Here’s everything you need to know about the benefits of adding fiber to your dog’s diet.
Fiber is a complex carbohydrate that cannot be broken down into sugar like typical carbohydrates. Instead, it gets processed through fermentation. Basically, the friendly bacteria naturally found in a dog’s intestine ferment fiber and turn it into gasses. This fermentation process also produces special compounds called Short Chain Fatty Acids or SCFA. According to Dogs Naturally Magazine, SCFAs protect the body against metabolic diseases, obesity, and inflammation.
There are two types of fibers commonly found in fruits and vegetables: soluble and insoluble fibers.
Soluble fibers are digestible fibers that are responsible for producing gasses and SCFAs. Some examples of soluble fibers are oatmeal, nuts, beans, and apples.
Insoluble fibers, on the other hand, are non-digestible fibers. They help prevent constipation by regulating intestinal transit time, which means that “it increases the speeds during periods of constipation and decreases it during diarrhea.” Ingredients like wheat, whole wheat products, brown rice, legumes, and carrots are rich in insoluble fiber.
Although insoluble fibers are known to have no nutritional effect on dogs’ health, too much of this can diminish your dog’s diet’s nutrient value. Excess insoluble fiber can lead to weight loss, poor coat quality, vomiting, and diarrhea.
Do dogs need fiber?
Yes, dogs need fiber in their diet. Having a high-fiber diet provides several health benefits for dogs. Not only does it improve your dog’s colon health, but it also boosts the immune system. Additionally, fiber is great for dogs with diabetes and weight issues, and a high-fiber diet is also said to help prevent cancer in dogs.
However, no matter how important fiber is to dogs, you should consult a veterinarian first before adding fiber to your pet’s diet. A change in their diet can result in an upset stomach, so please do it with caution.
Fiber in dog food
The amount of fiber found in commercial dog food varies by brand. Usually, regular dog food contains a small amount of fiber (<5%), whereas high-fiber dog food contains approximately 5% to 16% crude fiber.
The fiber content in dog food can be found on the “Guaranteed Analysis” label. For the most part, brands list the maximum percentage of fiber, instead of the absolute amount. This makes it difficult for consumers to determine the actual fiber level since a maximum percentage could be any lower amount determined by the brand.
Furthermore, most dog food labels do not specify the type of fiber used. Usually, they only list ‘crude fiber’ and forget to consider any soluble fiber. Crude fiber is a type of insoluble fiber that is primarily composed of cellulose. It holds no nutritional value at all. Besides, crude fiber or cellulose are essentially made out of shredded paper or sawdust (yes, no kidding), so it really is not that ideal.
So, is there another way to tell how much fiber is in dog food? Unfortunately, no—not really. Consulting your veterinarian is the best way to determine which fiber-rich dog food is good for your pet.
Health benefits of fiber for dogs
High amounts of antioxidant dietary fiber can be found in fruit and vegetables. Antioxidants are known to boost the immune system by fighting free radicals. A 2018 study found that “fiber binds as much as 80% of cancer-stopping antioxidants polyphenols in fruits and vegetables.” This means that fiber protects and supports the antioxidant defenses of the gastrointestinal tract. Antioxidants protect the colon from diseases and cancer.
Boost the immune system
One of the health benefits of fiber is it promotes the growth of healthy gut bacteria. When fiber feeds the friendly gut bacteria, it produces more short chain fatty acids like butyrate. This certain fatty acid then helps produce T cells in the immune system, which in turn, helps reduce chronic inflammation. And if there is one thing to take away here, inflammation is the root cause of most diseases. The more you can fend off inflammation, the better and healthier your dog will feel.
Additionally, fiber feeds lactic acid bacteria. This increases the acidity in the colon and results in a decrease in the growth of bad gut bacteria.
May help prevent cancer
Fiber may also help prevent colon cancer in dogs. A dog with a high-fiber diet will have an easier and faster time digesting food. And the faster they can digest and eliminate food, the quicker potential carcinogens can pass through their system. It gives your dog a lesser chance of getting colon cancer since they would have way less exposure to carcinogens.
Fiber is excellent for a dog’s digestive system because it can help maintain a healthy elimination process. When soluble fiber is fermented into fatty acids, it allows for a seamless flow of nutrients and water throughout the dog’s body. At the same time, insoluble fiber assists food to move through the digestive tract by releasing “mucilage that helps food slide through the intestines.” Insoluble fiber acts as a tool that helps form solid stool, effectively avoiding constipation or diarrhea.
Diabetic dogs on a high-fiber diet tend to have a slower flow of digestion, which results in low absorption of sugars into the bloodstream. A high-fiber diet keeps your dog’s blood sugar from spiking. More importantly, it results in a more stable and manageable blood sugar level.
Fiber promotes healthy bowel movement in dogs. If a dog is experiencing diarrhea, fiber can slow down the muscle contractions that push the food through the intestines. Alternatively, if a dog is experiencing constipation, fiber can speed up the contractions to allow the stool to pass.
