Do Dogs Need Carbs?

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Having a fit and healthy dog requires a combination of proper exercise and proper feeding. Because dogs are decedents of carnivores, most dogs are well suited for high protein, high fat diets. While dogs can tolerate carbohydrates, the way that their bodies utilize macronutrients for energy is different than the way humans do.


Like with humans, active canines and canine athletes require more energy and precise macro nutrient profiles. One dietary strategy that is used by human athletes is to “carb load” before an event or intense training session to ensure that their bodies are properly fueled to withstand the activity. This is a popular strategy for marathons and triathlons, two endurance sports that require the athlete’s body to be properly fueled to avoid “running out of steam”. The question is, will this strategy work for dogs?
puppy chefs


Carbohydrates or Fat as a Canine Fuel Source

It turns out that for aerobic activities (activities that last more than 30-60 seconds or so), fats are the preferred source of energy for canines. A dog’s body is adapted for aerobic (endurance) exercise and using fat as the primary energy source for such activities. Whereas human bodies tend to use carbohydrates as the primary source of energy followed by fats and then protein, dog bodies will first use fat as the primary energy source, followed by carbohydrates and then protein.


As reported in “Nutrition and Care of the Sporting Dog” by Eukanuba, unlike a human, a dog derives approximately 70–90% of the energy for muscle contraction from fat metabolism and only a small amount derived from carbohydrate metabolism. The Eukanuba report points to several studies that indicate the importance of fat in the fueling of the muscle contractions needed to perform exercise and other active tasks. In “Intramuscular energy sources in dogs during physical work”, D. G. Therriault, G. A. Beller, J. A. Smoake, and L. H. Hartley in the Journal of Lipid Research (1973) the authors conclude, among other things, that lipid is the major fuel supply for muscle contraction in dogs.


Creating a Diet for Active Dogs

If your dog is active or participates in a sport like agility, diving, or flyball, consider increasing the dog’s dietary fat content. You can search the SlimDoggy food database to find foods that are higher in fat that also contain high quality ingredients. Of course, check with your vet before making major changed to your dog’s diet.
Dog Jumping Over Hurdle
If your dog is not active, there are still benefits to feeding them a diet with ample fat. In “Effect of diet on performance” by AJ Reynolds presented at the Iams Company Performance Dog Nutrition Symposium (1995), it was shown that sedentary dogs fed high fat diets were able to more effectively burn oxygen and thus, had more energy available to burn, which is far better than having that energy stored on the body as fat.


The bottom line is that while carbohydrates are not necessarily bad for dogs, their bodies are better suited for higher protein and fat diets. And because their bodies will use fat as a primary energy source, active and sporting dogs should be fed adequate amounts of fat to ensure that they have the energy they need.


References and further reading:


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  1. More great information! When we are training our dogs we feed them just a bit more to give them some extra calories since they are burning so many off. If we are training hard we will switch to a premium performance food to keep there weight at a good level for what they are doing. Have a great weekend.
    Sand Spring Chesapeakes recently posted…Thursday Barks And Bites~Blog Friends MeetMy Profile

    • Good thinking – they need that extra to stay fit!
      mkob recently posted…Do Dogs Need Carbs?My Profile

  2. Hi Y’all!

    Oh, I guess I don’t have to worry about my Humans givin’ me too many carbs since I’m stuck with the food the vet specified for me. Great info for the humans out there, as always.

    Y’all come by now,
    Hawk aka BrownDog
    Hawk aka BrownDog recently posted…Cold Front!My Profile

  3. Very interesting stuff. We have had food for high performance dogs at times when we were really working out, but it is interesting to know we burn fat first. We aren’t carb loaders, just Mom does that. Really liked this post.
    Emma recently posted…Simple Tips to Keep Your Dog Fit at a Pet ConferenceMy Profile

  4. Hmm I’m stuck with the Vets discription too. Sniff and wags from Laika and Vaks.
    Laika recently posted…Vi træner Vaks og jeg tænker tanker / We are training Vaks and I have some thoughts.My Profile

  5. Very interesting post! Thank you. Our dogs get their carbs through dog treats (minimal) and fruit (a lot). They love them and I think it helps to create a balanced diet and healthier dogs. What I find interesting is that each dog is different and for every dog who enters our family, we’ll treat them like the dogs in residence and slowly adjust their diet to something unique for them. That’s the fun part.
    Kimberly Gauthier recently posted…Who Rescued Whom | Addressing a Pet Peeve for RescueMy Profile

