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Are There Benefits to Low-Carb Dog Food?

Andrew Dickens


Andrew Dickens
Andrew Dickens

Andrew Dickens


Andrew Dickens is an award-winning writer, editor and broadcaster with 20 years in journalism. He’s created compelling content on film and television, travel, food and drink, physical and mental health, business, sport, technology and politics. And, of course, dog food.

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Updated: February 23, 2024

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What exactly is low-carb dog food? And will it do your dog any good?

In the human world, carbohydrates can get a bad press, but they have an integral part to play in a balanced diet. That’s because the body turns the nutrient into glucose, which is subsequently converted to energy for use by cells, tissues and organs.

While there are similarities when it comes to dogs, their bodies are built differently from ours and carbohydrates aren’t vital, especially when compared to protein and fat.

As a result, there are some voices who advocate for low-carb or no-carb dog food — and some vets will recommend this route, too.

Braeden Ruud is the co-founder and CEO of 5-star rated dog food Raised Right, a pet food company specializing in low-carb and high-protein human-grade recipes. We spoke to him to learn more about this approach.

How much of a dog’s diet should be carbohydrates?

“The fact that dog food doesn’t need to contain any carbohydrates at all seems hard to believe, but the National Research Council says they’re not considered essential for a healthy canine diet, unlike protein and fat.

“Yet surprisingly, high-carb ingredients like corn, potatoes, rice, barley, yam, pasta, and wheat are commonly seen in dog foods — and in many cases are the dominant nutrient in the recipes. Not all carbohydrates are bad for dogs as fruit and vegetables contain carbs, but are full of vitamins, minerals, and fiber, too.

“The major problem is the quantity of carbs in many recipes. According to the National Research Council, today’s dry dog foods contain on average somewhere between 46% and 74% carbohydrates1. However, the total amount of carbs in dogs’ ancestral diets was dramatically less than this, with around 49% of the calories coming from protein, 45% from fat and 6% from carbohydrates2.”

What qualifies as low-carb dog food?

“Anything with less than 6% carbohydrates, which better reflects the diet of dogs’ evolutionary predecessors. However, most of our recipes actually have less than 2% carbs because we don’t use any high-carb fillers like potato, rice, oats, yam, barley, or pasta. At the same time, they still meet the AAFCO’s standards for a complete and balanced diet.

“We formulated these wholefood ‘high-protein, low-carb’ recipes with the assistance of two experts. One of them is Dr Karen Becker, veterinarian and author of ‘The Forever Dog’, and the other is Steve Brown, a pet food formulation expert and the author of ‘Unlocking the Canine Ancestral Diet: Healthier Dog Food the ABC Way’.”

What are the benefits of low-carb dog food?

“Carbohydrates are broken down into glucose in the bloodstream and this can fuel inflammatory processes in the body. Since inflammation is a primary cause of many chronic diseases, a low-carbohydrate diet can help to reduce inflammation within a dog’s body. Any dog can develop inflammation, so all dogs could benefit from a low-carbohydrate diet.”

So would low-carb dog food help with inflammatory bowel disease?

“It could do. This happens when the gut lining becomes inflamed, perhaps triggered by stress or certain foods, and can cause diarrhea. Low-carb dog food can help to reduce flare-ups, especially if you avoid giving other treats and keep your dog’s diet consistent.”

Could low-carb dog food help with allergies?

“Potentially. If your dog has skin allergies, they might be very itchy and their skin may be sore. You might regularly notice a rash in their armpit or groin, on their belly, paws, or under their chin. Sadly, allergies can’t be cured, only managed, but a low-carb dog food could help reduce the irritation and soreness. Many dogs have also found success feeding a limited ingredient dog food that doesn’t contain any ingredients to which they’re allergic.”

Are there are any other conditions that a low-carb diet could help?

“As well as that, a low-carb diet can aid with osteoarthritis, a painful condition that affects your dog’s joints. This can make them feel stiff and sore, and they may limp or become wobbly on their legs. As the condition progresses, they might be unable to walk far or struggle with stairs, and they may reach a point where they struggle to stand.

“While this condition can be managed with pain relief and anti-inflammatory medication, a low-carbohydrate diet can also help.
There’s often inflammation that comes with tumors as well. A low-carbohydrate diet might not take away the tumor or cure the condition, but it could reduce its size and reduce symptoms associated with it.’

Seeing as low-carb, or ketogenic, diets are often prescribed for epileptic humans, can the same be done for dogs?

“New research suggests this could be the case. A recent study looked into the impact of different diets in two dogs with uncontrolled epileptic seizures and toxic side effects from medication. During the study, the carbohydrate content of their diets was reduced or controlled, and in one case this was proven to be essential for seizure control.

“Both dogs experienced fewer seizures and side effects when eating these diets compared to when they were administered antiepileptic drugs, including complete cessation of seizures for extended periods3. The success of these dietary interventions highlight the potential for diet‐based metabolic therapy as a treatment option for seizures in dogs.”

How will a low-carbohydrate diet affect a dog’s energy levels?

“Just like in humans, after dogs eat a meal that’s high in carbs it spikes insulin and glucose levels in the blood. This causes a temporary burst of energy, but since carbs are quickly digested it causes glucose levels to fall quickly leading to fatigue and a crash in energy shortly after the meal. Therefore, dogs eating a low-carbohydrate diet will experience more stable energy levels throughout the day.”

Final word

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1: National Research Council, National Academy of Science, “Nutrient Requirements of Dogs and Cats”, 2006 Edition, National Academies Press, Washington, DC, p 317

2: “Unlocking the Canine Ancestral Diet: Healthier Dog Food the ABC Way” by Steve Brown, 2009, p 13

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