Why Fiber is Important for Your Dog's Health
You might've heard from your veterinarian that fiber is key to your dog's nutrition. It's also vital for maintaining their health and managing some diseases. But how do you go about finding good fiber for dogs? Read on to learn what kind of fiber your dog may need as well as signs they could have a fiber imbalance.
The Purpose of Fiber for Dogs
Fiber is a type of complex carbohydrate. It's different from other starches in that it resists digestion in the small intestines. Typically, fiber is fermented in the large intestine, which means that it takes a lot longer to digest than simple carbohydrates.
Fiber functions to increase bulk and absorb excess water, which aids in bowel regularity and helps produce firm, formed stools. Fiber also helps produce a healthy intestinal pH which inhibits growth of undesirable bacteria in your dog's gut.
Finding Good Fiber for Dogs
When shopping for dog food containing fiber, the main things to look for are the solubility of the fiber and the amount of total digestible fiber (TGF). Soluble fiber readily disperses in water, whereas insoluble fiber maintains more of its structure in watery environments, like the gastrointestinal tract. Insoluble fiber supports dogs' gut health.
Unfortunately, pet food nutrition labels don't provide information about fiber solubility or TGF. Instead, you'll need to ask your veterinarian to help you figure out which dog food will provide what your dog needs. Keep in mind that dogs and their unique gut microbes respond differently to different fibers. This means that it will take trial and error to find the right type and amount of fiber for them.
Sources of Fiber for Dogs
The fiber in dog food comes from a variety of sources, including grains like corn and brown rice, as well as soy, beet pulp, peanut hulls, pectin and cellulose.
Many dog parents use canned pumpkin as a DIY fiber booster. However, since it's about 80 percent water, it usually doesn't contain enough fiber to provide a therapeutic benefit. If you feed your dog canned pumpkin, be sure not to give them canned pumpkin pie mix, which can be high in calories and sugar, and avoid canned pumpkin that has added sodium. You can also buy dried pumpkin powder, which can be dosed similarly to dried psyllium husk (often sold as the fiber source in Metamucil). Make sure to consult your veterinarian before adding anything to your dog's meals.
How Fiber Can Help Manage Disease
Fiber is very useful for managing diabetes in dogs, as it helps regulate blood glucose levels and minimizes fluctuations. Dog food that contains a slowly fermentable fiber can also be helpful in managing your dog's weight or aiding in weight loss. This is because fiber increases bulk and helps dogs feel full while consuming fewer calories.
Dietary fiber has been added to therapeutic pet foods to help reduce accumulation of dental plaque and tartar, balance blood cholesterol levels, control body weight and discourage dietary indiscretion (when dogs eat things they shouldn't, like non-foodstuffs or spoiled or rotten food), and help manage chronic large bowel diarrhea and constipation.
Signs of a Fiber Imbalance
If your dog has a fiber deficiency, they may have constipation or very watery stools. It's important to understand that excess fiber can also cause health issues. If your dog consumes too much fiber, they may have a hard time absorbing minerals. A fiber imbalance can lead to:
- Increased stool frequency, urgency to defecate and/or defecating in the house
Adding Fiber to Your Dog's Meal Plan
If your vet informs you that your dog needs more fiber, the simplest and most effective solution is to feed your dog a therapeutic food based on their recommended feeding instructions. Depending on what your vet tells you about your dog's specific needs, the meal plan should contain increased amounts of either soluble or insoluble fiber.
Remember that the bacteria in a dog's gut take time to acclimate to abrupt changes, as dogs eat far more routine meals than people do. Always transition to a new food slowly, over the course of one to two weeks, and know that any change to your dog's food may cause diarrhea.
Dr. Laci Schaible
Dr. Laci Schaible, is a small-animal veterinarian and veterinary writer. She has won numerous awards for her commitment to pet owner education and is considered a leading veterinary telehealth expert.