    • Each human has unique needs, so why wouldn’t dogs, right?
      mkob recently posted…Do Dogs Need Carbs?My Profile

  6. Great article. It makes sense when you think about it. Love the dog chef photographs.
    Bailey recently posted…Friday FlowersMy Profile

  7. Wonderful info of course!
    Thanks for sharing and have a great weekend!
    ღ husky hugz ღ frum our pack at Love is being owned by a husky!
    Jenna,Mark “HuskyCrazed” Drady recently posted…Pet Parade – Lights, camera, action!My Profile

  8. I have a hard time getting Mr. N to eat any carbs, he just wants all the protein.
    Tenacious Little Terrier recently posted…FitDog Friday #30 – Visiting Cannon BeachMy Profile

  9. Good information to know, my dogs are raw fed and so their carbs are limited, but they do get some.
    Jodi recently posted…Follow-Up Friday – May 16, 2014My Profile

  10. Carbs are something that I try to avoid. Every few months we go completely carb-free in an attempt to lose weight. Bentley is starting the Hill’s Metabolic next week so he can drop some unwanted weight. Good grief, now I want bread! Haha!! Bark More, Growl Less Barking from the Bayou!
    M. K. Clinton recently posted…Do You Consider Yourself Lucky?My Profile

  11. Very interesting info! Wish humans worked that way too! Would love to burn the fat first!!
    Jackie Bouchard recently posted…It’s Wildfire Awareness Week in CA. Yep, We’re Aware!My Profile

  12. This is an interesting topic to me since I am a runner, and through my dog running business there are days where I have gone 18+ miles a day for multiple days in a row. The reason this topic interests me is because I have gotten away from the “carbo loading” idea even for myself. I don’t know the science around it, but I feel like my body no longer needs a large amount of carbs. I eat lots of meat and fatty food (bacon, eggs, cheese, real butter) and veggies.

    Not sure where I’m going with this. I just tend to think dogs and humans could minimize the carbs, but especially dogs.
    Lindsay recently posted… – the daily deal site for dogs and their ownersMy Profile

    • I’ve cut way back on my carbs too – unless they are natural like fruits & veggies. Feel better too.
      mkob recently posted…Do Dogs Need Carbs?My Profile

  13. Great Post. We have started making all of our dogs food. It takes a little more time to prepare, but with a good dog nutrition cookbook you can meet the dietary needs of your pets. Plus they are loving the fresh food. Thanks for this post.
    Mark at DBDT recently posted…Nature Walks with VerucaMy Profile

  14. Very interesting!
    Moses’ favourite treat is bread, so he does get carbs, but only rarely as something special.
    Jen K recently posted…Walking My Reactive Dog: Part 2My Profile

  15. Very, very interesting. Thanks so much for sharing. 🙂
    Marquie recently posted…Jack Jump Over The CandlestickMy Profile

  16. Nice pointers as always. Good to get an insight into these things. Thanks for sharing & Happy FitDogging
    Paws and Pedals (Scooter & Kate) recently posted…5 Tips for Exercising a Dog when conditions outside suckMy Profile

  17. Fascinating! I didn’t know that our dogs built that way! Thanks a heap for sharing, have learnt a lot about what I’ll be feeding Kate in prep for our high activity adventures 🙂
    Jen recently posted…Barx Active | Barxercise | Punch & ShuttleMy Profile

  18. I find it interesting that while AAFCO lists NO REQUIREMENT for carbohydrates, dog foods are loaded with them. Sometimes simply for production reasons (cannot make kibble without them) and sometimes we are being told about the benefits of having them there. It almost makes it sound that protein and fat are bad for dogs, while carbohydrates are great.
    Jana Rade recently posted…Should You Rotate Your Dog’s Food? Miss By An Inch, Miss By A MileMy Profile

  19. Great information. I’ve heard both sides to the grain free debate, and still don’t know what to think about it. The fact that dogs burn fat first is very interesting, and definitely seems like it could be a factor in that debate, especially if you have active dogs.
    Jan K recently posted…Sepia Saturday – Rainy Days No Longer Get Us DownMy Profile

  20. For our training dogs, we look for foods with high fat content. Those tend to work better for them as you say in your post.
    2 brown dawgs recently posted…Wordless Wednesday–ExcitementMy Profile

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