Overview of Carbohydrates in Dog Food

Share Button

The three macronutrients (besides water) that make up the majority of a pet food are protein, fat, and carbohydrates. Pet food labels, which are required to report certain crucial nutritional data, list protein and fat percentages but rarely is there a reference to the carbohydrate content. This is not an act of subterfuge as pet food manufacturers are required to report protein and fat content, but are not required to report on the carbohydrate content. Have you ever wondered why this is the case?


Why aren’t Carbohydrates Listed on the Dog Food Label?

Both protein and fat are required in a dog’s diet and AAFCO has established minimum values for dog foods to be considered complete and balanced diets.   Carbohydrates, on the other hand, are not an essential part of a dog’s diet and thus, there are no labeling requirements, let alone minimum or maximum standards that pet food companies need to adhere to. There is no known carbohydrate requirement for dogs—they are carnivores after all and thrive on high protein and fat diets. Yet, the average commercially available dog food is laden with carbohydrates, over 47% for dry foods and 34% for wet foods.


Why are Carbohydrates Included in Dog Food?

Carbohydrates are used in abundance in most dog food for many reasons, but primarily they are included because they are a relatively inexpensive source of energy and can help to keep the price of dog food more affordable. Carbs are not inherently bad, but they should make up 1/3 or less of the daily calories for most normally healthy pets.


Carbohydrates can provide some benefits as a macro-nutrient including:

  • Provide Energy –although dogs are able to convert protein and fat to satisfy their energy requirements, carbohydrates are an inexpensive way to provide energy for your pet.
  • Provide Beneficial Fiber- carbohydrates are the source of dietary fiber, which promotes overall gastrointestinal health.  Soluble fibers, sometimes called prebiotics, aid in promoting the growth of additional beneficial (or probiotic) bacteria and helps crowd out pathogenic (disease-producing) bacteria.
  • Creates Satiation – carbohydrates (and their associated fiber) helps the dog feel satiated and thus, ‘less hungry’.


Like with protein and fats, not all carbohydrates are created equal. Finding a low carb food is a great first step, but making sure that the source of carbohydrates is high quality is equally important. When it comes to carbs, like with most ingredients, choose those that are less processed vs more processed. Processing can remove dietary fiber, iron, and some vitamins, so refined carbs provide less nutrition but still contain the same number of calories.


Some examples if higher quality carb sources include sweat potato, sorghum, most fruits and vegetables.


Carb sources to avoid include white rice, wheat, wheat flour, gluten, and corn.


Starchy vegetables, like peas and plain potatoes are commonly found in pet foods. These ingredients aren’t bad per se, but often they are used as substitutes for animal proteins so be wary of foods that contain these high in the list of ingredients or that contain multiple forms of these (e.g. peas and pea protein) in their ingredient list.

Share Button


  1. I think of it this way: Have you ever heard of a dog raiding a corn field? No? Well, then don’t feed your dog corn! I had to learn that lesson, and am so glad we no longer feed our pups poor quality food consisting of what seems like nothing but carbs. The pups eat raw these days 😉
    Barbara Rivers recently posted…What to do when you see a dog left in a hot car! #hotcardeathMy Profile

  2. What is your take on oatmeal?

    • PLAIN oatmeal, with no additives is fine. It has some digestive benefits, a small amount of protein and other nutrients such as iron and B-vitamins. Just don’t give them the flavored ones with added sugar. Plain, steel-cut.
      mkob recently posted…Overview of Carbohydrates in Dog FoodMy Profile

  3. We dehydrate bananas and apples for Bentley and Pierre. I have heard that green beans are good to dehydrate. Have you ever tried them?
    M. K. Clinton recently posted…Feeling the Chewy.com LoveMy Profile

  4. We’ve cut back on the carbs over the last year or so, but we still enjoy some bread and stuff now and then when it is offered to us.
    Emma recently posted…Multiple Pet Day #MultiPetDayMy Profile

  5. I’m always surprised people don’t seem to understand the whole corn thing with dogfood (and people food as well-it’s high glycemic and thus not a great addition to the diet). Corn is especially difficult for dogs with arthritis and should be avoided. I think it’s probably inflammatory which doesn’t help joints. Great and informative post!
    Monika recently posted…Maneuver MondayMy Profile

  6. Sweet potatoes have been the carb of choice in the homemade diets designed by a veterinary nutritionist for two of our dogs. But Shyla has to constantly have a high fiber diet (to avoid GI distress) so she has oat bran every meal, another carb but for a purpose!
    KB recently posted…Wordless WednesdayMy Profile

  7. more great information, thanks
    Sand Spring Chesapeakes recently posted…Gambler’s Push Up ChallengeMy Profile

  8. Good information.
    2 Brown Dawgs recently posted…Independence Day 2015My Profile

  9. We love our sweet potatoes in our food, but we’re not too fond of them anymore as a treat. I’m loving the fact that the boys are enjoying their fruits and veggies. We’re really changing our diet – both human and canine.
    Groovy Goldendoodles recently posted…HELPING MY DOG SURVIVE THE 4TH OF JULYMy Profile

Comments are now closed on this post.