Remember how insoluble fiber has little to no nutritional value, yet it is still important to the body’s ecosystem? Well, this is because of the way insoluble fiber passes through the intestinal tract. Insoluble fiber may “offer little nutritional value but [it] massage the gut to reduce inflammation and clean the mucus membrane,” says veterinarian Dr. Sam Kovac.
Furthermore, fiber can bind toxins found in the gut which then get eliminated in the stool. It’s a very self-sufficient nutrient.
High-fiber diets are usually recommended for obese dogs. By feeding them with more fiber, an obese dog will be able to eat less food (and calories) while maintaining a full stomach. They will get the same, if not more, nutrients too!
How much fiber do dogs need?
Dogs Naturally Magazine recommends that a “dog’s diet should contain no more than 10% fiber.” It’s important to assess your dog’s needs and feed them accordingly. It was also recommended that owners who want to start their dogs with a high-fiber diet, should aim for 5% first and incrementally increase or decrease it (depending on how the dog reacts). Owners should be wary of the change and must monitor their dog’s stool for the time being.
Best source of fiber on the dog menu
Pumpkin, kelp, and blueberries are only some of the few foods that are rich in fiber. Below are some dog-friendly food items that contain a great source of fiber.
If you feel unsure if a certain food is good for your dog, please consult a veterinarian. Keep in mind that changing your dog’s diet drastically may lead to discomfort on their part.
Apples are great sources of vitamins, antioxidants, and fiber. Besides, apples are low in calories which is great for dogs that are tackling weight management. Offer your dog some apple slices (sans the seeds) as a sweet treat!
Beet pulp is a byproduct of sugar beet processing. It is a great source of fiber, and it is typically listed as an ingredient in high-fiber dog food. It is known as a “filler product” in pet nutrition.
Brown rice is a great example of soluble fiber. You can incorporate brown rice into your dog’s diet by adding a tablespoon of cooked brown rice on top of their meal. Start with small amounts and work your way up.
Carrots are not only rich in vitamins and minerals like Vitamin A and beta carotene, but it is also rich in fiber. It is also great for pups who are trying to lose weight due to its low-calorie content. You can feed your dogs with either raw or steamed carrots.
Similar to carrots, green beans are low in calories but are chock-full of fiber. According to USDA, green beans have 3.4 grams of dietary fiber per 100 grams. Although 100 grams of fiber per serving may be a lot for your dog, consider feeding them a few at a time first before fully indulging them with the crisp vegetable.
According to the Flax Council of Canada, flaxseeds are a great source of dietary fiber and antioxidants. It is rich in omega 3 fatty acids—a nutrient that is good for dogs’ skin, coats, and overall nervous system. You can add a little bit of ground flaxseed to your dog’s meal or make a treat out of it using peanut butter or plain yogurt. For starters, a teaspoon of ground flaxseed should be enough.
Green lettuces like romaine or arugula are great sources of fiber for dogs. So go ahead and make your dog their personal salad bar (without dressings or anything that can be harmful to dogs).
Wheat germ is the embryo of wheat berries. It’s considered to be the healthiest part of the plant as it contains Omega-3 fatty acids. Other than the benefits of having high-fiber content, wheat germs are known to help fight against allergies, asthma, and other inflammatory diseases. Ground-up wheat germs or wheat germ oil can be used as a fiber supplement to your pet’s diet.
Fiber supplements for dogs
Fiber supplements like psyllium husk, Metamucil, or any kind of fiber capsules are excellent temporary solutions for constipated pups. But be warned that these supplements are not for everyday use. Too much fiber on dogs will only cause more harm than good.
- Blue Buffalo Life Protection Formula Natural Dry Dog Food is formulated with natural ingredients that feature antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables, with the addition of whole grains.
- Bernie’s Perfect Poop Health Supplement for dogs contains fiber, prebiotics, probiotics, and enzymes. It relieves digestive problems like constipation and diarrhea.
- Purina Pro Plan with Probiotics Shredded Blend High Protein Dry Dog Food is fortified with live probiotics that are essential for digestive and immune health. It contains natural prebiotic fiber that feeds intestinal bacteria used to enhance digestive health.
- Dogsnob Multivitamin Gravy Toppers for Dry Food is an easy add-on to your dog’s dry food. One of its active ingredients is apple cider vinegar—an excellent superfood that helps improve digestion and a healthier gastrointestinal system.
What to do if you think your dog needs more fiber
Dr. Kathy Boehme of The Drake Center advises that it’s best to feed dogs with fiber found in fruits and vegetables. “I like the idea of feeding fiber in the form of fruits and veggies, but the amount should not comprise more than 10 percent of the diet so that you do not unbalance the diet,” she says. However, if pups are still not getting enough fiber from fresh food, or are having bowel problems, then Boehme suggests using additional supplements.
If you think your dog needs more fiber, a veterinarian can help address the issue.
According to Harvard’s School of Public Health, fiber is a “type of carbohydrate that the body can’t digest.” Unlike other carbohydrates, our stomach’s digestive enzymes cannot break down fiber into sugar molecules. Instead, fiber passes through the small intestine undigested. For dogs, the effects of fiber in their system are somewhat similar. Fiber is a great nutrient that helps improve digestion, aid overall gut health, and boost the immune system.