Good Carb, Bad Carb: How Much & What to Feed Your Dog

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Choosing the right food for your furry friend can sometimes feel like navigating an obstacle course. Is the food nutrient-dense? Will it accommodate my dog’s unique needs? What about carbohydrates?

With so many questions and so many brands vying for your attention, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. Fear not, because this blog post is here to guide you through the maze of carbohydrates in dog food.

We’ll uncover the truths about “good” and “bad” carbs, help you understand the fine print on food labels, and even guide you if your pooch is allergic to certain carbohydrates. Together, we’ll make sure that every meal is a tail-wagging delight for your four-legged companion.

sweet potatoes, pumpkin and other food on table

Are Carbohydrates Necessary for Dogs?

Absolutely, carbohydrates play an important role in your dog’s diet.

Just like humans, dogs draw energy from carbohydrates. These nutrients aid in the proper functioning of their brain, keep their gut healthy, and fuel their playful activities.

However, not all carbs are created equal, and knowing the difference is key. Too much of the wrong type of carbs can lead to health issues such as obesity and diabetes. That’s why it’s crucial to choose the right type of carbs for your pup.

Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. As we move forward, you’ll get to learn about the difference between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ carbs and how much of these your dog actually needs. Always remember, it’s not just about feeding your dog, it’s about nourishing them. Let’s make mealtime more than just a routine; let’s make it beneficial.

Good Carbs for Dogs

Good carbohydrates, often called complex carbs, are essential for your dog’s health.

They provide sustained energy, aid digestion, and offer numerous nutrients. But the question is, what makes a carbohydrate “good”? And what are the sources of these good carbs? Here’s what you need to know.

Whole Grains

Whole grains like brown rice, barley, and oats are excellent sources of good carbs for your dog. They’re packed with fiber which aids digestion, provides satiety, and helps manage weight. Plus, whole grains contain essential vitamins and minerals that contribute to overall health.

Introduce whole grains gradually into your dog’s diet for a smooth transition. Brown rice can be easily mixed with their regular food, while oats can be cooked and added to their meal, providing a nice texture that most dogs enjoy.

One great product that contains these beneficial whole grains is Blue Buffalo Life Protection Formula Natural Adult Dry Dog Food. It contains wholesome whole grains such as brown rice and barley, as well as real meat as its primary ingredient. It’s a wonderful choice for owners looking to feed their pets good carbs.


Your dog’s diet can benefit immensely from vegetables such as sweet potatoes, peas, and carrots. These are rich in good carbs and offer added bonuses of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Sweet potatoes, for instance, are an excellent source of dietary fiber and contain vitamin B6, vitamin C, and manganese.

Vegetables can be served raw, steamed, or baked. However, ensure they are chopped into manageable, bite-sized pieces to prevent choking. Sweet potatoes, for instance, can be baked in the oven until they’re soft and mushy – a texture most dogs love!


Yes, dogs can eat fruits! Fruits like apples, blueberries, and bananas can be a great source of complex carbohydrates, fiber, and antioxidants. Remember to feed fruits in moderation and always remove any seeds or pits as they can be harmful to your pet.

When it comes to fruits, it’s best to serve them in small chunks or slices. For instance, apples can be diced into small pieces, while bananas can be mashed and mixed with their regular food.


Beans and lentils, known as legumes, are not only high in good carbs but are also an excellent source of plant-based protein. They are also rich in fiber, helping your dog feel fuller for longer.

For legumes, like beans and lentils, it’s important to cook them thoroughly before serving to your dog. Uncooked or undercooked legumes can be hard to digest. Also, they can be mixed into your dog’s regular food or served as a treat for added variety.

All in all, good carbs are those that provide more than just energy. They come packed with fiber, vitamins, and minerals that contribute to your dog’s overall well-being.

