Dogs and Carbohydrates — A Surprising Secret Revealed


Zero. That’s how many carbohydrates are nutritionally required by a dog to sustain life.
Dog Food Carbohydrate Secrets
The fact that a dog food doesn’t need to contain any “carbs” at all seems hard to believe.

But it’s true.

You see, according to the National Research Council and compared to the other two major nutrients — protein and fat — no carbs are considered essential for a healthy canine diet.1

Dogs don’t need corn. And they don’t need wheat, barley rice or potatoes, either. 

Yet surprisingly, carbs represent the dominant nutrient found in most dry dog foods.

Why Dog Food Companies
Love Carbohydrates

Since the early 1950s, dog food manufacturers everywhere have fallen head-over-heels in love with carbs because they’re:

  • Abundant
  • Durable (long shelf life)
  • Essential to the kibble-making process
  • Cheaper (per calorie than protein or fat)

Please notice that not one of these reasons has anything to do with nutrition — not one.

Are Carbs Safe?

Carbohydrates aren’t bad for dogs. In reasonable amounts, they can actually provide a practical source of energy.

However, the problem lies in their quantity.

Using a dog’s ancestral diet as a model, the total amount of carbs consumed by a dog’s evolutionary predecessor is dramatically less than what’s become the norm for today’s kibbles.

One sensible source estimates natural carbohydrate consumption for a dog’s ancestors at around 14 percent of total diet.2

Yet on average, today’s dry dog foods contain somewhere between 46 and 74 percent carbohydrates.3

Comparing the Numbers

Today’s kibbles contain as much as four times the carbohydrate content historically found in the canine ancestral diet.

Canine Ancestral Diet versus Dry Dog Food

Wouldn’t it make sense for a dog’s food to be more like the specie’s ancestral diet — with more protein and fat — and fewer carbs?

The Bottom Line

When choosing dog food, it’s reasonable to favor products lower in carbohydrates. 

However, since most dog food manufacturers fail to disclose the percentage of carbohydrates contained in their products, the Dog Food Advisor provides an estimate of this important figure inside every review.

So, look for dog foods rich in meat-based protein and lower in carbs. You could be adding years of better health to your best friend’s life.


  1. National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences, “Nutrient Requirements of Dogs and Cats”, 2006 Edition, National Academies Press, Washington, DC
  2. Brown S., Taylor B., “See Spot Live Longer”, 2007 Creekobear Press, Eugene, OR USA, page 51
  3. National Research Council, National Academy of Science, “Nutrient Requirements of Dogs and Cats”, 2006 Edition, National Academies Press, Washington, DC, p 317
  • aimee

    I think that is wonderful. Here is a list of veterinary nutritionists that do consults. Your vet will need to coordinate this as it isn’t legal in many states for the nutritionist to work directly with you with our your vet’s involvement.

  • Cindy Wrobel

    Thank you for sending this, its a good article and I will try contacting Dr. Center for advice.

  • Cindy Wrobel

    Thanks for the reply, I will be searching for a nutritionist to help me find what is best for him.

  • Cindy Wrobel

    Thank you for the reply, I’m pretty much at the point where I’ll be making his food, he’s such a picky eater so may just be easier to do that anyways

  • Cindy Wrobel

    Hi and thanks for the reply, I know my vet didn’t mean to imply that I caused it but said that the foods that are grain free usually means that they are higher in protein and lower in carbs and Yorkies are prone to liver issues. I should have done my research on Yorkies as I do with everything else so i do take responsibility for this issue. Now I must work to improve his diet to try to combat further issues. One study Inread stated fish was good as long as it wasn’t salmon, mackerel etc…but that cod was a good protein but now looks as
    Though that was not exactly accurate either . I may just resort to making his food so any help would be welcomed

  • aimee

    I found this:

    It is only an abstract from 1971 and it is a surgical created shunt but compared horse meat to “fish fillets” ( doesn’t specify type) and milk.

