If you've noticed Sparky's pointy teeth and the way his jaws move when he eats, you're seeing his carnivore roots in action. His wolf ancestors have been eating meat for thousands of years. He's also built to digest carbohydrates, but that doesn't mean he should have carbohydrate-heavy diet.
Carbs: Simple and Complex
Carbohydrates aren't all bad; they can be a source of energy and heat, as well as serve as the building blocks for other nutrients. Simple carbohydrates, such as fructose and sucrose, are found in honey, sugar and fruits. These carbs require little digestive work and are easily converted to glucose when absorbed from the small intestine. Complex carbohydrates take longer to digest and require help from enzymes from the pancreas and intestines before they're absorbed. Grains, beans and vegetables are complex carbs.
Carbs Not Necessary
Despite the usefulness of carbs, Sparky doesn't really need them in his diet. They provide no nutritional value to him that he can't get from the two things he really does require, fat and protein. However, carbohydrates are common in dry dog food because they're cost effective. Though he doesn't need them, Sparky's digestive tract can accommodate carbohydrates just fine. Pet food manufacturers understand this and use carbohydrate-based ingredients as inexpensive alternatives to other protein sources, such as meat.
Role of Carbs in Dog Food
Carbohydrates contain vitamins, minerals, fiber, protein and fatty acids, so it's possible for a dog to live on a carb-heavy diet -- even one high in inexpensive grains. According to Dr. Susan Wynn's Pet Health and Nutrition blog, higher levels of carbohydrates in a dog's diet have a place. Dogs that suffer from pancreatitis or are trying to lose weight are two examples when using a high quality carbohydrate as a substitute for a meat or fat makes good sense for Sparky. Dr. Wynn notes that there's no reason to avoid carbohydrates unless Sparky has an intolerance to them or a condition that requires low carbohydrates.
Dog Food Advisor broke out the difference in content between commercial dry dog food and the canine ancestral diet. Many years ago, Sparky's wild ancestors lived on a diet that was 56 percent protein, up to 30 percent fat and 14 percent carbohydrates. In comparison, dog kibble contains 18-32 percent protein, 8-22 percent fat and 46-74 percent carbohydrates. However, the question is, just how much of Sparky's wild ancestors are still in him? A recent study showed that domestic dogs evolved from wolves, partly because they ate carbohydrates. Dogs have genes that help digest starches more efficiently than their wolf ancestors possess.
The Right Mix of Nutrients
In 2006, the National Research Council published a paper and noted that research showed that up an adult dog's daily diet could have up to 50 percent carbohydrates by weight. The diet should also have a minimum of 5.5 percent fat and 10 percent protein. Dr. Ron Hines recommends a diet comprised of 20-45 percent protein, 5-10 percent fat and 20-35 percent carbohydrates. There's a big difference between the two and the bottom line is that Sparky's carb intake will depend on his individual circumstances. There is no set "right" amount of carbs to feed Sparky. If he has a medical condition, you should discuss his diet with your vet to make sure that his condition isn't aggravated by too much -- or too little -- protein, fat or carbs.
- Dogfood Advisor: Dogs and Carbohydrates — A Surprising Secret Revealed
- Los Angeles Times: Carbs Were Key in Wolves Evolution Into Dogs
- Pet Health and Nutrition: Are Grains All Bad?
- The Whole Dog Journal: Carbs Contribute the Bulk of Your Dog's Kibble (Even Many Grain-Free Foods)
- National Research Council: Your Dog's Nutritional Needs: A Science-Based Guide for Pet Owners
- 2ndChance.info: Home Cooked Pet Diets, Home Made Recipes And Pet Nutrition
- Dog Food Advisor: Are Dogs Carnivores — or Omnivores?