But remember, while these sources are generally safe, each dog is unique. Always monitor your pet for any adverse reactions when introducing new foods into their diet and adjust quantities to suit their size, breed, and activity level. With a balanced approach to carbohydrates, your dog can enjoy a healthier, happier life.

Bad Carbs for Dogs

While we’ve looked at the good, it’s now time to face the bad. Just like in human nutrition, not all carbs are beneficial for your dog’s health.

Certain types of carbohydrates, often referred to as simple or ‘bad’ carbs, can lead to health problems if consumed in excess. But what makes a carbohydrate “bad”? And what are the common sources of these bad carbs? Let’s dive in.

Refined Grains

Unlike whole grains, refined grains like white rice, white flour, and corn syrup are stripped of their nutritional value during processing. These grains are broken down quickly in the body, causing blood sugar spikes which can lead to health issues like diabetes and obesity if consumed in excess.

To avoid refined grains, consider making homemade dog treats. This way, you can control the ingredients used and opt for whole grains instead of refined ones. It’s not only a healthier alternative but also gives you a chance to bond with your pet during the cooking process.

Added Sugars

While dogs, like humans, love a sweet treat, added sugars are a big no-no. Foods with added sugars or sweeteners like corn syrup can lead to unhealthy weight gain, dental problems, and even diabetes.

Always check the labels for hidden sugars, they can go by names like sucrose, fructose, and dextrose.

Think about using natural sweeteners like fruits in your homemade treats instead of sugar. This way, you can still satisfy your dog’s sweet tooth without exposing them to the harmful effects of added sugars.

Processed Foods

Processed dog foods can often contain bad carbs, including fillers and additives with little to no nutritional value. These are often used to bulk up the food and make it cheaper to produce but can lead to health problems over time.

In a nutshell, bad carbs are those that offer little nutritional value and can lead to health problems if consumed in excess. They’re often found in processed, refined, and sugary foods.

When choosing food for your dog, remember to look beyond the packaging. Check the ingredient list to ensure it’s packed with whole foods and devoid of these bad carbs. Being aware of what’s in your dog’s bowl can contribute significantly to their health and longevity. Now that’s a reason to wag a tail!

white and brown dog biting on broccoli

How Much Carbs Should You Feed Your Dog?

Determining the exact amount of carbohydrates for your dog isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer.

However, scientific research has shown that a healthy dog’s diet can contain up to 50% carbohydrates by weight, including 2.5–4.5% from fiber.

But, this doesn’t necessarily constitute a requirement. It’s not a rule for every dog. The specific quantity varies based on factors like age, breed, weight, activity level, and overall health status.

Scientific literature suggests that growing dogs and those with high energy needs should have a diet containing at least 20% carbohydrates. For general maintenance, many commercially available dry dog foods typically contain between 30-60% carbohydrates. This doesn’t mean it’s bad because those foods might include more fiber, which is also a form of carbs.

Active dogs, puppies, and nursing mothers require more energy, which carbs can efficiently provide. However, for less active dogs or those prone to obesity, a diet lower in carbs but balanced in proteins and fats may be more beneficial.

That said, always remember that the quality of carbohydrates matters more than the quantity. Prioritize good carbs from whole grains, fruits, and vegetables instead of bad carbs from refined grains and sugars.

And when in doubt, it’s always a good idea to consult with a veterinarian or a certified pet nutritionist.

Calculator for Dog’s Daily Carbohydrate Needs

Estimate your dog’s daily carbohydrate needs based on their weight using our simple calculator. Just enter your dog’s weight in pounds and click “Calculate”.

Enter your dog’s weight (in pounds):

🔔 Note: This calculator provides estimates based on a healthy dog’s weight, requiring 20-60% of their calories from carbohydrates. A typical cup of dry dog food is assumed to contain around 50 grams of carbohydrates. If your dog is overweight, calculate based on their ideal, healthy weight instead of the current weight to avoid overfeeding.

How to Read Carbohydrate Content on Dog Food Labels?

