Carbohydrates Contributing to Canine Disease

Are you struggling to help your dog lose weight? Leave his allergies in the dust? Manage her diabetes? Find relief from arthritis?

Leading nutritionists say that carbohydrates in processed dog foods are causing a rise in pet obesity, among other diseases.

Do you know how many carbs are in your dog’s food?


The Hidden Carbohydrates in Your Dog’s Food

Most likely, you won’t find the word ‘sugar’ on your dog food ingredient list. Most pet owners are aware enough of the negative health effects of consistent sugar intake on humans to know that their dogs don’t need it either. Instead, the culprits include all grains, potatoes, soy, rice, and peas – the dominating ingredients for kibble dog foods and some canned foods as well.

Similarly, pet food manufacturers don’t actually put the carbohydrate content of their dog food on the guaranteed analysis, but they can’t make their kibble by extrusiona heated and pressurized process that cooks and then shapes the dough by forcing it through a die-cut, which requires a dough with 40% starch to expand the mixture without a minimum 40% starchy carbohydrates.

Even so, you can use the guaranteed analysis to can find the carbohydrate percentage of your dog food easily. Just follow this equation, inserting the percentages on your dog food’s guaranteed analysis.

how to find the carbohydrate percentage of a dog food using the guaranteed analysis


Here’s an example using some average commercial dry food nutrient percentages.

“Adult Dog Food”

Crude Protein, minimum … 25%
Crude Fat, Minimum … 13%
Crude Fiber, maximum … 4%
Moisture, maximum … 10%

Carb % Formula: 100 – 25 (protein) – 13 (fat) – 8 (average ash content) – 10 (moisture) = 40% Carbohydrates

Does the amount of carbohydrate in our dog’s food surprise you? Considering that most of those carbohydrates turn into sugar upon digestion, that’s a lot of sugar in your dog’s diet.


Canine Carbohydrate Digestion – How Carbs Cause Weight Gain in Dogs

Carbohydrates include starch, sugar, and fiber. Soluble carbohydrate refers to the combination of starch and sugar minus fiber.

Starch and sugar are digested by the enzyme amylase, and fiber is digested by cellulase and bacteria in the gut. Although only a little fiber is actually digestible to dogs, it still plays a very important role in gut health. Although only a little fiber is actually digestible to dogs, it still plays a very important role in gut health.

Since fiber is mostly indigestible, it actually slows the digestion of sugars, and thus the rise of insulin, and promotes regular bowel movements. Due to this effect, we do not count fiber as sugar when calculating the carbohydrate percentage of a dog food.

Sugar digestion rapidly raises insulin levels in the bloodstream in response to raised blood sugar levels. Insulin then moves the sugars to muscle and fat cells for energy. Muscle cells eventually run out of storage space (most quickly in inactive dogs) but fat cells never stop storing up excess energy.

That insulin is your dog’s only hormone for lowering blood sugar. On the opposite hand, he has eight hormones for raising blood sugar.

“They are much better prepared to raise blood sugar when carbohydrate is scarce, than they are to lower it when excess carbohydrate is consumed. And this makes sense because in nature, there aren’t that many sources of starch.” 

An elevated insulin level aids weight gain and can turn off weight loss in dogs (and humans).

“Insulin doesn’t just move sugar, or glucose, out of the blood. Insulin also helps convert glucose into fat and store it in the body. Not only that, but its activation will cause the body to stop breaking down and mobilizing fat stores.”

Carbohydrate Impact in Dogs

Animal nutritionist Richard S. Patton Ph.D. wrote extensively about excess soluble carbohydrate in today’s canine diet in his book Ruined By Excess Perfected By Lack. In Chapter 3 The Primordial Diet he said:

“It is old news that excess carbohydrate is a component of obesity. Some clear thinking professionals have been saying this for years now.” (50-51)

Patton compared the soluble carbohydrate of foods found in a dog’s instinctive diet to the soluble carbohydrate of today’s grains and dry dog foods to illustrate the extreme differences.

He found that most foods in a wild dog’s diet (meat and fish, nuts, insects, fruits, milk, and vegetables) contained a range of just 1-8% soluble carbohydrate.

In comparison, we know that most dry dog foods average 40% carbohydrates. These carbohydrates usually come from grains like corn, barley, and wheat, or in “grain free” dog foods rice, peas, and potatoes. Patton pointed out that these farmed crops wouldn’t be part of a wild dog’s diet.

This chart shows the average nutrient percentages of the wild game and vegetables found in a natural diet, compared to the commercial canned and dry diets we give dogs today. There is a wide difference between all the nutrient percentages in wild game and commercial products.

dogs, dog food, nutrient comparison, water, protein, fat, carbohydrate, greg Martinez DVM


With the inclusion of these starchy grains and commercial dog foods (especially kibble) our dogs are struggling more with unhealthy weight and increased disease.

Carbohydrates don’t only get the hammer for causing obesity. Excess consumption of starchy carbohydrates causes inflammation in the dog’s gut leading to increased sensitivities, intolerances, allergies, leaky gut syndrome, yeast and bacterial skin infections and decreased immune function.


