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Carbohydrates in a Dog

Carbohydrates: Friend or Foe?

Most diets contain a certain percentage of carbohydrates, although they are not considered essential nutrients for dogs. Sugars and starches, which formulate the class of digestible carbohydrates, are metabolized during digestion into glucose. Glucose provides energy, dispenses amino acids and helps synthesize fats.

Carbohydrates provide an inexpensive alternative to protein and fats. Most commercial dog foods contain a large percentage of digestible carbohydrates.

Healthy dogs can easily digest cooked starches, while raw starches are more difficult on their systems. An intestinal enzyme, disaccharidase, helps break down the structure of carbohydrates into compound sugars. One of these sugars, lactose (found in milk), is very often not tolerated by adult dogs and will cause diarrhea. Table sugar (sucrose) or sweets made of sugar are well tolerated by most dogs if fed in small quantities (less than 5% of the total diet).

Carbohydrates are stored in the body as glycogen, or animal starch and fat. This excess stored food is often the cause of obesity.

Although fiber is not essential in a dog's diet, soluble fibers such as fruit or oat bran play a role in helping maintain proper hydration, in regulating nutrient absorption, and in preserving a healthy intestinal tract. Insoluble fibers, such as wheat bran or cellulose are commonly added to "lite" commercial dog foods to add bulk without adding calories. The same effect may be obtained by adding fresh, raw vegetables such as carrots, broccoli or cauliflower to your dog's diet.

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