    Dogs fed meat developed “meat intoxication” and survived an average of
    twenty-six days after portacaval shunt. Dogs fed fish protein also
    developed symptoms of encephalopathy but had a mean survival of
    fifty-four days. Animals fed skim milk developed no symptoms or less
    severe symptoms of protein intolerance and had a mean survival of
    sixty-eight days.

    From this “fish” looked better than red meat but still caused signs while dairy had the best outcome.

  • aimee

    Not really…but I can say that over the years I’ve never seen fish recommended for shunt dogs. ( I know Dodd’s “liver cleansing” diet recommends fish… i have no idea why) I did at some point come across something that recommended against fish due to the purine content as dogs with shunts are prone to urate stones.

    Fish in general tends to be high in purine … but soy doesn’t look to be that different in purine content from some fish and it is used as a protein ??? … maybe a difference in bioavailability of the purine AA between the plant based and animal based source. I don’t have any answers only questions. Dairy always seems to be recommended over the years.

    I don’t have a source I can link to for this either, but from general reading on the topic I recall that it was assumed it was the aromatic to branched chained AA ratio that was a key factor in choosing a protein for a dog with a shunt( fish looks good on paper) but then it was found that sources with similar ratios had vastly different results when fed to shunt patients.

    I’ve read some ideas on why that could be including how a particular protein source influences the gut bacteria which then makes compounds that contribute to encephalopathic state…. it isn’t solely ammonia that causes this.

    I used to see egg recommended but now find sources backing off of egg. Used to see recommendation not to use any meat and now see chicken sometimes incorporated used as part of the mix.

    I consider Dr Center one of the countries top liver experts along with Dr. Twedt. If Dr. Center says no fish… she must have her reasons and I’d heed her advice.

  • Shawna

    That’s very interesting, aimee! I wish she/they would explain why. Have you seen any explanation from either?

  • aimee

    Hi Shawna,

    I thought I’d share with you Dr Sharon Center’s recommendations for protein sources for dogs with shunts. Dr Center is a top authority in regards to liver disease. I came across her work years ago when doing research when my previous dog was diagnosed with congenital liver malformation. She specifically advises against fish for dogs with shunts.

    “Dogs with PSVA must not be fed red meat or fish. Rather, dairy-quality
    protein, tofu-based protein and, if necessary to promote appetite, white
    meat chicken should be fed. Vegetables, popcorn, cheese, yogurt, and
    even ice cream make good treats.”

    Edit: This is from Merck Manuel “Red meat, fish, and organ meats must be avoided.” The article was reviewed by Dr.Sharon Center.

  • aimee

    Hi Cindy,

    i came across this article in regards to protein sources for dogs with shunts. Dr Sharron Center is well known and respected in the area of liver disorders.

    She specifically recommends to not feed fish or red meat in dogs with shunts. I don’t know if this applies to your dog but thought I’d pass it on.

    “The nutritional goal is to reduce the amount of protein in the diet and
    to modify the type of protein ingested,” says Center. “A diet specific
    for liver disease, such as a specially formulated veterinary brand, is a
    good idea. Dogs with PSVA must not be fed red meat or fish. Rather,
    dairy-quality protein, tofu-based protein and, if necessary to promote
    appetite, white meat chicken should be fed. Vegetables, popcorn, cheese,
    yogurt, and even ice cream make good treats.”

  • AJ Tyne

    I’m sorry I was unclear. I meant to talk to your vet about your feelings that you caused the dog’s liver problems by feeding grain-free. I just didn’t want you being so hard on yourself when the vet may not have meant it that way.

  • aimee

    Hi Cindy,
    I’m sorry that you and your dog are going through this. Like Shawna I agree that this was not caused by feeding a grain free/ high protein diet.

    Your pet’s condition sounds very serious. If your dog won’t eat the food your vet recommended then my advice is that you go back to your vet and get a different recommendation.

    For a dog with HE a commercial diet sold for normal dogs isn’t going to be the best choice and may have sources of protein that are not recommended for your dog’s condition.

