Can Dogs Eat Sugar? Is Sugar Safe for Dogs?

We all know the face. That adorable, sad, begging look your pup has learned to master when there is something tasty in the vicinity. Have you ever noticed that the face gets turned up to megawatt status when there is sugar involved? So, the big question to answer is whether dogs can eat sugar? Or even more to the point, is it safe for them? The quick answer is yes, dogs can eat sugar.

With the quick answer out of the way, we want to dive into the longer answer, which is not as simple. Remember, there are many forms of sugar that your dog can consume. But some forms should be avoided at all costs.

If you have ever wondered about the effects of sugar on your dog, we have your answers.Divider 8

Your Dog and Sugar

As mentioned, there are many forms of sugar. While some are okay for your dog to eat, others should not be given. That being said, even the “good” types should only be fed to your pooch in moderation. To get a better idea of the different types of sugar, let’s look at them below.

Can Dogs Eat Sugar

Granulated Sugar

This is the most common type of sugar is granulated. Otherwise known as white or regular sugar, this is the sweetener used most often in food and beverages. You will find it in recipes like cookies, brownies, and cakes. You also find it in soft drinks, coffee, and candy. Other forms of this type of sugar include brown, raw, and liquid, but that are all used for more or less the same thing.

Dogs can have this form of sugar on a limited basis depending on the food product in question. For example, many dog foods contain varying levels of sugar. It is also not uncommon to find sugar in dog treats that are given to canines regularly.

Granulated sugar, itself, is not toxic for your pet. Giving them too much can cause various health problems (that we will discuss later). Moderation is also important. The point is, although granulated sugar is not toxic to your dog, it’s rarely served up in its raw form. Many other ingredients that are commonly found with sugar can have devastating effects.

Artificial Sweeteners

Many pet parents are wary of giving their pooch sugars, so they mistakenly opt for “sugar-free” treats or even artificial sweeteners instead. Unfortunately, this is right up there with feeding your pet chocolate. First off, snacks and treats that are described as “sugar-free” are using another type of ingredient to add a sweet taste to their recipes. This is in the form of artificial sweeteners.

The most common fake sugar is Xylitol, and it can have a deadly effect on your pet. Your dog’s pancreas releases insulin into the bloodstream to control their blood sugar levels. When your pup consumes the Xylitol, it quickly absorbs into the bloodstream indicating to the pancreas that it needs more insulin.

The rapid increase of insulin causes a decrease in blood sugar in your pet. When this happens, your pet becomes hypoglycemic which can cause liver failure, seizures, and it can be fatal if not treated right away.

This is important to keep in mind for the well-being of your pet. Products that are “sugar-free” or “diet” both are likely to contain this toxic ingredient. You are better off giving your pet a small amount of granulated sugar or none at all.

Fructose

This last type of sugar is what is referred to as “naturally occurring sugar.” Fructose is behind the sweetness you taste in fruits, vegetables, and some grains. Your dog uses them for energy in the form of healthy carbohydrates. Fructose is considered a simple carb, and it’s a required part of a well-rounded canine diet.

Keep in mind, just like sugar in chocolate, there are fruits and other plant-based foods your dog cannot have such as grapes and macadamia nuts. What’s more, high fructose corn syrup is not healthy for your pet’s diet. This brings us to our next topic…

dog eating
Credit: Andrey Maximenko, Shutterstock

Your Dog’s Sugar Diet

To quickly recap, artificial sweeteners (Xylitol) are toxic to your pet and should not be fed to them at all. Granulated sugar can be given in moderation while fructose is a healthy part of your pet’s diet (again, within healthy limits.)

As you know, granulated sugar is the processed form of sugar cane while fructose is the natural sweetener found in fruits, etc. One important difference we have yet to mention, however, is that although both are safe for your pet to eat, only one has dietary benefits. Granulated sugar has no known benefits for your dog. Fructose, on the other hand, does.

