Can Dogs Have Sugar?
One of the defining characteristics of human beings is our sweet tooth—most of us cannot get enough of anything containing any type of sugar, whether the food in question is chocolate cake packed with cane sugar, sweet potatoes full of natural sugars, or even ‘healthy’ pancakes that have been drenched in pure maple syrup. We love sugar in all of its forms, and we eat it in every single meal. Even though sugar has gotten some bad press in recent years, few of us have actually reduced our sugar intake dramatically. It’s in everything!
Sugar shows up in baked goods, pasta sauces, packaged snacks and condiments like ketchup and maple syrup. This is in addition to the countless foods we like to sprinkle with pure table sugar: fresh sliced strawberries, cold cereal with your milk of choice, oatmeal, and of course, coffee and tea. For better or for worse, sugar is a dietary staple in modern western society, and it is not likely to change any time soon. But what does this mean for our animal companions?
House pets are often exposed to our favorite foods in the form of leftovers (and, well, few of us can resist their begging for too long). But what should our policy be on foods that we know contain sugar? Are we threatening our pets’ lives by giving them a little bit of berries sprinkled with sugar, or by giving them our kids’ syrup-soaked leftover pancake? Can you give your dog sugar?
The answer is technically yes, in that dogs can eat sugar without suffering from serious, immediately life-threatening consequences. That does not mean, however, that giving your dog sugar is a good idea! Table sugar is not at all toxic to your dog—it will not damage their liver or their kidneys—but it is an extremely unhealthy food that can increase their risk of disease in the long term. If your dog already has health problems such as obesity and diabetes, it would be a good idea to avoid sugar to the best of your abilities, but healthy adult dogs can probably eat your soggy leftover pancake from time to time without any consequences. Just remember that sugar is junk food and it should be kept to a minimum.
Sugar’s status as a nutritionally empty food is nothing new to most of us; health magazines, doctors, and other nutritional authorities have been warning us about the dangers of empty calories for years. The pure sugar that shows up in so many of our foods under names such as sucrose, high fructose corn syrup, brown/cane/beet sugar, corn syrup, corn syrup solids, barley malt, dextrose, maltodextrin, maple syrup, and rice syrup is totally devoid of all of the vitamins, minerals, and amino acids your dog needs in order to thrive.
Feeding sugar to dogs will offer them none of the nutrition they need in order to grow and maintain their bodies. Sugar, in all of its forms, is empty calories, which makes it a perfect food for causing rapid weight gain. Because sugar is a low volume food, all those extra calories can add up incredibly quickly. Feeding your dog sugary foods on a regular basis will almost certainly cause them to gain weight, and they may wind up overweight or obese.
Given that over half of dogs in the United States are already overweight or obese, the last thing most pups need is extra sugar. Dogs who have too much fat on their bodies can suffer a wide range of negative effects, including insulin resistance, diabetes, heart disease, many types of cancer, arthritis, and depression. They also lose their love of exercise, which can seriously hurt their quality of life. If that weren’t bad enough, pet obesity can shorten your dog’s life by up to two and a half years.
The current pet obesity epidemic is fueled by humans sharing too many of their favorite junk foods with their pets. Though your sad-eyed Poodle may seem like they are desperate for a taste of your snickerdoodle cookies, they will be much better off in the long term if you give them carrot sticks or apple slices instead.
Sugar is especially dangerous for dogs with insulin resistance or diabetes. Like people, dogs burn sugar for energy (their cells run on glucose), but giving them pure sugar to eat turns out to be too efficient. The healthiest ways to energize your dog are by providing complex carbohydrates, fiber, and proteins that slow digestion and reduce blood sugar spikes, which can worsen insulin resistance.
Giving your dog table sugar can hurt their oral health, too! Sugar is the perfect food for bacteria, which means that sweets will only increase your pet’s chances of developing gingivitis, cavities, and a range of other oral infections. Oral infections can have serious consequences—bacteria from infected teeth and gums can leech into the bloodstream and spread throughout the body, causing damage to other organs like the kidneys, liver, and heart. It’s important to brush your dog’s teeth in order to prevent cavities, but you can also help keep their mouths clean by minimizing the amount of sugar you allow them to eat.
Things to Keep in Mind
The healthiest types of sugar for your dog are the ones found in fruit. If you want to give your dog a sweet treat, try giving them pieces of apples, pears, bananas, peaches, or berries. Veggies like carrots and sweet potatoes are also excellent options for most dogs— they can satisfy their sweet teeth without damaging their health!
Even though sugar isn’t great for your dog, many artificial sweeteners are even worse. Sweeteners like xylitol are actually poisonous to canines. Never give your dog any sugar-free treats containing xylitol. They will be much better off eating the regular version of the candy, sugar and all.
In conclusion, sugar definitely is not a healthy food for your pet, but it will not hurt them to eat a little bit of it every now and then. Still, keep your dog’s sugar intake to a minimum—especially if they are obese, or if they suffer from insulin resistance or diabetes.