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Is Sugar Good For Your Dogs?

Many, many years ago, when I didn’t know any better, I would take my beagle to the Dairy Queen for…

Small Yorkie licking its owners ice cream cone, concept for sugar for dogs.

Many, many years ago, when I didn’t know any better, I would take my beagle to the Dairy Queen for an ice cream after every visit to the vet. She wouldn’t get just a “lick,” she would get her own kiddie cup!

Nowadays, I would never do that. I do give my dogs sweet bites of apples, bananas, melons, etc., but I would never give them something with all the added sugar as in ice cream.

Can Dogs Eat Sugar and Candy?

What happens when dogs consume more sugar than their body can use? It’s similar to when we consume more sugar than we need: obesity, dental issues, hormonal imbalances, diabetes. 

Done. End of blog. Just kidding.

It’s true that our bodies respond to the overindulgence of sugar in a similar way as our canine friends, but that’s not the whole story.

Technically, sugar is not toxic for dogs. Sugar is a carbohydrate. Carbohydrates are needed to supply energy, or fuel. Both dogs and humans need a certain amount of sugar to fuel many of the processes in our bodies, like thinking, even breathing.

Let’s discuss the difference between a healthy and a ‘not so healthy’ carbohydrate and what we should be feeding our pups.

Pet Nutrition 101: How Carbs Affect Your Dog

There are two types of carbohydrates: Simple, and Complex. A simple carb is pretty much just plain, refined sugar in any form: cake, candy, ice cream. It’s unhealthy stuff. A simple carb rapidly increases or “spikes” the body’s blood glucose level.

A complex carb, on the other hand, contains starch or fiber, like in whole grains, vegetables and fruit. A complex carb eliminates the sugar spike by slowly increasing the body’s glucose level over a longer period of time. It’s the healthy stuff.

So, what’s that have to do with our dogs, you ask?

Well, oftentimes, fillers in dog food contain too many high glycemic foods, or complex carbs that turn into simple carbs when digested by the body, like corn, rice, white potatoes, or wheat. Adding sugar to the mix through sweet treats can quickly send your dog’s balanced diet over the edge into “not so healthy” territory.

The Grain-Free Diet Controversy

This is one of the reasons the “grain-free” diet is so popular with pet owners these days.

Grain-free dog foods contain more protein and animal fats, and fewer carbs. Animal protein is more easily digested by dogs.

One argument by grain free diet supporters is that dogs do not really need carbs in their diet. They allege that since a dog’s body is not designed to break down carbs for energy, any carbohydrates consumed are simply stored as unhealthy fat. There is a lot of research published supporting both sides of the grain free diet “controversy” with convincing arguments on both.

Check out our guide on super foods for dogs!

Do Dogs Have A Sweet Tooth?

Schnauzer puppy being possessive over it's watermelon.

It has been suggested that dogs have developed a taste for sweets over the years as we humans share our food with them.

Some researchers will go so far as to provide a scientific analysis of a dog’s taste buds in an attempt to prove that dogs cannot taste sweet. Others are overwhelmingly convinced – scientifically or otherwise – that dog are attracted to sweets.

Sadly, one significant clue that our dogs have a sweet tooth is the number of dogs poisoned by antifreeze each year. Thousands of dogs die per year from accidental poisoning by antifreeze. Why are dogs attracted to antifreeze? Because it’s sweet!

Savory + Sweet Preferences In Dogs

Dogs are as individual as we are. For example, I could eat sweets all day long, but my husband has very little attraction to sweets.

Just like us, some dogs may prefer savory flavors as opposed to sweets. Sugar is not only deliciously palatable, but it causes our brain to release dopamine, a “feel good” chemical. The same is true for dogs. They experience a kind of “sugar-high.” Why wouldn’t dogs want that feeling too?

The Serious Side Effects Of Sugar On Dogs

As mentioned, the same things that happen to us when we consume too much refined sugar can happen to our dog too. Here are some of the side effects:

  1. Diabetes

Since 2011, diabetes diagnoses in dogs have increased by 32%. Type 2 diabetes in dogs can be caused in part by eating too many carbohydrates. As the excess carbs turn into sugar, and excess sugar leads to diabetes. Likewise, type 2 diabetes can also be caused by obesity.

  1. Obesity

That’s right… too much sugar makes dogs fat, which leads to a host of diseases like diabetes. Did you know that 56% of dogs in the US are overweight?

I’m sure there are many factors at play (lack of exercise or perhaps poor-quality food), but could one of the reasons many dogs are overweight or diabetic because we are feeding them too much sugar?

