Hello Pet Parents!
Here at PetShopBowl we thought we would explain every thing you need to know about the ingredients and nutrients in your pet's food - with this blog focusing on carbohydrate.
What is carbohydrate?
Carbohydrate is one of the six nutrients that your pet gets from their food ingredients. The other vital nutrients are water, protein, fat, vitamins and minerals.
Carbohydrates commonly make up 30-70% of dry dog and cat food. They come mainly from plants and grains, and provide energy in the form of sugars.
Carbohydrates can be divided into two categories: simple and complex carbohydrates.
Simple carbohydrates are basically 'simple sugars' which means they are made up of one or two sugar molecules put together. These sugars are relatively easy for your pet to digest and convert to energy. Some examples include sugar found in fruit and milk.
Complex carbohydrates are made up of lots of simple sugars that form much longer chains. These require more work to break them down, by specialised enzymes, before they can be used in your pet's body. Complex carbohydrates include fibre and starches like oats and potatoes.
How do carbohydrates benefit my pet?
Carbohydrates are the nutrients that can be most quickly made into energy, and energy is vital, not just for exercise but for everything your pet's body does, like carrying oxygen in blood. Energy is also very important in maintaining the brain and nervous system. So even though we think of carbohydrate as the 'filler ingredients' can make our pets overweight, they can be very helpful in keeping your pet active and healthy!
Excess carbohydrate is usually converted into fatty deposits in the body and, as long as a healthy amount of bodily fat is maintained, these deposits help to protect the body from trauma by 'cushioning' the organs and skeletal structure.
Carbohydrates provide the dry kibble with its structure and texture, allowing the food to be stored and eaten easily. Carbohydrates also keep the animal from feeling hungry and help 'clean' the surface of the teeth - which can reduce tartar build-up.
Carbohydrates provide necessary fibre to the diet too, which is important as it helps to regulate bacteria levels in the large intestine and promotes healthy toileting -Fibre can even help to control blood sugar levels in diabetic dogs.
Carbohydrates are a big reason why dog food tastes and smells good too - to your pet that is.
What are the carbohydrate requirements for dogs and cats?
Because they do not help forming 'building blocks' of body tissues like bones and organs, carbohydrates are not thought of as essential nutrients like the others. However, they are not just 'filler ingredients' because, when compared to all the other nutrients, carbohydrates are the ones that can be quickest made into energy for when your pet needs it.
Researchers have estimated that the dog ancester's natural diet consisted of around 14% carbohydrate, however dry pet food today can include as much as 70% carbohydrate.
So when choosing dog food, it is best to choose a diet lower in carbohydrates. However, since most pet food manufacturers do not list the percentage of carbohydrates inside their products, buyers have to look at the ingredients list to roughly see how much carbohydrate is in the food and how good the sources of it are.
How can I tell which carbohydrate sources are better than others?
The source of carbohydrate matters massively in how digestible the nutrient is - poorer quality carbohydrates will not be easy for your pet to digest and therefore could bring next to nothing to their health.
Common carbohydrate sources used in pet foods include grains such as barley, oats, rice, wheat, corn and potato.
Well sourced carbohydrates will usually include the word "whole" in the name of the item, letting you know that the ingredient has not been processed - Processed grains are much harder to digest. Examples of whole grains include whole oatmeal and brown rice.
Sweet potatoes are an easily digestible source of carbohydrate, and provide good fibre to the diet too!
In order to work out roughly how much carbohydrate is in the diet, the amount of protein, fat, moisture and ash (minerals) in the diet can be added to leave a percentage of 'potential carbohydrate'.
Therefore, it is important for a responsible pet parent to choose a complete pet food that contains the best sourced ingredients, and best balanced nutrient amounts, that they can afford. Typically the rule is: the more expensive the pet food, the better quality nutrients and ingredients.
What will happen if I feed my dog too much carbohydrate?
If the animal eats too much and exercises too little, carbohydrate will convert into fatty deposits in the body and can then cause obesity, which can then cause osteoarthritis, high blood pressure, respiratory disease, kidney disease, cancer and a decreased life expectancy of several years.
Pet foods with higher levels of poorer quality carbohydrates, like processed grains, are believed to potentially cause allergies, skin sensitivities, digestive sensitivities and a poor coat.
Should I ever reduce the carbohydrate in my pet's diet?
Provided your pet eats a good quality complete and balanced diet there is no need to lower the carbohydrate amount because good quality diets contain the right amount of all nutrients. If you believe you are feeding your pet a poorer quality diet, with perhaps too much carbohydrate inside, then it is recommended to change the diet to a better quality product, especially if your pet is displaying allergies or sensitivities - likely due to processed grains.
Changing a pet's diet should be done over a period of 10 days, where the first day you feed the pet 90% of the old food and 10% of the new food, then on second day you would feed 80% old food and 20% new food etc.
If the pet is overweight is it common advice that the amount of food be lowered - usually by 5-10% - instead of just the level of carbohydrate or any other single nutrient.
What low carbohydrate diets are available?
Please seek veterinary advice if your pet is displaying signs of a potentially serious illness, as there may be underlying problems which are not related to their diet.
For general pet health and nutrition queries you can always contact our Pet Health Advisor on 01789-205-095 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org