    I’ve primarily seen dairy, soy, and sometimes egg as recommend protein sources for dog’s with HE.

    The level of protein that can be tolerated will be specific to your dog. The goal is to feed as much high quality protein as your dog can do well on.

  • Shawna

    If wanting a commercial kibble, 18% will be the lowest you will be able to find as that is the minimum requirement, for adult dogs, of protein in order to be sold as complete and balanced.

    Have you thought about making your own withe the guidance of a veterinary nutritionist?

  • Cindy Wrobel

    I did speak to my vet and they recommended an HE food which my dog will not eat, that is the reason I reached out to this forum for help with a higher carb/lower protein food . this suggestion from my vet was not to cure the issue but we were trying to control his seizures with diet prior to starting on medication

  • Cindy Wrobel

    Thank you, I am
    Adding boiled cod to his food but was trying to find a food lower in protein as I am adding the protein.

  • Shawna

    Feeding grains does not prevent liver disease. Feeding high protein does not cause liver disease.

    This is from UC Davis Veterinary Medicine
    “Protein restriction is NOT recommended in many cases for animals with liver disease based on evidence from research in humans. It is believed that the protein requirement may be increased and unnecessary restriction can reduce the production of important proteins like albumin. Reduced albumin concentrations puts the animal at risk for abnormal fluid accumulations, such as ascites (abdominal fluid). However, protein restriction can be crucial in treating the small number of patients with clinical signs of protein intolerance (hepatic encephalopathy or HE; see section below), but may be detrimental in patients without signs of HE.”

    If your pup has a liver shunt, which is common in Yorkies, then YES lowering protein can be beneficial. It is not because the higher protein is bad in and of itself but because the liver of a pup with a shunt can’t convert the ammonia created by protein digestion to urea effectively or at all in some cases. There are low ammonia producing protein that can be fed in higher amounts to dogs with liver shunts — whitefish as an example.

  • AJ Tyne

    Perhaps you should speak to your vet about your concerns. It may well be that your dog’s diet isn’t /wasn’t the problem. Maybe it has a congenital or hereditary liver disease. Just because high carb is the way to treat it once the disease is established doesn’t necessarily mean low carb was bad and caused him to get sick. THere are many variables.

  • Shawna

    I don’t really consider options as a bad thing. As a consumer, with anything I buy, it’s up to me to research the best choices for my needs and beliefs. I do this when I buy electronics, shoes, dog food and pretty much everything else.

  • Diva Chloe

    It’s confusing and contradictory, too many conflicting opinions-and all those studies!!! I’ve decided if it’s a food my dogs will eat–frankly that IS the big issue–and it’s at least a good food by most studies, my dogs get it. If they won’t eat at $69 a case food, I’ve wasted my money and I won’t do what others say to do and starve them for days. They would only chow down out of hunger then go on strike again.The worst thing that ever happened, in my opinion, is when the dog food (and cat) industry decided to overload us all with their confusing, misleading and sometimes untruthful marketing.

  • Bill Calhoun

    Thanks Diva. We’re using Senior Acana (evening meal) and Big Dog Canine Barf Frozen Turkey during the morning feedings. Might be a bit tough for me to separate out the fat…suggestions?

  • Diva Chloe

    I have your same concern. Presumably fat content is associated with the amount of protein (animal protein that is) unless the protein can be de-fatted, but then may not be 100% defatted. I seriously doubt manufactures go that far, so it comes down to how much fat the protein has in it. When I cook for my 2 dogs I separate much of the fat out by adding ice cubes that harden the fat, then I can pick that out (or if you boil the meat, add ice to the broth and dump that when it’s hardened. The problem with manufactured foods and their disclosure of fat is that they show a “minimum” value, so what’s that supposed to tell us? I want to know the maximum fat content. Anyone else confused about this? As for carbs, don’t feed your dog entirely dry food. Mine have always gained too much weight on every brand I have tried them on.

