Do Dogs Need Carbs?
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?
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.
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.
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