  1. Inflammation and Digestion Issues

If a dog’s body is unable to use and store sugar effectively, it will affect many other bodily functions as well. For example, energy levels will not be optimum or muscle tone may decrease.

Excess amounts of sugar cause inflammation throughout the body. Inflammation causes many other issues our furry friends will have to deal with, like arthritis, dermatitis, or pancreatitis to name a few.

A dog’s digestion also suffers because of excess sugar. Sugar upsets the balance of bacteria needed to digest food, which can lead to diarrhea and vomiting. And, as digestion is vital for immunity, a dog’s ability to fight disease may be compromised, too.

  1. Tooth Decay and Disease

Lastly, sugar produces an acidic environment in the mouth. These acids cause tooth decay and dental disease, which could cause your dog to lose his teeth prematurely.

Which Sweets Are Toxic For Dogs?

While sugar itself is not toxic to dogs, there are several other ingredients commonly found in sweets and candy that can be extremely toxic to them.

  1. Chocolate. Chocolate is extremely toxic to dogs and cats, with dark chocolate being particularly dangerous. If your pet is accustomed to having sugar each day, it may seek out and eat the chocolate in your home. Consumption of chocolate cause cause dogs to have stomach upset, muscle tremors, seizure, and irregular heart rates. In severe case, it can even be fatal.
  2. Raisins. Both grapes and raisins have been known to cause kidney failure in dogs. So, be sure to keep that fruitcake out of reach!
  3. Caffeine. Dogs might be interested in the sweet aroma of coffee-flavored sweets. It’s important to know that caffeine is highly toxic to dogs and has many of the same risks that chocolate does, including death.
  4. Candy Wrappers. Many sweet treats we like to keep around the house come in a candy wrapper. Dogs will sometimes swallow candy along with its wrappers. This can lead to blockages in their digestive systems, which, in severe cases, would require expensive surgeries to fix.

The Effects of Xylitol and Artificial Sweeteners On Dogs

We need to talk about artificial sugars. One in particular, Xylitol, is very dangerous to dogs. Xylitol causes a rapid drop in blood sugar in dogs and liver failure, which are fatal conditions in dogs.

Xylitol is sneaky, too. it shows up sometimes where you least expect it: yogurt, toothpaste, all kinds of candy, sugar-free gum, and even one of our canine’s favorite foods – peanut butter.

Other artificial sugars, like aspartame, sucralose, and saccharin are not poisonous to dogs, but I would certainly caution against sharing them with your dog. It’s just not a good idea to allow them to have artificially sweetened foods. These sweeteners are really not healthy for us, so why would they be healthy for our dog?

Which Sweets Are Safe For Dogs?

Black lab dog eating a donut, concept for health effects of sugar on dogs.

Last night my husband and I were having dessert when Rex started doing a dance at my feet. That means he wants some of what I am eating. Instead of giving him cake, I gave him a fresh green bean that I had picked up from the market earlier that day.

Rex was totally pacified and happily trotted off to the living room with his “special treat.” The truth is, there is just no need to give our dogs refined sugar in any way. It’s perfectly fine to share foods with them that contain naturally occurring sugars, like:

  1. Fruits like blueberries, watermelon, pumpkin, or apple slices. Again, never give your dog grapes or raisins. You would also want to avoid giving your pet pits and peels, as these can cause blockages or choking hazards.
  2. Vegetables like sweet potato, peas, green beans, or carrots. Never give your pup onions or garlic, of course, but many dogs go nuts for healthy treats like vegetables. Just like my little Rex.
  3. A dog-friendly cake is another great way to treat your dog. Many local pet boutiques sell cakes without added sugars or toxic ingredients. Or, of course, you could bake your own, too.

Because of the higher glycemic index of some fruits and vegetables, limit your pup to small bites, just as you would limit any type of “treat” for your dog. Our dogs are at our mercy. They eat what we give them to eat. Of course, we want our dogs to be healthy. We shouldn’t feed them things that could potentially harm them.

Holiday Barn Cares About Your Pet’s Health

At Holiday Barn Pet Resorts, we are careful with what we feed our guests.  It is preferable for your dog’s health to bring his food and treats when he stays with us so that he does not get an upset stomach by the change in diet.

We offer seasonal cookies and “furrmazing feasts,” free of harmful sugars and other ingredients.  On occasion, we may offer – with your approval, of course – special treats like watermelon or hot dog bites! 

Check your dog’s food and treats to be sure sugar is not listed in the ingredients. If you want to do something special for your pup, feel free to give him small bites of melons, berries, bananas, carrots, green beans, etc… He will think it’s the best thing ever! Let’s nourish our pets with nutritionally optimal foods so we can keep our little ones around for as long as possible!

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