Fiber provides a myriad of benefits for human health. Its main role is to keep the digestive tract flowing. In addition to that, it keeps the heart healthy, it helps with blood sugar control, and it lowers cholesterol.
Fiber does not just help with detoxification and digestion. Did you know that it also reduces cortisol, which is the main stress hormone? Fiber can increase longevity as it has potential benefits for diabetes and kidney stones. These are just some of the surprising benefits of consuming fiber.
Due to its many health advantages, pet food manufacturers are incorporating fiber into their products. When our dogs are constipated, the first thing we normally do is feed them high-fiber foods in the hope that this will ease their bowel movement.
But is fiber really an integral part of our pets’ diet? Or is it something they can go without, given that they have a different digestive system than ours? Read on to know the benefits and potential risks of adding more fiber into your dog’s meals.
What is Fiber?
Fiber refers to the indigestible carbohydrates found in plant-based foods. Animal-based foods such as beef, poultry, and pork don’t contain fiber because fiber can only be found in the cell walls of plants. Animal by-products such as eggs, milk, and dairy also have zero fiber content.
Almost all plant-based foods have fiber. But when can we say that a food is an excellent source of fiber? Any food with 5 or more grams of fiber per serving is considered a high-fiber source.
There are two types of fiber: soluble and insoluble fiber. Both these types of fiber are essential for a healthy digestion but they have different roles in the digestive system.
Soluble fiber refers to foods that partially dissolve in water. It plays an important role in absorbing vital nutrients from food. Foods rich in soluble fiber include the following:
- Citrus fruits
- Dried figs
Insoluble fiber does not dissolve in water. It helps in treating constipation because it increases the movement of waste throughout the body. Examples of food with high insoluble fiber content include the following:
- Brown rice
- Green beans
- Whole wheat
Do Dogs Need Fiber?
Yes, dogs need a little bit of fiber in their diet. As omnivores, they get some of their energy from carbohydrates, which include dietary fibers. The diet of a healthy adult dog should contain 2.5-4.5% of fiber.
How does fiber work in their bodies given that our pets cannot digest fiber? The bacteria in their intestine help break up fiber into short fatty acids. The fatty acids give energy to the cells lining the intestine.
While it’s true that dogs need fiber, they don’t need to consume as much as humans do. This is where the problem starts. A survey revealed that 80% of dog owners have a misconception that the nutrition for dogs and humans is the same.
According to the “Nutrient Requirement for Dogs and Cats” by the National Research Council, the use of a high-fiber diet should depend on the animal’s life stage. Apart from age, a dog’s current health situation should be the deciding factor in determining if he needs a high-fiber diet or not.
Dogs who are always constipated or suffering from occasional diarrhea can be given high-fiber dog foods only when the circumstances call for it. It is not advised to add fibrous foods in their meals on a regular basis.
A tablespoon of a fiber-rich food is enough to supplement their extra need for fiber. Some of the wholesome choices for dogs include beet pulp and rice bran. These foods have a moderate amount of fermentable fiber which helps in producing enough amounts of short-chain fatty acids.
Canines with weight issues are often given non-fermentable fibers to help decrease their caloric intake as fiber makes them feel full without adding so many calories. Cereal fibers such as wheat bran are the best example of non-fermentable fiber. Dogs that are not suffering from wheat allergies can have some wheat bran in their diet.
A high-fiber diet is sometimes given to senior dogs. This is because they are very prone to constipation. Aside from increasing their fiber intake, senior dogs also need a well-balanced diet that consists of low calories and high protein components.
Benefits of High-Fiber Diet to Dogs
Fiber is best known for its ability to regulate intestinal function but there are a few more ways it can help your pooch. Some of them include:
- It supports healthy gut flora.
- It helps a dog feel more satisfied.
- It improves their sugar level.
- It can help in losing or maintaining weight.
- It can prevent diabetes.
Important Reminders for Dog Owners
Not all fiber-rich foods are safe for dogs. Avocado, for instance, can cause stomach upsets in dogs due to thePersin content. Dried foods are also not healthy for dogs because they may contain a lot of sugar.
Prunes or dried plums are also not recommended for canines. They are fibrous and concentrated but may be high in sugar and can make a dog sick if ingested in high amounts.
