Anyone who spends much time investigating foods and ingredients has probably realized that there are a few items we bump into all the time. Sugar is one of these ingredients. It comes in a refined, processed form such as granulated sugar; but it’s also found in many fruits and vegetables. So, the question “Can dogs eat sugar” becomes a little more complicated. Keep reading to find out about dogs and sugar.
Sugar is our generic term for sweet, soluble carbohydrates. Things like table sugar and granulated sugar refer to sucrose which is made up of glucose and fructose.
Sugar is found in the tissues of most plants. It can make up a large percentage of many fruits and even some vegetables. Honey and some fruits are full of simple sugars, for example. Sugar cane and sugar beets are concentrated sources of sucrose. Beets, pineapples, sweet potatoes, carrots, apricots, and other fruits and vegetables are all high in sucrose.
Sugar also comes from other sources of carbohydrates such as grains. Grains can be a source of complex carbohydrates. Complex carbohydrates are sugar molecules that are strung together in long, complex chains. This means that they take longer to digest than simple carbs such as granulated sugar. Complex carbs will be broken down into glucose and used as energy just as other sugars are but they don’t provide a sudden sugar rush to the bloodstream.
Sugar is not toxic to humans or to dogs but eating too much sugar can lead to health problems. Eating a diet that contains too much sugar has been associated with obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, tooth decay, and even dementia.
From a nutritional view, one teaspoon of granulated sugar (4 grams) is made up of 100 percent carbohydrates. It has 15.5 calories and 4 grams of carbs. Otherwise, it provides virtually no nutritional value. It has 0.1 mg of potassium but no other vitamins or minerals. It has no protein or fats. It’s simply a teaspoon of simple carbohydrates.
Complex carbohydrates contain both starches and fiber. They can offer more nutritional value than simple sugars.
People will argue over the role and value of carbohydrates in the dog’s diet. Current research shows that dogs have evolved away from wolves in the last 10,000-30,000 years. They have developed enzymes that wolves don’t have which allow them to digest starches. This means that dogs are able to benefit from complex carbs in grains in their diet (within reason). It’s not an excuse to feed dogs an all-grain or all-carbohydrate diet or for grains to take the place of meat protein in a good quality diet but carbohydrates can be beneficial to dogs. Complex carbohydrates are a source of slow-burning energy that help your dog feel full. The fiber in complex carbohydrates is also important for digestive health.
For the bottom line, too much sugar is not good for your dog, especially simple sugars such as granulated sugar that might be added to foods. Complex carbohydrates (another source of sugar) in well-formulated diets can be a good source of nutrition for your dog.
Should You Give Your Dog Sugar?
No, you should not give your dog sugar to eat. Sugar and sugary treats have the same effect on your dog that they can have on you. Your dog can experience a sugar rush or energy high after eating sugar. Too much sugar entering the bloodstream quickly can lead to high blood glucose levels. This is followed by a sudden drop in blood glucose leaving your dog feeling tired and depressed.
Sugar can also lead to tooth decay for your dog as well as diabetes. Weight gain and obesity are also associated with sugar Any time your dog consumes more calories than he needs, it can lead to added weight. Sugar provides little in the way of nutrients so its calories are not beneficial.
Too much sugar can also affect the heart, kidneys, liver, pancreas, and other organs.
If that’s not enough reason not to give your dog sugar, eating sugar and sweets can result in inflammation in the body and worsen joint pain.
Dogs have taste buds that can detect sweets so you may have a hard time convincing your canine pal that he doesn’t need to eat sugary foods but it’s in his best interest to avoid them.
Again, complex carbohydrates which are made up of long chains of sugars, are the exception. Carbs supply fuel that the body needs for all kinds of processes. Dogs, like people, can use the body’s own protein to fuel these processes if necessary but that would mean breaking down muscle – not a viable solution for very long. So, complex carbohydrates, along with fat, serve a useful purpose for the body in supplying long-term energy. This is not the same as the sugar rush that comes from eating simple sugars. Complex carbohydrates, found in grains and vegetables, release their sugars slowly. They don’t give your dog an energy high or lead to the kind of health problems associated with simple sugars.
What about Different Kinds of Sugar?
There are lots of different kinds of sugar. Clearly humans have a love affair with sugar.
The four most common kinds of simple sugars are:
- Fructose (a.k.a. fruit sugar)
- Sucrose (a.k.a. table sugar)
- Lactose (a.k.a. dairy sugar)
These sugars are often present in the foods we eat whether they appear on labels or not. For example, all kinds of foods contain glucose, from fruits and dried fruits to corn, to Polish sausage and tomato puree.
That’s just the beginning. There are also LOTS of different kinds of added sugars.
- Agave Nectar
- Barley Malt Syrup
- Brown Sugar
- Brown Rice Syrup
- Cane Juice
- Cane Sugar
- Coconut Sugar
- Corn Syrup
- Corn Syrup Solids
- Evaporated Cane Juice
- Evaporated Corn Sweetener
- High Fructose Corn Syrup
- Invert Sugar
- Malt Syrup
- Maple Syrup
- Palm Sugar
- Raw Sugar
- Rice Syrup
- Turbinado Sugar
- White Granulated Sugar
All of these sugars are added to foods.
