Carbohydrates vs Fat- Why Do You Feed Carbs to a Carnivore?

February 8, 2022

Do Dogs Need Carbs? Raw Feeding & Carbohydrates / Cooked Dog Food & Carbs

Do dogs need carbohydrates in their diet?

No, dogs do not need carbohydrates in order to survive or thrive.
Facultative carnivores, like canines, have no set nutritional requirements for carbohydrates in their diet.

“Why do you feed your dog quinoa, squash, and sweet potatoes? They don’t need carbs.”

When I first brought my eldest dog (Nolo) home, I began feeding him a balanced cooked diet right away. I followed NRC balanced puppy recipes formulated specifically for him; these cooked recipes omitted raw meaty bones and raw fat. My balanced cooked puppy recipes included lots of very lean muscle meats, secreting organs, appropriate supplement replacements for raw meaty bones (& supplements necessary for balance), and of course, carbs...

In order to supply carbohydrates in my puppy's diet, I fed cooked quinoa, cooked squash, and cooked sweet potatoes.

Quinoa, squash, and sweet potato also add fiber in the diet, which is ideal for bulking up stool. Additionally, these foods contain varying amounts of different essential micronutrients, but should not be relied upon for meeting recommended allowances (RAs) for those nutrients because we should not rely on plant matter to meet daily RAs. Utilising animal sources and targeted supplementation would be more effective for meeting nutrient RAs, based on current research.

Once I was comfortable making the switch from balanced cooked puppy food to balanced raw puppy food, I still included some amount of carbohydrates in my puppy's meals.

Because my puppy (Nolo) did not seem to tolerate normal amounts of raw fat in his diet.
I define "normal amounts of raw fat" as around 10% fat on an As Fed basis, which includes moisture!

So even though I was no longer feeding cooked recipes, all of my puppy's meals needed to remain fairly lean and the inclusion of carbohydrates was still absolutely necessary (he was consuming around 6-7% fat on average- on an as fed basis).

Currently, I no longer include carbs in my dogs' meals because I was able to get my puppy (now an adult dog), to slowly work his way up to tolerating normal amounts of raw fat in his diet! He is even to the point of tolerating 11-12% fat (on an as fed basis). This was something that took well over 7 months, but I was able to get him to this point by slowly decreasing his carb intake, while gradually increasing his raw fat intake.

Another contributing factor was my dog's yeasty paws. Carbs tend to feed yeast and often times exacerbate the issue, so eliminating carbs from his diet was a huge help in keeping his paws clear and yeast-free.

Are carbohydrates bad for dogs? Isn't feeding a dog carbs the same as feeding kibble?

Carbohydrates and fats are the 2 main energy sources in our diets, both having their own distinct metabolic purposes.

Carbohydrates are a family of organic compounds used primarily for energy storage in mammals. The most well known being glucose, which is the most basic intermediary for ATP production. 

ATP (Adenosine Tri-Phosphate) is the main energy product of cellular respiration in the mitochondria of each of our cells. Many different macronutrients (carbs, fats, proteins) can be broken down and converted to glucose, which ultimately is converted to ATP. Therefore, the way we determine energy yield of a macronutrient is through ATP production per unit (such as grams) of that nutrient. 

Carbohydrates range from simple monomers to complex polymers like sugar, glycogen, starch & cellulose. Carbohydrates are used primarily for short-term energy storage (1,760 kJ/100g) in mammals. Simple carbohydrates are ideal for short term energy storage and rapid ATP production since they have simple chemical structures that can be digested rapidly and are water-soluble, meaning they dissolve very well in the blood and can be transported throughout the bloodstream to muscles readily.

Lipids are another family of organic compounds that store energy for metabolic needs.

Lipids are primarily used for long term energy storage (~4,000 kJ/100g) in the form of triglycerides, which are composed of glycerol & fatty acid chains. Due to their most complex chemical structures, lipids/fats take longer to digest and become available for metabolic needs. In addition, lipids are hydrophobic and therefore need to bind to transport molecules in order to move through the bloodstream, to target tissues where they are mainly accumulated for future ATP production rather than immediate ATP production

Fatty acids can be saturated, meaning the chains have no double bonds or “kinks” in their chain structure, or they can be unsaturated, meaning the chains have 1 or more double bonds (saturated fats are normally solid at room temperature, ie. butter. Unsaturated fats tend to be liquid at room temperature, ie. vegetable oil). Unsaturated fats are easier to transport throughout the cardiovascular system and thus metabolise, so they are often thought of as the healthier variety of fats. 

So, just because your dog's diet includes carbs, it is not the end of the world.

Are fats better than carbs, or vice versa?

In reality, both macronutrients are essential to a healthy diet in the right proportions and when weighted for activity types (applicable to humans). 

When you are expecting to expend a lot of energy in a short period of time (ie. sprinting), carbohydrates are preferred to meet rapid metabolic needs. This is because carbohydrates can sustain aerobic, as well as, anaerobic cellular respiration, which are the chemical processes cells use to produce ATP under conditions where oxygen is present or not present.

Carbohydrates may yield less ATP per gram and therefore require a higher intake volume to meet caloric needs, however energy needs during short-lived, but high-intensity activities, are sensitive to time in order to avoid muscle fatigue. So in order to meet that sharp spike in energy needed for the body to perform high-intensity activities, carbs are ideal, but once that spike comes down and the energy need stays at a consistent, but low level (ie. for a marathon), then fats/lipids are the ideal macronutrient. This is because fats are a more efficient source of energy than carbs on a chemical level as previously seen. On a physiological level, fats are also the main macronutrient available over time since carb reserves, such as glycogen, are first to be depleted. 

The above-mentioned can be utilised to tailor a raw or cooked diet for working/sporting dogs, in order to optimise performance! 


So to recap, carbs are not evil.

Carbs are also not necessary when balancing a canine's diet.

There are a few different ways you can go about supplying foods that will provide an additional energy source, within a balanced raw or cooked diet:

-  Cooked starchy foods (like sweet potatoes), can provide sufficient amounts of starch for energy.

-  An alternative to carbs would be upping the raw fat intake, however, for pets who do not tolerate a significant amount of raw fat in their diet, this would not be ideal.

Including carbs can also help dramatically cut costs if used appropriately when balancing a recipe for your dog or puppy. So in these crazy times, when nothing is guaranteed and prices keep soaring, do not ever feel bad if you need to swap a fatty cut of raw meat, for butternut squash. Fed is best.


Please consult physicians/veterinarians, and/or other trustworthy science-based sources for advice on human and animal dietary questions.

As always, I hope this post was helpful!

Follow me on instagram @nolorlin for more raw feeding content & recipes!


Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.


© Hannah Ra. Design by Hannah Ra | Coded by FCD.