  • Cindy Wrobel

    My Yorkie was just diagnosed with liver disease, he is 4! The vet said he needs to be on a low protein/high carb diet, this does not fit into what I’ve always been told and even the research I’ve done on grain free, high protein food. It looks like I am the cause of his medical issues by following the myth that grain free was the way to go

  • Bill Calhoun

    Hmm, and what about fat content? Should we be concerned about 50-60% fat?

  • Bill Calhoun

    Hi Kevin, thanks for dispelling that myth…BIG TIME! I’ve now switched from Honest Kitchen and Orijen to “Stewart Raw Naturals Freeze Dried” and “Primal Canine Frozen Raw Lamb”. Billy Junior (7-years young and engaged in this activity since 2-years) is highly active. We participate in obedience and M,W,F he goes on the treadmill for 2.5 hours (6.3 km per hour pace) and Tues, Thurs 1 hour (interval segments). We are stationed in Singapore so the weather does not always agree (tough to walk without getting drenched or dehydrated; thus, my carefully planned protocol of indoor activity.

    I made the switch (believe it or not) because as good as a reckon Honest Kitchen is, having a bearded mini schnauzer is an entirely different challenge, when one has to clean food from beard every meal. Adding water makes for an even larger adventure.

    Anyway, here are the changes that have occurred (we slowly introduced the change and have now been on it for 1-month), since switching over:

    1. Stools are less often. Previously he was spot-on morn, noon and night

    2. Stools are darker and less volume

    3. He appears to be napping more

    Any feedback you could offer would be greatly appreciated…or anyone else, for that matter. Please feel free to ring-in.

  • Hana Spitz

    I wasn’t thinking of doing it I was just trying to figure out if this was actually true because it makes no since to me. The crazy part is people really do feed pro plan thinking it’s the best. I have three generations back of raw fed beautiful Aussies and I don’t plan to change that. I have started giving Nupro silver to them for multiple reasons with success.
    Thanks for your reply 🙂

  • Lvshorses777

    Ok it says in moderation, every now and then on the post I’m reading now. And always cooked with no peels can help w/diegestion. But from what all I have read I’m going to stick to mostly all meat from now on and the other stuff I’ll give as treats every now and then. If at all.

  • Lvshorses777

    I’m looking for the best post about sweet potatoes they are really good for your dog, hang on I’ll find it.

  • Lvshorses777

    Please don’t listen to them, maybe they just don’t want you to win. Sugar causes diabetes and most dog foods have it in them already. I just lost my first dog to it because I listened to people saying she weighed to much and I switched her dog food to a kind that I didn’t know was full of sugar and the treats had sugar in them too and they were from the same company. And I just fed her one small bag 3.5lbs. And she died. If you want you dogs coat to grow beautiful give lots of meat and eggs. I’ll never buy store bought dog food again. Now since I have researched all of it the only thing keeping my dogs alive before was I was feeding wet and dry. I’m going to post you something good to read after I post this. You can ask me any questions you want to. I’ll help any way I can.

  • justmeKC

    there is a vein that runs on the outside of the ear, right at the edge. it is on the side of the ear towards the body, not the face. My dog, who gets frantic anywere else, doesn’t even feel this. bleeds very well, too.

  • Geri

    Thanks Kevin – I really appreciate the info. So much data to sort through and you want to do the best thing you can for your pet.

