% of the canine population battling obesity — the percentage is higher (i.e., 40-45%) in senior dogs — and 1 in 500 dogs living with type II diabetes, too much sugar will wreak havoc in a dog's body. Processed foods, treats, snacks — they're all riddled with sugar types the canine body could do without. Of course, not all sugars are harmful to dogs; complex carbohydrates, for example, provide a healthy energy boost and aid a dog's digestive system. But others, like simple carbohydrates, will only provide a short-lived energy nudge at the expense of a higher blood sugar spike.

Today's discussion on proper sugar consumption will provide pet parents with all the necessary tools to provide good nutrition to their dogs. We will touch upon the different types of sugar, their functions, pros and cons, and how a raw diet will help cut down on the excessive amounts of sugar found in kibble and other dog foods.

Dogs Can Use Naturally Occurring Sugars

Dogs can consume foods with natural sugars, such as watermelon and blueberries. The amount of sugar in fruit is generally moderate, and fruits contain water and fiber, which help slow the body’s absorption of fruit sugars like fructose. In addition, as with humans, dogs benefit from the various micronutrients found in fruits and vegetables.

Like humans, dogs need an appropriate amount and type of carbohydrates to support the healthy functioning of their bodies. However, too many carbs and products with added sugar will quickly unbalance their organ systems, leading to various health problems.

A natural diet rich in the appropriate amount and type of complex carbohydrates will keep the glycemic load low and reduce the risk of weight gain and diabetes. But conversely, heavily processed foods and dog treats will upset the body system’s balance and open the floodgates for numerous health problems.

By this point, we've learned that sugar can be both friend and foe to our canine friends. But how do we tell between helpful and harmful types of sugar?

Too much sugar will mess up your dog's system.

Simple Carbs Are Not Good for Your Dog

Simple carbohydrates — or monosaccharides — are the energy-boosting chemical compounds found in so many of our daily foods, such as white rice, pasta, white flour, and even fruit and dairy products. They are quick and easy to metabolize, making them ideal for a much-needed burst of energy. Think about all the times you had or craved a Coke after an intense workout!

Simple carbs might give your dog the push they need to get through the day, but at a cost. Weight gain, diabetes, and even the proliferation of cancer are associated with the overconsumption of simple carbohydrates.

Complex Carbs Are Your Dog's Friend

Complex carbohydrates — or polysaccharides — are a better choice of sugar if they have to have it. The chemical composition of complex carbohydrates makes them harder to digest, which is why complex carbs can also provide other benefits to the canine digestive system.

Excess Sugar Leads to a High Glycemic Index

Carbohydrates are the only foods that cause a quick spike in glucose and insulin secretion.

Blood sugar is elevated once the carbs are digested. Cooked carbohydrates are more quickly digested and therefore provide sugar faster. Important to note here that the speed of carbohydrate digestion is decreased if the food is high in protein and fat. If the glucose is released more slowly, then blood sugar won't spike, and insulin won't be released. The ability of a food to raise blood glucose is called its glycemic index. You can find the glycemic index of foods at glycemicindex.com, a site hosted by the University of Sydney. While the glycemic index is useful, the glycemic load of foods is much more useful.

Glycemic load is the glycemic index multiplied by the amount of sugar in a serving. This is a much better indication of how quickly blood glucose is raised, which better predicts insulin spikes. So let's understand that better: while fruits can have a high glycemic index, their glycemic load is low because they're relatively low in sugar and high in water.

A small, steady amount of carbohydrates in the diet won't necessarily reach a threshold that prompts the release of insulin, but once insulin is released, the body's fat stores will be affected. Apart from obesity, there are other issues associated with the glycemic load. And these issues are much more detrimental.

Foods such as lentils, chickpeas, and sweet potatoes fall at the low end of the glycemic index, whereas starch cereal and rice fall under high GI foods. Some of the factors influencing food's glycemic index are:

  • How processed the food is.
  • The type of starch used in food production.
  • The starch and fiber content.
  • Ripeness (in the case of fruit).
  • The body's ability to process the food.
  • The quickness and thoroughness of chewing and swallowing the food.
  • Fat/acid content.

The Fault in Feeding a Simple Carb-Rich Diet

Carbohydrates with a higher glycemic load are the preferred food source of many harmful bacteria. So dogs eating a diet high in carbohydrates will start to develop an imbalance of bacteria in the gut, with the harmful bacteria starting to outnumber the friendly bacteria. This imbalance of bacteria eventually will lead to gut dysbiosis, leading to a dysfunctional immune system. Therein lies the problem because we want friendly bacteria to manufacture many vitamins and minerals in the intestines. When an imbalance occurs, nutrition absorption decreases, and the dog gets less nutrition from their food. Additionally, when pathogenic bacteria are allowed to dominate the gut, the tissue becomes inflamed by substances called exotoxins and undigested proteins that can pass through the gut lining. This may lead to a condition called "leaky gut."

