Downeast Dog News


By Dr. Judith Herman | Aug 01, 2018

Q. My friend warned me about frozen dog treats because they are loaded with sugar. Is this true?

A. Just like our processed food we need to read labels when purchasing snacks and food for our companions. Dogs can become addicted to sugar just like we can. This is why some dogs will eat only one brand of dog food, or won’t touch the better homemade diets and raw diets. So, why is sugar in dog food and treats?

Dogs enjoy sweet food since they have taste buds that are attracted to sweets. They also can become addicted to sugar. When dogs consume sugar, a chemical reaction happens in the brain causing a release of dopamine. This chemical makes you or your dog feel good. Just like any chemical addiction, ingestion of more sugar is needed to get the same good feelings.

This reaction is not lost on dog food companies. Their job is to have Mom buy their food over another brand. Food and treat companies are marketing to the guardian. How often do I hear, “ Buster loves brand x and won’t eat anything else,” or “FiFi won’t eat the homemade diet so I went back to brand y which she loves.” When we train our dogs, we rate treats from highest to lowest value. Often the high value treat has sugar in it.

Today we have an epidemic of obesity, joint pain, and diabetes in our dogs. The biggest cause is over indulging our companions with snacks and food that are high in carbohydrates. Sugar is part of the carbohydrate percentage of these foods. Become avid label readers. The first thing you will notice in the breakdown of the food is that the percentage of carbohydrates is missing. This is because the company doesn’t want it to be obvious how high the percentage is. When you add up the listed ingredients, you will see the number is not 100%. When you add up the total number of percentages and subtract it from 100, you will have the percentage of carbohydrates in that food per dry matter. Dry matter is the standard used to compare foods. All it means is the water was taken out.

Besides making the food and treats taste better, food and snack companies add sugar to make the food more palatable and hide tastes the dog would normally avoid. Sugars will mask the taste of chemicals, fillers, less stellar ingredients, and other additives. Sugar can be listed in different ways. Sugar usually means cane sugar, but other sugars you will see are corn syrup, fructose, sucrose, caramel, and other forms of sugar. Sorbitol is a sugar alcohol that comes from fruits and berries, and it can be made synthetically. Beet pulp is a by-product from sugar beets. Molasses and honey have much healthier properties. Be aware they are sugars and need to be eaten cautiously.

Sugar is not bad. It adds easy accessible energy for active dogs. The problem comes when the sugar added is too much. In a natural environment, the diet available to a dog has about 8 to 10 percent carbohydrate and only a tiny amount of that is sugar, unless Buster raids a bee hive.

When buying treats for your companion, read the labels and become familiar with the different words that mean sugar. The best treats are in your refrigerator such as carrots, which are high in sugar, cheese, meats, and green beans.


Judith K. Herman, DVM, CVH

Animal Wellness Center

Augusta, Maine