You may not always know if a food contains sugar. You should always read the label for foods you are considering for your dog. In general, if you see that there is added sugar of any kind, don’t give it to your dog. You won’t be able to identify every food that contains sugar but you will probably find the foods that could cause the most problems for your dog.
What If Your Dog Eats Some Sugar?
In most cases, if a dog eats something he shouldn’t, a small amount won’t do much harm. That’s not necessarily true with sugar. A dog that knocks a sugar canister off the kitchen counter when you’re not home and proceeds to lick up as much as possible will probably be bouncing off the walls when you return.
The good news is that sugar isn’t toxic. The bad news is that your dog may need to vomit, have a bout of diarrhea and perhaps a tummy ache. He might feel bad until the sugar is completely out of his system.
You can expect the same results if your dog eats a lot of sugary candy.
However, if your dog eats chocolate candy, contact your veterinarian. Sugar is bad but chocolate can be toxic to dogs in large amounts (depending on the size of the dog and the kind of chocolate). Chocolate contains a chemical substance called theobromine that is dangerous to dogs. Dark chocolate contains more of this substance. Dogs that eat chocolate can experience an upset stomach, muscle tremors, seizures, and heart arrhythmias (heart beat irregularities). In severe cases, eating chocolate can lead to death. If your dog eats more than a morsel of chocolate, especially dark chocolate, contact your vet.
Some sweets today are made with xylitol and other artificial sweeteners. Xylitol is toxic to dogs. It’s found in some candies and cookies/cakes labeled “sugar-free.” It’s also found in sugar-free gums and mints, drinks, toothpastes, mouthwashes, and even in some peanut butter. It’s best to read the ingredients when you are purchasing these products. Xylitol leads to vomiting, lethargy, and problems with coordination in the early stages. As things worsen, your dog can have an upset stomach, liver damage, hypoglycemia (very low blood sugar levels), seizures, and liver failure. Death is a possibility.
If you think your dog has eaten anything containing xylitol, contact your veterinarian immediately.
Raisins and grapes are also harmful to dogs though the reasons aren’t completely understood. They can lead to kidney failure in dogs. Oatmeal raisin cookies sound harmless but they could be very bad for your dog.
Caffeine isn’t obviously related to sugar but some people add sugar to their coffee or tea. Caffeine can be harmful to dogs. Dogs are also more sensitive to caffeine than humans are. One or two tastes of your coffee won’t harm your dog but if your dog really drinks some of your caffeine beverage, contact your veterinarian. Symptoms to watch for include restlessness, agitation, hyperactivity, vomiting, and panting. If things worsen, your dog may also exhibit tremors and seizures. You could feel your dog’s heart racing. Consider it an emergency.
It might sound obvious, but make sure that the trash cans in your home are secured. Dogs are scavengers. It’s not enough to keep candy and other foods out of their reach. You also have to prevent your dog from accessing things like coffee grounds and discarded candy from the garbage.
Finally, make sure everyone in your home knows that your dog isn’t supposed to eat sugar and other harmful foods.
How Often Can You Give Your Dog Sugar?
It’s best not to give your dog sugar at all.
We probably all share some foods with our dogs that contain some sugar. Try to keep them to a minimum and don’t share them very often.
There are many sugary foods that shouldn’t be shared at all.
Pumpkin pie and apple pie might sound like they could be healthy treats for your dog but it’s best not to let your dog share them. Not only can they have added sugar but the spices in these desserts can be harmful to dogs. Nutmeg, especially, is toxic to dogs, acting as a neurotoxin. At high doses you can see disorientation, hallucinations, increased heart rate and blood pressure, dry mouth, abdominal pain, and seizures.
Is Sugar Used in Dog Treats?
Yes, it is used in some dog treats. Even some recipes for homemade dog treats use ingredients that contain sugar such as vanilla yogurt or Greek yogurt.
In defense of dog treats, they are supposed to be treats, given occasionally. Perhaps even strict purists can make allowances for occasional treats.
Keep in mind that the healthiest treats for dogs, such as bananas and apples, also contain sugars. Most fruits contain a lot of natural sugar.
You can make dog-friendly treats, cookies, and cakes for your dog. They don’t have to be loaded with sugar. However, you will probably find that many of the recipes include ingredients such as honey, carrots, apple sauce, yogurt, and other things that contain sugars. It’s very hard to completely avoid sugar.
If you would like to add a dog-friendly chocolate substitute to your dog treats, carob (a sweet legume), is a good choice.
Dogs seem to be tempted by sugar almost as much as humans are. It’s also not especially good for dogs since it produces many of the same health problems that we experience. Added sugars, especially simple sugars, can be harmful to your dog’s health. However, complex carbohydrates can be a healthy part of your dog’s diet. Don’t let your dog eat sugar substitutes such as xylitol. Chocolate, caffeine, raisins and grapes are also no-go for your dog. While sugar is sometimes used in dog treats, you can try to keep the treats healthy by using fruits and other dog-friendly ingredients.