Not only can dogs eat a low-carb diet, there are several reasons to suggest that it might be a healthier alternative to a typical high-carb dog diet. A low-carb, or keto, dog diet can help your pet avoid weight gain, better regulate its insulin and blood sugar levels, and even fight cancer.
This in-depth guide will describe the benefits of a low-carb diet for dogs, as well as how to start one.
Table of Contents
- Why Try a Low-Carb or “Keto” Diet?
- Health Benefits of a Low-Carb Doggy Diet
- Dangers of a High-Carb Diet for Dogs
- What a Low-Carb Diet for Dogs Looks Like
Why Try a Low-Carb or “Keto” Diet?
The ketogenic, or “keto,” diet, has become increasingly popular in recent years thanks to its ability to contribute to sustainable weight loss. A keto diet is based on changing the proportions of the three major macronutrients: fat, protein, and carbohydrates. Specifically, a keto diet is high in fat and protein while being low in carbohydrates.
Animals get energy by converting carbs into glucose, with any excess glucose being stored long-term as glycogen. If you cut carbs out of your diet, your body will be forced to use up its store of glycogen before becoming reliant on energy from fat. This stage, known as “ketosis,” offers multiple benefits, including:
- Diminished appetite
- Lowered insulin levels
- Superior fat burning
Together, these factors lead to lower caloric intake, fewer cravings, and less excess fat on the body. In addition, the high level of protein consumed in the keto diet allow it to be maintained over a long period of time, unlike some other fad diets.
Health Benefits of a Low-Carb Doggy Diet
The question is, what does all of this have to do with dogs?
Well, although veterinary scientists have yet to research the subject in enough depth to verify the benefits of a keto diet for pets like dogs, some anecdotal evidence suggests that a keto diet might be beneficial for man’s best friend.
Keto Can Help Fight Cancer
Apart from its nutritional benefits, the keto diet can potentially serve as a supplemental treatment for epilepsy, cancer, and even dementia. Since cancerous cells have a metabolism that is primarily dependent on carbs, a low-carb diet can slow their growth.
Since 2014, the nonprofit organization KetoPet has studied the benefits of a keto diet for dogs, especially those in shelters and scheduled for euthanasia. KetoPet fed a study group of shelter dogs a ketogenic diet in tandem with cancer treatment. At the end of the experiment, the majority of the dogs lived a longer-than-expected lifespan, and a few dogs even managed to become completely cancer-free, though this was the exception.
Keto Can Also Help with Epilepsy and Diabetes
According to the American Kennel Club, a keto diet can also potentially reduce seizure frequencies in epileptic dogs and even improve quality of life for dogs with diabetes. This makes sense, given the ability of low-carb diets to improve the body’s ability to regulate insulin levels.
Dangers of a High-Carb Diet for Dogs
If your pooch has been eating a typical commercial dog food, it has probably been eating at least 40 percent carbs, if not more. This is because even dog foods that advertise meaty flavors and high protein are often filled with added, unnecessary carbs as a sort of cheap filler.
The problem with a high-carb diet is that it can contribute to weight gain because carbs are less filling than protein and especially fat, meaning that your dog can eat more carb-heavy food before feeling full. This means more calories, which present a greater risk of unhealthy weight gain.
In addition, too many carbs can lead to an unhealthy insulin spike. Insulin is necessary to carry the energy from carbs throughout the dog’s body, but too much insulin produced to transport the excess carbs can negatively affect your pet’s blood sugar and long-term health.
This is no small issue, either. Canine diabetes rates have increased by nearly 80% since the mid-2000s, and just over half of dogs qualify as “obese.” A high-carb diet may not be completely to blame for all of these problems, but it certainly isn’t helping.
What a Low-Carb Diet for Dogs Looks Like
One nice thing about a keto diet is that your dog is adapted to it. Canines in the wild are natural omnivores, hunting prey and scavenging for the rest of their meals. A study published in the British Journal of Nutrition suggests that wild canines like wolves eat 54 percent protein, 45 percent fat, and only about 1 percent carbs.
Since wild canines naturally eat a protein- and fat-heavy diet with minimal carbs or “roughage,” your dog’s digestive system should be able to handle the diet.
The macronutrient proportions for a keto diet for dogs is going to be somewhat different than that for their wolfen cousins. A domestic dog will require about 70 percent fat, 25 percent protein, and 5 percent carbs in order to achieve and maintain a healthy state of ketosis.
Fatty and protein-rich foods like fish, liver and other dark organ meats, and classic muscle meat (think: steak) are key to a keto diet for both humans and dogs. You should also feed your canine eggs, cheese, and oils like anti-inflammatory coconut oil, antioxidant-heavy olive oil, and immune-system-boosting sunflower oil.
Finally, your dog can also eat low-carb veggies like broccoli and leafy greens, low-sugar berries like raspberries, blackberries, and cranberries, and healthy nuts and legumes like protein-heavy peanuts and vitamin-rich chestnuts.
Keto Dry Dog Food and Treats
This may sound like a lot of work, so consider augmenting whatever “human food” you are feeding your keto dog with low-carb, keto-friendly dry dog food, or search the web for DIY keto treats to keep your dog well-fed yet low-carb throughout the day.
What to Expect During a Low-Carb Dog Diet
If you do put your dog on a low-carb diet, be aware that your pooch will almost certainly have low energy and crash for the first few days. Keto diet practitioners call this the “keto flu,” which should dissipate after no more than about a week.
One warning: pay close attention to your dog to make sure he isn’t experiencing digestive discomfort in the form of either diarrhea or constipation. If your pet has either of these symptoms, talk to your veterinarian before continuing the low-carb diet.