When leaky gut issues occur, inflammation in the gut causes the enterocytes (intestinal cells) to separate. This lets pathogens, bacteria, and undigested proteins (also called food antigens) enter the bloodstream inappropriately. When this happens, the immune system detects foreign matter and ramps up to attack and neutralize the antigens that aren't supposed to be in the bloodstream. This puts the immune system in perpetual overdrive and can overwhelm it.

A sweet tooth now can mean trouble down the road. Although it might offer a momentary boost in energy, simple carb-rich food will only throw your dog's internal system into disarray.

Xylitol and Other Artificial Sweeteners Are Especially Harmful to Dogs!

It's not just sugary foods you must be on the lookout for — artificial sweeteners hide in day-to-day products your dog might use! Excessive sugar levels create an acidic environment in the mouth, chipping away at the enamel of the teeth and causing tooth decay and dental disease. And the remedy may only make the problem worse!

Human toothpaste contains artificial sweeteners such as xylitol, which is also found in sugar-free gum and sugar-free peanut butter. Xylitol is highly poisonous in dogs — even small amounts of this artificial sweetener can cause lethargy, vomiting, gastric distress, hypoglycemia, and even liver failure. The health risks of xylitol can seriously jeopardize your dog's teeth, mouth, and overall health. Purchase only xylitol-free products to keep your dog's mouth free of cavities and their body free of artificial sweeteners.

Kibble is a real candy dish.

How About Hidden Sugars?

So, if we know that sugar is toxic to dogs in high quantities and that too many carbohydrates pose numerous health risks, why don't we cut them out of our dogs' food altogether? Easier said than done. Poor-quality natural sugars are so pervasive that eliminating them becomes a formidable task.

The majority of harmful sugars are found in dry dog foods. Kibble alone contains 30-60% carbohydrates, primarily starches — an authentic candy dish! Why do we have such an alarmingly high concentration of poor carbs in our dogs' food? For two reasons:

  1. A dog's digestive tract can process all sorts of chemical compounds, including poor carbs.
  2. Subpar energy sources like sugar are cheaper than fat and protein-rich foods.

Simple carbohydrates are not only cheap — they're fundamental to dry food processing. Dog foods like kibble require starches, alongside gums and gelling agents, in order to enjoy the structure and texture too many dogs become accustomed to.

Added Sugar Can Ruin a Well-Balanced Diet: Treats

Rethinking your dog's diet in a way that satisfies their dietary needs is only half the battle. Aside from staying true to the natural diet, dog parents must reconsider the sugary treats their dogs have gotten so used to. Commercial treats pose a dilemma: they can be harmful when fed often, yet dogs love them so much that they sometimes see treats as a replacement for actual food! Treats have a place in any dog's diet unless they bring no nutritional value to the table.

At the same time, you might be thinking: but my dog deserves a special treat on their birthday, don't they? That's the thought process of dog parents who feed a 3-pound cake riddled with dyes and nocive chemicals to a 10-pound Chihuahua — a load of poor-quality nutrients with no practical purpose. Instead of splashing out on a birthday cake, why not prepare a simple meat cake for your puppy? First, it's a meat cake, so your dog will not turn their nose up at it, second, they will not tell the difference, and third, you'll be feeding your dog actual healthy food rather than a sugar bomb loaded with carbs. Is your dog's birthday approaching? These recipes are sure to do the trick!

Your dog will love the meat cake as a gift!

Keep Poor-Quality Sugar Away From Your Dog's Diet!

It's time to curtail the poor nutrients of kibble and other commercial foods with a human-grade, non-GMO, all-natural diet for your dog! Poor-quality sugar has found its way into many of the commercial diets of our dogs, exacerbating an epidemic of obesity among the canine population. Switching to the Volhard Natural Diet will bring your dog's simple carb consumption and weight under control while ensuring their health and well-being for many years to come! For more advice on dog nutrition, health, and training, make sure that you contact us and check out our blog!


Volhard Dog Nutrition and its expert nutritionists are now offering online consultations to help more dog parents discover why, what, and how to feed their dogs the healthiest of foods! Speaking to a Volhard nutritionist will help you understand the inseparable relationship between healthy food, a healthy body, and a healthy mind. If you're interested in contacting one of our Volhard nutritionists, don't hesitate to access our consultation page!

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