As much as we are all so often warned against indulging too much in it, it’s hard to deny that a life without sugar would be – pardon the pun – much less sweet.
Yet all the bad points of sugar are, sadly, often amplified all the more in the highly sensitive digestive systems of our beloved pets.
But how bad is it, really? Can dogs eat sugar? Let’s explore the possibilities.
Is sugar healthy for dogs?
Sadly, even despite having very different nutritional needs than their human masters in many respects, dogs don’t have it any easier than the rest of us with sugar and sweet treats.
Even naturally occurring sugars have a much higher effect on dogs than on humans, which is why even fruits like bananas and strawberries – highly recommended for human health – can be a bit too sugary for dogs to eat regularly.
Yet the good news, at least, is that dogs don’t get anything toxic from sugar. Unfortunately the same cannot be said for some artificial sweeteners, which is where dog owners really need to be careful.
In fact, there is one artificial sweetener, xylitol, that crops up in a surprisingly large amount of what vets and experts call ‘people foods’.
Because of this, you’re highly advised to check the ingredients labels of anything new you give your dog in case of xylitol content.
Why? Xylitol is highly toxic to dogs. Sugar, on the other hand, just poses many of the same risks to dogs over the long term that it does for humans – albeit that dogs are much more sensitive to these detrimental outcomes than their masters.
It’s worth noting that there is something of a difference between naturally occurring sugars, such as those found in fruit and honey, versus processed sugars, such as those that come in candy bars and even what can seem like savoury condiments, such as ketchup.
Of course, those natural sugars are the ones that come the most recommended if any of us are to have any sugar at all – be that a human being or a dog.
Those foods that advertise no added sugars are not declaring themselves sugar free, after all, as much as they are showing that the only sugars within them are natural ones.
It’s vital that a dog owner be very careful in just how sweet and sugary the food they give their dog is – and it hopefully goes without saying that sweets that are toxic to dogs, such as chocolate, are entirely off the menu.
Dangers of sugar for dogs
Sugar is a bit of a sneaky one for dogs, although in far too high a dose it can cause more immediate complications too – the same as for human beings.
The short term effects of a dog eating too much sugar might therefore sound familiar to just about anyone – even those inexperienced in pet ownership.
After all, we have all been guilty of overdoing it on sweet treats at some point or another.
Dogs who have eaten too much sugar get the same rush and crash as the best of us – perhaps even sped up a notch, owing to how more sensitive a dog’s digestive system is to these kinds of things.
You can expect your pet to be a little too energetic for their own good in the initial instance, but just as this seems unbearable, he or she will suddenly be overcome with tiredness, and perhaps even a bit of a grumpy demeanour.
Your dog could well flop into bed and refuse to come out and play, and that’s not just due to sugar rush.
It could also be because your pet is suffering something of an upset tummy, and it’ll take a few hours to get over.
If it lasts a few days or more it’s likely that you’ll need to ask your vet for some help, as your dog might well be struggling to really get all the badness out of his or her system.
The long term effects of sugar consumption for dogs are where things get that much more ugly though.
Much like their human masters, dogs who eat lots of sugar can run the risk of obesity and diabetes.
Worse still, even the biggest, toughest breeds of dog imaginable are just as susceptible to get this sort of affliction, and far faster than a human would at that.
Weight gain and obesity in dogs can lead to circulatory complications, and of course, a lot of difficulty in staying active even if those problems don’t manifest.
Dogs who can’t do what they enjoy often get sad, or even depressed – it’s easy to take for granted an active, playful lifestyle until it becomes physically difficult to do.
And of course, dogs who develop diabetes have to have the same strict way of eating and leading their lives that human beings do, and it will create a more complex, if no less loving, interplay between owner and pet because of that.
Finally, keep in mind that dogs have less dental hygiene at their disposal than human beings do, and certainly not much inclination to take care of this kind of thing themselves.
And of course, sugar is well known for causing tooth decay and erosion of enamel over the long term – a nasty business for your pet indeed.
How much sugar can a dog eat daily?
As a general rule, you’re advised to minimise your dog’s exposure to sugar as much as possible, but it can also be very tempting to treat our pets for good behaviour – or just because we can’t resist their sweet and adorable little faces.
Sugar should ideally not be a daily thing for your dog, but in today’s society it’s almost impossible to avoid food lacking in at least a little sugar content.
However, as weight gain among domesticated dogs is on the rise, it’s a good idea to consider possible alternative treats to introduce to your dog’s regime.
After all, those sweet treats taste just as good to your pet as they would to us, and similarly, dogs can get just as hooked on processed sugars as we can.
Consider other tidbits that your dog enjoys, such as a slice of apple or a scrap of cooked chicken.
These make excellent treats for good behaviour, and you don’t have to worry about scouring ingredients lists for the dreaded xylitol either.
What to do if your dog eats sugar
Given how talented even the most otherwise obedient and loyal dogs can be at getting into foods not meant for them, you might well find one day that your dog has his or her snout buried in a bag of sugar.
You’d not be blamed for panicking, but if your dog has eaten a ton of sugar all at once, the most important thing you need to do is remain calm and be there or your pet.
Firstly, identify if your dog has swallowed any kind of sugary food that has chocolate or xylitol in, both of which are toxic to dogs.
If that’s the case, call the vet, and likewise call such a professional if your pet throws up suddenly after eating sugar, but continue to be sick for a few hours thereafter.
Dogs who surprise themselves often try to expel whatever they most recently ate as fast as possible, and sugar is no exception.
However, far more likely is that your dog is set to suffer an upset stomach from overdoing it on sugar.
There will be some hyperactivity, and perhaps even some considerable difficulty in your dog passing water, but otherwise the sugar crash will hit soon enough – and unfortunately for pet and owner alike, it will hit hard.
Your dog will become very tired and very grouchy, very fast! If these symptoms persist over a few days – especially difficulty in urination – contact your vet for advice, but for the most part your dog will want to rest up or sleep through the tummy aches he or she is experiencing.
There could be some throwing up or a heightened risk of diarrhoea during this whole process too, but stay close at hand keeping your dog hydrated and all should be well.
Unfortunately, your dog will likely not have learned their lesson here, and might try to gorge on sugar again in the future – so make sure steps are in place to prevent your pet from helping themselves to it. That sweet scent and delicious flavour is going to entice them no matter what.
Dogs don’t get it any easier than their human masters in feeling the tempting taste of sugar, but finding it quite bad for their long term health.
Dogs ought to avoid processed sugars as much as possible, and the toxic sweetener xylitol that often accompanies many foods even more.
Keep your dog’s diet as low sugar as possible to avoid weight gain and further complications in your pet’s later years.