When Not To Give High-Fiber Foods to Canines
A dog suffering from Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency (EPI) should not be fed with high-fiber foods. When suffering from this condition, a canine’s pancreas no longer has the ability to break down the foods he eats.
Dogs with this condition should be fed highly digestible products that contain low fiber levels. Those who are diagnosed with pancreatitis or inflammation of the pancreas thrive on a low-fiber diet.
If your pet is suffering from long-term diarrhea and the stool already contains blood or mucus, have him checked before switching to a fiber-rich diet. This could be a sign of Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD), a chronic disease of the intestinal tract.
When a dog has IBD, it is recommended to be extra cautious in giving fiber. The fiber intake depends from one case to another because some dogs can be helped with the added fiber while some can be set off by it.
Things to Consider When Buying High-Fiber Dog Foods
Natural foods may be the best sources of nutrient-rich dietary fiber. However, there are instances when an all-natural or fancy raw diet does not work in regulating the bowel movements of some canines.
You have the freedom to feed your dog commercial dog food, as long as it helps meets your pet’s nutritional needs. There are store-bought pet food formulas that are as good as the natural foods. In choosing a high-fiber dog food, you need to take these factors into account:
1.Nutrients- if your pooch is trying to lose weight, you may want to give him a high-fiber dog food that is also low in fat. Aside from the fat and fiber content, also consider the protein content of each product. If your dog has an unhealthy gut flora, check out dog foods that contain dietary prebiotics.
2.Fiber content – some brands have a higher fiber content thanothers. What kind of fiber was used in the product? Can your dog consume that fiber without any ill effects? Examine the kinds of fiber used, especially if your dog has a sensitive stomach and is very prone to allergies.
3.Flavor- some dogs are picky eaters. They will refuse to eat their food unless it is flavorful enough. They know something has changed in their usual menu with just a sniff. Pet owners eventually needed to add more appetizing foods to the product to get their dogs to eat it. Palatability is an important thing to keep in mind when buying dog food. You can check for ratings and reviews to see what others are saying about a certain dog food brand.
4.Types of Carbohydrates – Aside from the fiber content, take a look at the types of carbohydrates used in the product. Basically, complex carbohydrates such as corn, wheat bran, and beet pulp, take longer to be digested. Do note that some brands are using poultry by-products as one of the ingredients.
5.Other Ingredients Used- if your pet is allergic to certain food items, it is important to check if the food you’re buying only contains the safe ingredients for him. Dog foods may contain artificial enhancers that can make dogs sick. Some dogs develop hypersensitivities to wheat, corn, and grain which are the common ingredients of high-fiber dog foods. If your pet is allergic to usual protein sources like chicken and beef, go for dog foods that use fish such as salmon and whitefish.
6.Formula – while most dog foods are suitable for all ages and breeds, there are a few that may not be appropriate for some dogs. High-fiber dog foods formulated with natural ingredients are also better for our furry little friends.
7.Price point- therapeutic dog food is obviously more expensive than a typical high-fiber dog food. There are brands that are affordable enough and even have the same wholesome ingredients as the high-end brands.
Risks in Feeding High-Fiber Foods to Dogs
There are conflicting opinions regarding the utilization of a lot of fiber in dog foods. Fiber is not an essential nutrient in a dog’s diet but it can tremendously help in a proper digestion. Without enough fiber, dogs could suffer from anal gland problems.
On the contrary, too much fiber in a dog’s diet can cause gastrointestinal problems. The excess fiber can also interfere with the absorption of nutrients in the canine’s body.
Gas and diarrhea are the most common issues associated with a high-fiber diet. Your dog’s stool might have sudden changes in the frequency, volume, and consistency.
If you want your dog to switch to a high-fiber diet, better do it slowly. Also, don’t forget that your dog still needs plenty of protein and fat to meet his nutritional requirements.
Dogs need a well-balanced proportion of soluble and insoluble fiber in their diet. Just be wise about adding fiber into your dog’s diet. Consult your vet before making some changes in your dog’s diet. Just because fiber is essential for a canine’s diet does not mean we can already give our pets a lot of it. As the line goes, too much of anything is bad.