Can Dogs Eat Sugar?

Just like humans, sugar isn't the healthiest for dogs

dog looking at donuts


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From cookies to cakes to candy, who doesn’t love sweets? And with summer fast approaching, there’s nobody who wants to dive in to that ice cream cone more than your adorable furry friend.

But with sugar being a primary component in a lot of the not-so-good-for-you treats we all love, is it something that can be safely offered to our four-legged family members from time to time?

Is Sugar Safe for Dogs?

It probably comes as no surprise that sugar is not the best food for your dog to be eating, as many of the negative impacts of sugar on humans—from weight gain to dental problems—also apply to our pets.

Sugar is also a tricky ingredient because it’s often lurking in foods we wouldn’t suspect, such as just about any processed item that you might find on supermarket shelves. So even though you may not even think about handing over a candy bar to your dog, it may very well be hiding in chips, breads, or crackers that you might let you dog nibble on from time to time. While a little sugar here and there likely won't impact your dog, pet parents should still be wary of how much sugar their dog is consuming on a regular basis.

Above all, dogs simply don’t need added the sugar in their diets. The only sugar they need to survive is carbohydrate, and any balanced kibble already contains the carbs and other nutrients that their bodies require to function on a daily basis. Carbohydrates are broken down into glucose by the body, and that’s the form of sugar that helps your dog to live life and their bodies to function normally. So sugary sweets as well as processed foods won’t provide your dog with any nutritional value…even though it may taste good.

Dangers of Sugar for Dogs

Much like humans, sugar can negatively affect dogs in a variety of ways. For starters, it can lead to weight gain, which puts your dog at risk for an array of health conditions, like diabetes. Heart disease, respiratory issues, joint problems, and lethargy are just a few of the potential side effects of weight gain in dogs. Excessive amounts of sugar will also cause inflammation throughout the body, which isn’t good for either humans or their canine counterparts.

In the short-term, letting your dog nibble on donuts or other sugary treats can cause them to have tummy troubles like vomiting or diarrhea. Animals and humans rely on the bacteria and other microorganisms in our guts to help properly digest the food we eat, and consuming too much sugar can upset that balance—which is when diarrhea can occur.

Just like us, too much sugar can also have negative impacts on your pup’s teeth, and most pet owners don’t want to have to invest in pricey dental cleanings or treatments for their dogs.

Natural Forms of Sugar

And what about natural sugars—like the kind found in nutritious, pet-friendly fruits like bananas, blueberries, or apples? Fruit sugars, known as fructose, actually do have an important purpose—they provide our four-legged friends with the energy they need to chase a Frisbee (or a squirrel), take a long walk, or play ball in the backyard. Fruits are the ideal source of this sugar because they contain so many other good-for-you nutrients that benefit both dogs and humans alike, which is why many fruits make great dog treats.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that any kind of fruit is on the table, and as with any human food, even fruits and vegetables should always be offered in moderation (and with the okay from your veterinarian). Fruits like grapes are actually toxic, and are a form of sugar that should never be offered to your dog.

Other Dangerous Source of Sugar for Dogs

Just because your pooch shouldn’t have sugar doesn’t mean you’ll want to run out and find sugar-free replacements for him, like peanut butter. Many of these items have swapped the sugar with artificial sweeteners, and some of these sweeteners (like Xylitol) can be dangerous and even life-threatening to dogs. Xylitol can cause your dog’s blood sugar to drop, or lead to either hypoglycemia or rapid liver failure, which is why this particular type of artificial sugar is so dangerous.

It probably goes without saying, but another popular source of sugar—chocolate—is also a big no-no for your dog. Chocolate contains theobromine, a substance that is extremely toxic to dogs, and certain types of chocolate (particularly dark, semi-sweet, and baker's chocolate) can be lethal if ingested by your dog. Excessive amounts of theobromine can cause vomiting and diarrhea, as well as symptoms like increased thirst or excessive urination, panting or restlessness, a racing heart rate, muscle spasms and even seizures, and will require emergency intervention by your vet.