The role of carbohydrates in a balanced doggy diet

As humans, carbohydrates are a staple part of our diets. Seriously, where would we find joy if not in the bottom of a gigantic bowl of pasta or loaf of fresh bread? But, unlike us, dogs have a different relationship with carbs.

Let’s start by saying that carbohydrates can be utilised by dogs in positive ways. When they’re getting the right amount, that is. Just like fats and sugars. Acting as a source of glucose, carbs give your pup energy, a source of heat when metabolised, and can be building blocks for other valuable nutrients.

But – and this is a Swagwags catchphrase – not all dogs are created equal. They’ve come a long way since they were wolves, and different breeds will have varying tolerances for carbs. It’s not realistic for them to survive on a diet of protein and fat alone when they’re used to carbs.

And sure, if you raised them from a puppy with a diet that had absolutely no carbs, maybe this would be a different story. That’s not the case, though. It isn’t as simple as cutting out the carbs. Their digestive system isn’t going to appreciate losing that so suddenly.

The issue is when dog foods stuff them full of carbs. It’s no wonder the industry has such a bad rap. Foods are overloaded with them because they’re cheaper than high-quality protein. But it’s well beyond what a dog actually needs. And this is where it becomes problematic.

Too much of a good thing

Unlike us humans, pups don’t produce amylase in their saliva – an enzyme responsible for breaking down starch (or carbs). So, when faced with foods that are high in carbs, their digestive system can suffer, unable to adequately break down the food. And this can result in issues like obesity, diabetes, or cancer over time. 

Dogs do, however, produce smaller amounts of amylase in their pancreas, which is why a tiny amount of carbohydrates can be beneficial in their diet to top up their energy.

Simple versus complex carbohydrates

An important distinction to make is between simple and complex carbohydrates.

‘Simple’ carbohydrates are the sugars found in many cheap, highly refined grains, some fruits, and dairy products. They are broken down into monosaccharides and disaccharides (sucrose and glucose), metabolised quickly, and become a source of short-term energy. These foods are the ones that trigger a sudden spike in blood glucose and energy levels.

Complex carbohydrates, however, are more – you guessed it – complex (and tend to be healthier). Also known as polysaccharides, they provide slow-release energy, help with digestion, maintain the immune and nervous systems, and regulate metabolic function. They can be categorised as either starches or fibre.  

While starches – such as potatoes, beans, and peas – are broken down by enzymes, fibre – found in fruits, vegetables, nuts, and grains – is resistant to enzymatic digestion, hence why they come out instead as waste.

Carbohydrates 2

Glycemic index

A pooch’s glycemic index is important when determining whether carbs are good or bad for them. A high glycemic index suggests a food will break down quickly in the body as a simple carb. Whereas foods with a low glycemic index will be broken down more slowly as a complex carb. As an example, white bread has a GI of 100, while broccoli only 15. 

The issue with a lot of commercial dog food is that they’re laden with too many high glycemic foods like rice, white potatoes, and wheat. And, as a result, they put a lot of pressure on your pup’s digestive system.

A balanced doggy diet

Now that we’ve covered the basics, I wanted to touch a little on the topic of balanced diets overall.

Wouldn’t it be lovely if all dog foods were created equal? If you could stroll down the pet aisle of your supermarket and trust that any food you picked would arm your pooch with all the necessary nutrients?

Unfortunately, we’re not there yet. And it’s up to us as pawrents to ensure our pups are eating a healthy, balanced diet.

The six basic nutrients for their health are water, fats, proteins, carbohydrates, minerals, and vitamins. 

There are recommendations out there for how these should be split. For example, the minimum dietary protein requirement for a growing dog is 18% dry matter, and 8% for an adult. But these are only generalisations. And what your gorgeous pooch needs to thrive will likely be very different from any other dog out there. 

Factors such as their growth, reproduction, age, health conditions, activity level, and breed will all impact their diet. So instead of trying to find that one-size-fits-all approach, we believe pawrents should focus instead on their pup’s individual needs.

By building a more thorough understanding of how different food groups impact doggo health, you can build a clearer picture of what keeps your doggo at their best. With that info, you can scrutinise any treat and food labels and make sure they don’t have any allergies ruining their meals. Doesn’t that sound amazing?

We’re huge advocates for informed pawrenting over here at Swagwags. Which is why our complete, natural recipes leave out all the guesswork when it comes to your pup’s nutrition. And, armed with the results of one of our sensitivity tests, you can get the bigger picture of what your pooch needs (or needs to avoid) in order to thrive.