How Sweet It Isn’t: Sugar in Your Dog’s Diet

preview-full-How Sweet It Isnt Sugar in Your Dogs Diet

Despite its delectable taste, sugar has been on every nutritionist’s hit list for years, and with good reason.  Much like Savoir Faire, sugar is everywhere!

The average American consumes 23 teaspoons, or 7-plus tablespoons, of sugar per day.  It makes us wonder how much of the sweet, white stuff the average American dog consumes per day.

The news isn’t good.  Recent statistics reveal sugar – and lots of it, in many forms — can be found, in ever increasing amounts, in most commercial dog food and treats.

As an example, let’s take a closer look at the ingredients in the chewy version of America’s top selling dog treat, Milk Bone Dog Biscuits:

“Beef, chicken, soy grits, sugar, cornstarch, filet mignon, salt, rice flour, propylene glycol, natural flavor, guar gum, lactic acid, garlic powder, potassium sorbate and BHA (to preserve freshness), artificial color, sodium nitrite.”

Another example can be found on the ingredient panel for Purina’s Beggin’ Strips. (I would never give my pug, Francis, a single morsel of the stuff, but I know she would greedily devour it, if given the chance.)

How come?  Simple.  Sugar!  See for yourself:

“Ground wheat, corn gluten meal, wheat flour, water, ground yellow corn, sugar, glycerin, soybean meal, hydrogenated corn syrup, bacon (preserved with sodium nitrite), salt, bacon fat (preserved with BHA and citric acid), phosphoric acid, sorbic acid (a preservative), natural and artificial egg and cheese flavor, calcium propionate (a preservative), added color, natural and artificial smoke flavors, Red 40, Yellow 5, Yellow 6, Blue 1.”

I’ll spare readers my rant about all that’s wrong with this picture.  Instead, I’ll mention the two temping sugar-based ingredients (sugar is sixth, and corn syrup is ninth) that keep dogs beggin’ for more.

Let’s examine a third wildly popular product, Purina Beneful.  This “food” contains the following:

“Ground yellow corn, chicken by-product meal, corn gluten meal, whole wheat flour, animal fat preserved with mixed tocopherols (form of Vitamin E), rice flour, beef, soy flour, water, meat and bone meal, propylene glycol, sugar, tricalcium phosphate, phosphoric acid, salt, animal digest, potassium chloride, sorbic acid (a preservative), dried peas, dried carrots, calcium propionate (a preservative), choline chloride, L-Lysine monohydrochloride, Vitamin E supplement, zinc sulfate, Red 40, ferrous sulfate, manganese sulfate, niacin, Yellow 6, Yellow 5, Vitamin A supplement, Blue 2, calcium carbonate, copper sulfate, Vitamin B-12 supplement, brewers dried yeast, calcium pantothenate, thiamine mononitrate, garlic oil, pyridoxine hydrochloride, riboflavin supplement, Vitamin D-3 supplement, menadione sodium bisulfite complex (source of Vitamin K activity), calcium iodate, folic acid, biotin, sodium selenite.”

To me, Beneful is hardly of any benefit.  What Beneful is full of is sugar and starches that convert to sugar in your dog’s system, once ingested.


So what’s so bad about sugar?  Here’s the deal:  Sixty years ago, Dr. William Coda Martin pondered the thought:

What makes one thing food, and what makes it poison?  As a form of an answer, Dr. Martin defined refined (white) sugar (and its drippy cohorts such as corn syrup) as poison.  Says Martin:  “Sugar consists of pure, refined carbohydrates.  The body cannot utilize this refined starch and carbohydrate unless the depleted proteins, vitamins and minerals are present.  Sugar is worse than nothing because it drains and leaches the body of precious vitamins and minerals through the demand its digestion, detoxification and elimination makes upon one’s entire system.”

If that is the case, what does sugar do to our dogs?  Nothing nice.  Our canines are becoming addicted to sugar-laden foods and treats, and becoming sick and fat.

According to veterinarian, Dr. Ernie Ward, the founder of the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP), 45 in every 100 dogs and 58 in every 100 cats are overweight.  What does that add up to?  A whopping 89 million animals!  It seems this epidemic parallels the one plaguing American people.  So what do these folks and their fur babies have in common?  They consume large amounts of processed foods.

Processed foods can barely be called food, and offer very little by way of nutrition.  They contain hydrogenated oils (oils that have been chemically manipulated for better “mouth feel” and shelf stability), refined flours and, wait for it, sugar.

Sugar serves to tempt the palate and sweeten the deal.  Most processed foods have little good things to offer, and are devoid of vitamins, minerals, bioavailable enzymes, fiber, quality proteins and healthful fats.


I recently worked with a dog named Oscar, who suffered from skin allergies, yeast infections, lethargy and seizures.  Oscar’s daily diet consisted of four cups of Beneful and two or three Beggin’ Strips.

Despite the large volume of food ingested, because of the refined sugars in his food, Oscar’s body was being robbed of nutrients like potassium, magnesium and calcium, and his cells were starving.  Over time, this created a cycle of sickness, which placed great stress on Oscar’s skin, teeth and bones.

To be fair, Oscar’s humans, like so many other pet parents, trusted pet food manufacturers to provide their baby good, sound nutrition.  They didn’t know that Oscar’s diet was at the core of his health problems.

As we scrutinized each and every ingredient, Oscar’s parents became both aware and outraged, which motivated them to make some changes.  We slowly and carefully weaned Oscar off this disastrous daily fare, and Oscar endured a withdrawal period as his body ridded itself of all the sugars and artificial substances he had been ingesting.

Six months later, after a diet of holistic, species-appropriate, sugar-free food, Oscar looked great, had boundless energy, and, best of all, was seizure-free.


After what we’ve learned, is it safe to feed any sugar to our dogs?  I don’t think so.  Refined sugar courts constant hunger and hyperactivity, and contributes to obesity, diabetes, autoimmune disease and even cancer.

While the sugar cane plant is considered healthful, when it is processed (refined) into white sugar crystals or syrups, it loses vitamins, minerals, enzymes, and even its vital force.  It becomes a heaping white pile of crap.

I call any commercial sugary, chemically laden dog food “doggie crack,” and with good reason.  Neurologic research has shown that our brains “light up” after consumption of sugar just as they do after using cocaine.

So keep this in mind when you come across any dog treats or dog food with ingredients like fructose, sucrose, corn syrup, dextrose or sugar. Just Say No!

About the Author Rita Hogan

Rita Hogan is a canine herbalist and co-founder of Farm Dog Naturals, ( an herbal remedy company for the All-Natural Dog. Rita combines nature with her love for dogs by offering consulting that focuses on dogs as individuals: mind, body and spirit. Her practice incorporates herbal medicine, complementary therapies and environmental stewardship to help dogs and people find balance and partnership with nature.

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