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Carbohydrates
Not so Simple, but Far from Complex
Most of our energy comes from carbohydrates. You can also get energy from fat and protein, but carbohydrates are the most efficient source. Carbohydrates are particularly important for proper functioning of the brain and nervous system.

There are two kinds of carbohydrates - simple carbohydrates and complex carbohydrates. Simple carbohydrates, such as sugar, absorb into the bloodstream quickly. However, these tend to lack important supporting nutrients like vitamins and fiber that the body needs to stay healthy. Complex carbohydrates, like rice and starchy vegetables, absorb slowly. These typically include vitamins, minerals, fibers, and other important properties. Not all seemingly "complex" carbohydrates are ideal. For example, white flour and white rice have been stripped of their outer layers during processing, which results in the removal of vital components like B-vitamins and other micronutrients. Unrefined brown rice and potatoes are very good carbohydrate sources, and are easily digestible.

However, many commercial pet foods contain carbohydrates that are more difficult to digest. Wheat, soybeans, and corn, for example, are often used by pet food manufacturers because these grains are relatively inexpensive. Unfortunately, they are also more difficult for animals to digest. Also, the proportion of carbohydrates to proteins can be as important as the source, depending on the animal. For example, cats are "true carnivores," meaning they need meat protein as their primary source of nutrition. Cat foods that use mostly corn fail to allow for this need - please check your cat food label and make sure that "corn" is not a dominant (that is, found among the first three) ingredient! Note that excess amounts of poorly digestible carbohydrates may also cause intestinal gas.

Diets high in complex carbohydrates, such as brown rice, are also good because complex carbohydrates absorb at a more stable, even rate. Put another way, these sources digest easily but slowly - ensuring that blood sugar levels remain steady and do not rise or fall quickly. This is particularly good for pets who have diabetes or are at risk of this disease. Avoid using foods that contain large amounts of sugar and corn syrup. Some pet food manufacturers use sugars in semi-moist foods because these ingredients add "nice flavoring" to the food while also acting as a mild preservative. But these sugars are "empty calories" - they lack supporting nutrients, and can also interrupt the absorption of other vital nutrients. Sugars taken in excess can lead to obesity and promote the future development of diabetes in your pets. (See also "What's really in pet food?") Pets do not need simple sugar in their diets.

As a final note, there are currently no "recommended" minimum or maximum levels of carbohydrates for a healthy dog diet. You should carefully monitor your dog's carbohydrate intake, making sure the nutrients come primarily from complex sources, and adjust the amount of food given based on your pet's individual needs. Cats are true carnivores and therefore do not have a defined dietary carbohydrate requirement.

Special Note: Although every effort has been made to present healthy products and useful information to support your pets' health, the products and information contained within this website are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. The contents of this site are not meant as a substitute for consultation with a trained veterinarian. If you are concerned about the health of your pets, you should ask your veterinarian for proper guidance suited to the specific condition of your pets. The owners of this website accept no liability for any consequences resulting from the use of products and/or information provided through this site. Please use your discretion when attending to your pets' health.
Special thanks to Fintan Darragh, Rich Bensen, Maggie, Jiji, and Mary Crissman for providing our pet pictures!
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