As mentioned above, fructose is a simple carbohydrate that gives your dog energy. They benefit from the slow release of the sugar to provide muscle fuel. It can also help build stamina, reduce appetites, and it can even help with digestion. This is important for especially active dogs.

Nutritional Guidelines

The AAFCO regulates the required nutritional guidelines for canines. According to their chart, there is no minimum daily carbohydrate requirement. Although carbs can be beneficial, they are not required. Your dog gets the majority of their energy from fat and protein. Carbs, though they can help with energy, are not essential to their diet.

According to the National Research Council, canines do not need carbohydrates at all to live a healthy lifestyle. This may come as a surprise due to the high amount of carbs in most dog foods. In fact, the average manufacturer uses between 46% and 74% carbohydrates in their formulas.

So, if sugar, even in its naturally energy-producing form, is not required, why is it abundant in your store-bought product? First, it’s a cheap filler, easily accessible, has a long shelf life, and most of our modern “kibble” formulas would not be possible without it.

Can Dogs Eat Sugar

Health Consequences of Too Much Sugar

Unfortunately, not only are sugars not necessary, but they can come with serious health concerns, as well. Too much sugar, whether in granulated or fructose form, will cause your pet issues that range from an upset stomach to debilitating illnesses.

Below, let’s take a look at the health concerns associated with the more acceptable (and edible) canine sugars.

  • Upset Stomach: Eating too much sugar, whether cane or fruit, can cause your pet to have stomach issues. Symptoms such as diarrhea, vomiting, stomach pain, gas, and nausea are all common when they have indulged more than they should. This typically happens due to an imbalance in their digestive system. Dogs have enzymes in their digestive tract that breaks down food. An abundance of sugar can cause the enzymes to not react properly causing the issues mentioned above.
  • Dental Issues: Like us, too much sugar can cause issues with your teeth, gums, and tongue. Granulated sugar can give your dog cavities, rotting teeth, and even the eventual loss of them. Even too much fructose can have the same effect. This is because the bacteria in the mouth turn the sugar into acid. The acid then eats away at the enamel on your pet’s teeth causing issues.
  • Weight Gain: Sugary snacks and treats along with too many carbohydrates both cause weight gain in canines. This is especially true of older dogs, or those who are not as active for one reason or another. As we already talked about, carbs are a popular ingredient in many dog foods. This has led to a spike in canine obesity. Carry too many pounds has its health risks including joint pain, heart problems, and breathing issues.
  • Diabetes: Another issue associated with too much sugar and weight gain is diabetes. This is a serious health problem that is caused by the pancreas not creating enough insulin it needs to counteract blood sugar levels.
  • Other Diseases: Insulin that is released into your pet’s body can create changes in your pup’s hormones and other metabolic balances. It can affect their energy level, muscle tone, and immune system. With these changes, your dog can be more susceptible to illnesses and diseases.
  • Sugar Poisoning: Although we mentioned talking about the “edible” forms of sugar, we wanted to go over toxicity as the last issue. Fake sugar like Xylitol and chocolate can cause serious illness. These two items alone can cause hypoglycemia, seizures, liver failure, muscle spasms, internal bleeding, heart attack, and even death.

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Final Thoughts

Sugar in moderation is not harmful to your pet. In the right form, it can give them a burst of energy. Unfortunately, the nutritional benefits are limited to just that. On the other hand, too much sugar can have serious consequences. So, what is the best route to take? In our opinion, you are better off staying away from granulated sugars. The drawbacks are considerable, not to mention, the foods that sugar is associated with can be harmful.

If you want to indulge your pet’s sweet tooth, stick with safe fruits. As mentioned, not all fruits should be fed to your pup, but apples, bananas, and pears are all acceptable treats that your dog will love. We hope you have enjoyed this overview of sugar, and whether or not it is safe to feed your pet.


Written by Shannon MacDevine

Featured image credit: Bru-nO, Pixabay