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Can Dogs Eat Sugar?


Sugar means many things to many people. To most of us, it’s how we sweeten our coffees and bundt cakes. To scientists, it’s the carbohydrate that all living things need to function. 

To dogs, sugar is both a necessary part of their diet and a mouthwatering danger.

As a rule, dogs should not have sugar outside of their regular diet.

Your dog’s food — whether it’s kibble, canned or our fresh food — typically contains all the sugar they need to keep their energy levels where they need to be. Anything more could lead to digestive problems, dental issues and even more serious ailments that require immediate veterinary attention.

Why can’t dogs have sugar?

Nature is responsible for all types of sugar (molasses, corn syrup and lactose to name a few), but for the purposes of this article, “sugar” refers to the everyday table sugar used for cooking and baking.

On one hand, sugar is essentially unavoidable. It’s in their treats. It’s in their food. It’s in almost everything in your fridge, if only in trace amounts. The problem is when it’s consumed in large quantities, on its own or packed into products that contain no other nutritional value like candy or mints.

  • Sugary foods are known to cause oral issues in both humans and dogs, including cavities, gingivitis and gum disease.
  • Indigestion, vomiting and diarrhea are all common symptoms for a dog that’s consumed too much sugar. 
  • Excess sugar intake can even lead to cataracts and vision issues — particularly in older dogs

Sugar, dogs & diabetes

overweight dog

While sugar may not be the cause of diabetes in dogs, it often plays a large role in managing its effects. Most diabetic dogs are dealing with an insulin deficiency that creates excess sugar buildup in the bloodstream.

The results can be dangerous when left untreated, leading to low energy levels, rapid weight loss and — at its most extreme — organ failure.

While your vet should be the final word when it comes to managing diabetes, a healthy, protein-rich fresh diet to help balance sugar absorption is often a good place to start.

Can dogs have artificial sweeteners?

You’ve probably heard of the dangers associated with chocolate and raisins, but foods filled with sugar-free artificial sweeteners can be just as tempting to dogs. And the risks can be just as great.

Xylitol has been known to cause vomiting, lethargy and potentially fatal effects when consumed in larger quantities. And it’s not just found in candy — some peanut butters, puddings, syrups and barbecue sauces.

Erythritol, aspartame and saccharin may not be toxic for pets, but all have been known to cause gastrointestinal complications in dogs when consumed in larger quantities. 

Alternatives to sugar for dogs

Treating our fearless companions is one of the great joys of pet ownership. As tempting as it is to let them get the last lick of your ice cream cone or mop up the pancake batter off the floor, there are healthier and safer ways to give your dog a dose of sweetness without risking diabetes, digestion issues or dental problems.

Fructose, a simple sugar found in fruits, is okay for most dogs when carefully moderated. We wouldn’t recommend feeding your dog fruit by the bushel, but a scrap here or there won’t hurt. Same goes for maple syrup and honey — taken in small quantities, neither should cause digestive issues.

Ultimately though, your goal should be keeping your dog’s sugar intake to a minimum. So check the labels on your treats, your dog food and your own food to make sure they’re rarely consuming more than what’s necessary for their diet.

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