  • Kevin Stockfish

    Struvite crystals or calcium oxalates? More than likely the issue is related to struvites. Dogs are predisposed to struvites when their urine pH is too basic. Urine pH should be somewhere around 6.5. One of the main factors as to why many dogs urine pH is too basic is due to their diet lacking a sufficient meat protein content due to the diet being high in plant protein and/or carbohydrates. In order to help prevent a higher probability of struvites, it is important to increase the meat protein within the diet, as well as decrease the sources of plant protein and carbohydrates. InkedMarie definitely made some great suggestions about adding in a high moisture diet, preferably raw, but if not, dehydrated or human grade canned food. As InkedMarie stated, Honest Kitchen is a great quality dehydrated diet which is very easy to prepare, but I would recommend a GF formula (Embark, Force, Love, Zeal, etc.), because they contain a greater meat protein content and meat is inherently very acidic which will help make one’s dog urine pH more acidic. If interested in raw, Answers, Nature’s Logic, Primal and several other brands are great quality diets. If interested in canned food, Nature’s Logic, Koha (previously named Mauri), Weruva, etc. are great quality canned foods which will definitely help your situation. If interested in continuing dry food, Nature’s logic (completely synthetic free-whole food source based and is fairly small kibble size for your maltipoo)/Acana/Orijen/Open Farm are 4 great options, since they’re grain free and are significantly lower in carb content and much higher in meat protein than lower quality foods. Lastly, a probiotic would definitely be a great supplement to add, so I would recommend looking into Wholistic Pet Organics (I just had a training from the founder of this company and he knows more about small animal nutrition and supplements than most-many holistic/integrative vets carry his products in their practices due to the incredible quality). They make a formula called “Digest All Plus,” which consists of only human grade organic ingredients with no fillers. It simply sources the main digestive enzymes that are sourced from organic plant sources, as well as 2 probiotic cultures at a combined concentration of 10 billion CFU’s, which is significantly higher than most high quality human probiotic supplements. This will help your maltipoo prevent bad bacteria build up and allow only good bacteria to thrive. Good luck and hope some of our input helps! I personally would recommend researching Dr. Karen Becker (renowned holistic veterinarian) on Google and reading up on some of her articles relating to this exact issue.

  • InkedMarie

    any wet food (canned, raw, dehydrated such as The Honest kitchen) is best to feed. If you must feed dry, definitely add water and canned to it.

  • Crazy4cats

    Hi Geri-
    Sorry to hear about your pup’s bladder infections. They are probably painful for her. You are right about getting more water in her system to help keep her urine diluted and the crystals flushed. Adding canned to any kibble is always a good idea in my opinion along with some warm water. As far as the Rx food is concerned, I would feed it at least until the infections and crystals are under control. Preferably the canned version if she’ll eat it. Will she drink out of a fountain? Also, I started feeding my cat with the issue three smaller meals per day to help balance out his pH levels.
    Getting rid of the infection, more water and a lot of bathroom breaks are really important. Good luck!

  • Geri

    I have a 12# maltipoo who has a tendancy to have bladder infections – the vet said she had a high level of crystals in her bladder which caused irritation of the lining thus causing the infections. She recommended a prescription food – I do not like it. I have been thinking about adding Cranberry D-Mannose to her diet and looking for another dog food. She doesn’t like to drink water and that is, I think, one of the problems. Is there a good dog food I could perhaps mix with a little canned food to make her want to drink more? Any recommendations?

  • Ronnie Jones

    It’s very simple once you know the corporate bastards who run most of the world…. sick dogs are good for business just as sick people… the pet food industry, the vets and especially the drug Companies. Dogs should eat meat, animal fat, organs, tendons, bone, the hide…. the entire animal.. raw or cooked. But these corporate agents will be all over these sites just as they are on the human health sites…. Dogs are getting the same diseases as people because they’re eating what people eat…. we’re all just sick animals to be milked to death

  • Sarah Schoenberger Lindeman

    Orijen has 30% carbs. EVO has 21% carbs that’s the lowest dry dog food I could find.

  • Hana Spitz

    Yeah I had the same thought, very interesting. I bought some zinc to add to her diet. Maybe some biotin too. 🙂

  • theBCnut

    Well, I haven’t heard that one before. Oils make the coat shine and the hair itself is made of protein, so I can’t imagine that sugar would do much to grow coat, but it did make me think about how hair and nails continue to grow for a short time after death. Maybe all the sugar is killing the dogs.

  • Hana Spitz

    So this is probably completely false but I’m curious of others opinions. I show Aussies and have been told by others that sugar grows coat. So if the carbs are a littler high in a food it will help grow and maintain a more full/longer coat. People swear by this…. Opinions?

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