Learning to interpret these labels can be a game-changer for your dog’s health. Let’s break down the process and make it digestible for you.

1. Know the Terms

Typically, pet food labels will list carbohydrates under several different names. You might see terms like corn, soy, wheat, rice, and oats. These are all sources of carbs.

Additionally, the label might include specific types of sugars such as fructose, sucrose, and dextrose. These are usually added sugars, and too much of these can be harmful to your dog.

2. Check the Order

Ingredients on pet food labels are listed in order of weight, starting with the heaviest. So if a source of carbohydrates is listed as the first ingredient, it means that it’s the most abundant ingredient in the product. Be wary if a simple carb or added sugar is listed first.

3. Identify the Carb Type

Remember our talk about good and bad carbs? Well, this is where it comes into play.

When looking at the carb sources, use your knowledge to identify whether they are good (complex) or bad (simple) carbs. Whole grains and vegetables are your allies, while refined grains and added sugars are your foes.

4. The Mystery of Missing Carb Percentage

Here’s a unique insight many pet owners might miss: unlike protein and fat, the carbohydrate content isn’t always listed as a percentage on pet food labels.

But you can get an estimated figure by using this simple formula: 100% – (protein % + fat % + moisture % + ash %) = estimated carb %. Ash content is typically around 6-8% for most dog foods, but if you can’t find it on the label, using 8% is a safe estimate.

5. Understanding Guaranteed Analysis

This section provides the minimum or maximum levels of nutrients like protein, fat, fiber, and moisture. However, it doesn’t tell you the exact amount, so take this information with a grain of salt.

6. The ‘AAFCO Statement’

Look for the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) statement. It’ll tell you whether the food provides complete and balanced nutrition, and for what life stage it’s suitable. 

However, AAFCO doesn’t distinguish between good and bad carbs, so you’ll need to use your newfound knowledge to make that distinction.

In conclusion, learning to read carbohydrate content on dog food labels empowers you to make informed choices about your dog’s diet. Remember, a well-fed dog is a happy dog!

What if My Dog is Allergic to Certain Carbohydrates?

Once you’ve determined the specific carbohydrate your dog is allergic to, you can tailor their diet accordingly.

For example, if your dog is allergic to wheat, opt for alternative carbohydrate sources such as sweet potatoes, brown rice, or oats. If the allergy is more complex involving multiple grains, consider grain-free diets that use carbohydrates from peas, lentils, or potatoes.

A unique and often overlooked solution is to explore the benefits of novel carbohydrates. This includes less commonly used carbohydrate sources such as quinoa, amaranth, or buckwheat. These are considered hypoallergenic, meaning they are less likely to trigger an allergic reaction.

Finally, consider working with a pet nutritionist. They can develop a customized diet that caters to your dog’s nutritional needs while avoiding known allergens. This ensures your dog gets the best diet possible, tailored specifically for their needs, something that a pre-packaged food might not be able to provide.

Related: How to Spot a Dog Food Allergy

Remember, the right carb balance can make a huge difference in your dog’s health. You’re not just choosing food; you’re investing in your pet’s health. After all, a well-fed dog is a happy, energetic companion, and isn’t that what we all want for our furry friends?


Should I feed my dog carbohydrates?

Dogs need a balanced diet that includes good carbohydrates like whole grains, fruits, and vegetables for energy, digestion support, and overall wellbeing.

What carbohydrates can I feed my dog?

Feed your dog good carbohydrates such as sweet potatoes, brown rice, oats, quinoa, pumpkin, apples, and bananas.

Are grain-free diets healthier for my dog?

Grain-free diets can be beneficial for dogs with grain allergies but aren’t necessarily healthier for all dogs. Quality ingredients and balance are key.

Can a dog have a diet without any carbohydrates?

Dogs can convert protein and fat into energy, but carbohydrates offer efficient energy, aid digestion, and deliver essential nutrients, so they’re typically recommended in a balanced diet.

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