Reduce Carbohydrates for Canine Weight Loss

One of the biggest benefits of making your dog’s diet similar to the prey model diet is the ability to reduce carbohydrates by feeding low-carb ingredients.

Carbohydrates are an energy source dogs aren’t well equipped to use consistently because carbohydrates are rare in the wild. They have the design to use carbohydrates in small amounts on occasion for survival, but not for normal. 

This is why dogs are called facultative carnivores, or adaptive carnivores. While they are best able to use a carnivorous diet, they have the ability to adapt for periods of time to an omnivorous diet for when food is scarce.

“Although they differ somewhat from cats, dogs should be considered carnivores based on their dentition, as well as the length of their canine teeth. A dog’s teeth reflect the mechanics of the ripping and tearing of food. They also possess a shortened gastrointestinal tract, versus the longer GI tract of an omnivore or herbivore. In addition, dogs don’t have amylase, an enzyme that breaks down sugars, in their saliva, like an omnivore and herbivore would have. The relative inability to convert plant based sources of Omega-3 fatty acids into EPA and DHA is also a strong indication of carnivore status.”

Dr. Chris Bessent

That said, reducing carbohydrates allows your dog’s body to focus on nutrients he more easily digests and uses for energy. This really is an interesting science because all the different nutrients work together so well when in the right combinations.


Use Fats to Boost Metabolism

Fats are super energy dense, providing twice the energy of carbohydrates or protein. Researchers have found that dogs can consume up to 82% of their diet in fat. When dogs consume adequate amounts of fat, their requirement for protein is lowered, and their nutrient requirement for carbohydrates is little to none!

If you want to rev up your dog’s metabolism and encourage his body to dip into those stores of extra energy (fat) don’t be afraid to cut back those carbs and increase the fat. Speaking of which…

Considering Calories From Fat

“And because fat contains more calories per gram than both proteins and carbohydrates, it’s been historically assumed that fat in the diet is the cause of obesity.”

Commercial diets for “weight management” usually either cut back the fat or increase the fiber. The idea is that decreasing fat reduces calories, and adding fiber speeds the passage of food through the digestive system so that less of the calories are digested. Neither method reduces carbohydrates and may actually increase the total carbohydrate of the food.

Increasing fat (and decreasing carbs) will actually give your dog a metabolic boost. Healthy fat sources like Coconut Oil have lots of medium chains fatty acids that boost metabolism. Boosting your dog’s metabolism will help him lose weight by better using the energy from his food. Carbohydrates can’t do this like healthy fats do.


Simple Solutions!

Research conducted by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP) found that approximately 54 percent of dogs were overweight or obese in 2015.

If your pet is obese he is at risk for type 2 diabetes, osteoarthritis, high blood pressure, many forms of cancer and a decreased life-span.

If your dog is overweight, the first thing to do is find a way to reduce or eliminate the carbohydrates in your dog’s diet. Here are a few ideas.

Add Sardines. When asked what one thing pet owners could add to their dog’s food to make it healthier, dog food formulator Steve Brown said “Sardines”. He says that sardines add the healthy fats EPA and DHA, trace minerals, manganese, iodine, zinc, copper, and other nutrients that might not be in dry dog foods.
For a 40 pound dog: Use a quarter of a can of sardines (canned in water or olive oil, you don’t want soy oil) to replace a fourth of your dog’s food. This will reduce carbohydrates and increase vitamins missing in kibble because of heat processing. Decrease or increase the amount by the weight of your dog.

Eggs. The same principle as the sardines, scoop out a portion of your dog’s food and replace it with eggs. Scrambled, fried, boiled or raw (from pasture-raised hens) are all acceptable. Eggs will boost your dog’s protein intake by 100% as well as provide every nutrient necessary for life except vitamin K (easily supplemented with leafy greens but also produced in your dog’s gut).


Make Informed Diet Decisions

Make One Meal A Day. Instead of feeding two kibble meals, make one meal for your dog yourself. This reduces the carbohydrate intake of your dog and reduces the cost of making homemade food. For balanced homemade recipes check out our Homemade Dog Food Resources list.

Switch to A Low-Carb Food. The only way to do this is to eliminate kibble completely. Pick a few homemade recipes whether raw or cooked and make them up in bulk for each week for ease of feeding later, or buy a pre-made commercial raw diet. Alternately, you could choose a dehydrated or freeze dried food, or look for a local fresh dog food company that will ship frozen or deliver to your door! The options are really opening up for informed pet owners.



For Satisfied Dogs! 

 – Cassy Kay


dogs, dog food, homemade dog food, resources




A Dr. Karen Becker, One Easy Solution for Your Pet’s Digestive Woes,

B Mike Sagman, blogger of

Scott, Dana. “Why Your Dog Needs More Meat (and fewer carbohydrates)” Web. Accessed March 18, 2018.

Scott, Dana. “How Hidden Sugars In Your Dog’s Food Is Making Him Sick” dogsnaturallymagazinecom. Web. Accessed March 18, 2018.

Bessent, Dr. Chris. “The Great Debate: Omnivore or Carnivore?” Accessed March 18, 2018.

Habib, Rodney. “A Tablespoon of This can make any bowl of pet food better!” June 24, 3016. Web. Accessed March 18, 2018.


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