Can dogs eat sugar?

If you’ve ever enjoyed a sweet treat, like candy or ice cream, as your dog looked longingly up at you with those big, begging eyes, you know how difficult it can be to resist sharing. And, while it may be OK to share some human foods with your pup, sugary treats should be given in moderation, because the dangers far outweigh the benefits.

But, dogs do need some sugars in their diet for energy. Learn the facts so you can make smart decisions about giving your dog sugary snacks.

Does sugar offer dogs any health benefits?

Sugar may do your dog more harm than good, but there is one benefit to keeping healthy sugars on hand for your pup: A sugary treat provides an instant energy boost. This is beneficial in a variety of situations, including:

  • Hunting dogs in the field

  • Search-and-rescue dogs during a long expedition

  • Police dogs during an intense shift

  • Agility dogs right before a trial

Most pets are couch potatoes who enjoy an occasional leisurely stroll. But, a quick glucose boost is a great way to recharge a high energy working dog.

Fructose

Warm cookies straight from the oven on cold days and frosty ice cream on hot days may satisfy humans’ sugar cravings, but processed sugars are not good for dogs. If your pup is begging for a sweet treat,  offer her a small piece of fruit instead. Fruits are excellent sources of fructose, a natural form of sugar. Be sure to keep portions small and don’t overindulge your dog. If your dog needs a sugar boost, feed her one of these healthy options:

  • Apples

  • Bananas

  • Pears

  • Watermelon

  • Cantaloupe

  • Berries

While most fruits are safe sugar sources, never give your dog grapes or raisins, which are toxic and may even lead to death. For a list of fruits and their health benefits, check out our article on pet-friendly fruits and veggies.

Is sugar dangerous for dogs?

Sugar’s dangers far outweigh its health benefits for people and pets. Excessive amounts of sugar can cause a host of health problems, such as:

  • Obesity

  • Diabetes

  • Inflammation

  • Cavities

  • Vomiting

  • Diarrhea

  • Metabolic changes

  • Hyperactivity

People often turn to sugar-free sweeteners, but xylitol, the most common sweetener, is toxic to pets. Xylitol stimulates insulin production, which causes hypoglycemia, or a severe drop in blood sugar. If your dog has snacked on your sugar-free gum, she may exhibit these signs of xylitol toxicity:

  • Weakness

  • Lack of coordination

  • Seizures

  • Coma

  • Death

Xylitol can also cause acute liver failure, which is often fatal.

Are there healthy, safe alternatives to sugar for dogs?

The following sugar alternatives are safe for dogs and also provide nutritional benefits:

  • Honey — Manuka honey is medical-grade honey with antibacterial, antifungal, and antiviral properties. If your pet suffers from environmental allergies, raw, local honey may help.

  • Blackstrap molasses — This natural sweetener remains after the sugar’s sucrose crystallizes following the third boiling of sugar syrup. Blackstrap molasses contains key nutrients, including manganese, vitamin B6, selenium, iron, calcium, and potassium.

  • Fruits — Fruits contain fructose, a natural sugar, and many important nutrients, such as vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.

  • Maple syrup — This sweetener comes from tree sap and contains a higher concentration of minerals, such as zinc and manganese, but fewer calories than honey. Maple syrup reduces inflammation and supports the immune system.

How to add sugar to your dog’s diet

No doubt your dog is already sweet enough, but check out this maple dog treat recipe from Daily Puppy for a sugary, dog-friendly snack.

Maple dog treats

-Makes 24 treats

Ingredients:

  • ½ cup plain rolled oats

  • ½ cup whole wheat flour

  • 3 tablespoons pure maple syrup

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil

  • 3 tablespoons low-sodium chicken, beef, or vegetable stock

  • 2 egg whites

Instructions:

  1. Mix the rolled oats and flour together in a medium mixing bowl.

  2. Add all the liquid ingredients, mixing well until a thick batter forms.

  3. Drop the batter by the teaspoon on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.

  4. Flatten the batter with the back of a greased spoon.

  5. Bake the treats at 325 degrees Fahrenheit for about 15 minutes.

  6. Let the treats cool thoroughly before offering them to your pup.

Remember, moderation is key with sweet treats. Limit sugary snacks to one or two a week, and give your dog fresh veggies and lean meats instead.