4 Reasons Why Sugar Is Bad For Your DogAdded sugars can cause a host of issues for dogs, from dental problems and diabetes to sugar addiction and obesity. Let’s examine these health risks, one by one.
1. Sugar Is Linked to Weight Gain and Obesity in DogsWeight gain and obesity is on the rise among pets. According to an annual survey by the Association of Pet Obesity Prevention, 56% of dogs were either overweight or obese in 2018. Veterinarians are echoing this. Banfield Pet Hospital, the nation’s largest provider of preventive vet medicine, reported that more than 50% of their canine patients were overweight or obese. A lack of exercise is certainly a part of this problem, as is overfeeding. But dog foods and treats containing sugar, which can create a powerful addiction, make it hard for pet owners to correct it. Addicts (human or canine) want more of what makes them feel good. If a sugary food or treat makes your dog feel wonderful, they’re going to beg for more, and few owners can resist a pleading dog with big, sad eyes. Before you know it, you may be looking up weight loss plans for your dog.
If your dog is overweight or obeseTo combat weight gain or obesity, choose dog foods without any added sugar and gradually transition over the course of a few weeks. (We recommend trying something from The Honest Kitchen’s nutritious dog food lineup.) Don't be surprised if your dog is initially un-excited about the change — that’s the sugar addiction coming into play. You can give them some snacks without added sugar to ease the switch. Small tidbits of cooked chicken, an apple slice, pieces of carrots, a few blueberries or a strawberry are all good treats. Also, increase your dog’s daily exercise. If your dog is obese, talk to your veterinarian first and work up a plan, beginning gradually so your dog doesn’t hurt themselves.
2. Obesity Is a Leading Cause of Dog DiabetesThe relationship is clear: Too much sugar can lead to obesity, and obesity is one of the leading causes of pet diabetes. According to VetSource, 1 in every 300 dogs will develop diabetes, a number that’s already far too high. Although Type I diabetes is the most common type of diabetes in dogs, it’s Type II that’s most closely related to weight issues. Type II diabetes, or insulin-resistance diabetes, occurs when hormones in the dog’s body prevent insulin from functioning correctly. These problematic hormones can be produced by excess body fat, which is why it’s so common with overweight and obese dogs. In other words, added sugar can lead to lifelong health challenges for your dog, so stay on guard. Learn more with our guide to recognizing and caring for diabetic dogs.
3. Sugar and Sweeteners Can Be Toxic to DogsWhile most added sugars and sweeteners should simply be avoided or eaten in moderation, some have negative side effects or are downright toxic to dogs. Xylitol is one of the most dangerous sugars for dogs. It’s a sugar alcohol derived from plants, including the birch tree. It’s very sweet and has dental benefits for humans, so it's often used in “sugar-free” toothpastes, mouthwashes, gum, nut butters, hard candies, and baked goods. People can metabolize xylitol well, but it’s extremely toxic to dogs. These facts are fairly well known, so xylitol generally isn’t added to dog foods and treats. As a pet owner, however, you should check for xylitol before offering any human foods to your dog. Learn the signs of toxic exposure in dogs so you’re prepared for anything.
4. Sugar May Lead to Dental DamageDental disease is all too common, affecting as many as 80% of dogs and 70% of cats by their third birthday. While canine cavities and tooth decay are rare, you’ve still got to keep a close on eye on your dog’s oral health. Dogs can run into a whole host of dental problems due to overconsumption of sugar. Bacteria in your dog’s mouth can feed on the sugar and weaken their tooth enamel, doing serious damage. Something as common as plaque and tartar build-up can lead to more significant health problems very quickly. So, it’s important that you reduce added sugars and invest in your dog’s oral health. We recommend brushing your dog’s teeth on a daily or weekly basis. Dental chews or dog chews like The Honest Kitchen’s Beams scrape build-up off your dog’s teeth and massage their gums, creating clean, pearly whites.
Why Dog Foods and Treats Often Contain SugarYou may be surprised to learn that many dog foods contain added sugar. We don’t exactly think “sweet” when we hear “dog food.” But sugar in food can mask the bitter taste of poor-quality ingredients, make the food more palatable, and improve the texture of the food. It smoothes over tastes and smells your dog might otherwise avoid, including less than stellar ingredients like animal by-products, fillers, chemicals, preservatives, and other additives. For some dog food manufacturers, the main reason that sugar is added is that it creates an addiction to their particular brand of food. After all, if your dog wants to eat one brand of food — and only that brand — then you’ll buy it over and over again. Plus, when dogs become addicted to dog foods containing sugar, it can be difficult to convince them to eat a healthier food. The same goes for dog treats, food toppers, and even dog chews.
Identifying Sugars in the Ingredient List
©istockphoto/monkeybusinessimagesWhen reading the ingredient list on dog food and treats, it can be challenging to figure out which ones are sugars. The word “sugar” usually applies to cane sugar, but may also include sucrose, caramel, corn syrup, and other forms of sugar. Here are some other terms you may encounter on dog food labels:
- Fructose is very sweet and derived from fruits.
- Sorbitol is sugar alcohol derived from fruits, but it can also be created synthetically.
- Beet pulp is the by-product of sugar production from sugar beets.
- Honey and molasses are often described as healthier substitutes, both they’re both still sugars.