We all want the very best for our beloved four-legged companions. From staying up-to-date on the latest and greatest advancements in holistic healing to ensuring that your pup always has enough physical and mental stimulation, you try to do it all. However, what if we told you that a supplement you've definitely heard of, was one of the most often overlooked. We're talking about fiber.
Fiber is a nutrient that has extremely important health benefits for your furry friend. Yet, many pet owners assume that their dog is getting plenty of fiber from their regular food source. Unfortunately, that may not be the case. Luckily, there are effective ways to ensure your dogs are getting all the fiber they need. Let's get started!
What is High Fiber Dog Food
High fiber dog food is exactly what you would think: dog food that is made with relatively high amounts of natural fiber. If your dog is struggling with digestive problems or maintaining a healthy weight, a high-fiber dog food option may be just the thing they need (more on that in a moment). However, making the switch to high fiber dog food isn't as simple as one may think. In fact, many pet parents compare it to getting a child to eat fruits and vegetables. It's as if the dog knows that this new food is chock full of vitamins and nutrients, so they turn their noses up. Don’t worry - if a high fiber dog food is the appropriate health change for your dog, there are ways to ensure they grow to love the taste.
Types of Fiber
There are two types of fiber: soluble and insoluble.
Soluble fibers are capable of absorbing water and can produce both short-chain fatty acids and gases during the fermentation process in the colon. Therefore, if introduced too quickly or if too much is given at one time, soluble fiber can result in diarrhea (watery stool from the increased absorption of water) and gas. It's always important to start off slowly with soluble fiber (or the introduction of any dietary changes for that matter).
Insoluble fibers increase the bulk of the digesta (or contents undergoing digestion) in the digestive tract (and therefore increases fecal bulk). Although metabolically less active, insoluble fiber stimulates motility. Additionally, insoluble fiber does not typically produce intestinal gas and is known for its ability to control transit time within the digestive tract. In other words, it can speed things up in cases of constipation, and slow things down in cases of diarrhea. While insoluble fiber is considered to be safe, even in high doses, too much insoluble fiber can result in a mild reduction in the availability of some nutrients (or nutrient digestibility) due to the binding of some minerals. This can, therefore, cause issues such as weight loss, vomiting, diarrhea, poor coat quality, and flatulence.
The point of discussing the pros and cons of both types of fiber is to remind you that too much of a good thing can often have its downsides. When adding fiber, always give your dog the recommended amount and start slowly. There is no need to rush into implementing any new dietary supplement.
Benefits of High Fiber Dog Food
The benefits of fiber for dogs are comparable to its benefits for humans. It makes sense if you think about it. If you have ever had a weekend during which you treated yourself with an overload of carbohydrates and apparently forgot that vegetables existed, your stomach was probably not pleased... to say the least. Dogs can easily have sensitive stomachs as well. Heavy, grain-based pet food may fill them up, but dogs need high-quality fiber sources to keep things moving. In fact, without appropriate amounts of dietary fiber, your dog may ultimately be faced with a slew of health concerns that you may not have even considered. Thankfully, these can easily be prevented simply by incorporating fiber.
Helping with Digestion
Just as in people, fiber is an important part of digestive health in dogs. High fiber dog food is paramount for dogs with digestive issues and also helps to relieve dogs with constipation or diarrhea.
The soluble and insoluble fiber that we mentioned above are key players in regulating the digestive tract by relieving constipation and controlling diarrhea.
High-fiber dog food also promotes colon health. The beneficial bacteria that are naturally found in the dog’s intestine ferment the fiber source and convert it into fatty acids. The fatty acids help to inhibit the overgrowth of bad bacteria and may aid in the recovery of colon injury.
Furthermore, studies have found that fermentable fiber has the ability to prevent colon cancer in dogs. How is that possible? Fiber speeds up the elimination process and thus lessens the exposure to any carcinogens that the dog may have eaten. Therefore, fiber aids in protecting the colon wall, as well as the digestive tract, from elements that could cause or contribute to cancer.
Maintaining a Healthy Weight
Sadly, obesity can be a serious issue among our four-legged friends and can do a lot more damage than some dog owners may realize. In fact, obesity is listed among the leading causes of illness in dogs. However, most obese dogs remain obese throughout their lives, because owners are reluctant to decrease the amount of food they serve them.
If your dog is obese, you may want to consider switching to a high fiber dog food. Fiber allows your dog to feel full and nourished without eating nearly as much caloric content as can be found in the typical grain-based diet. If you ever check the labels of commercial dry food that is formulated for weight loss, you'll find that it is full of dietary fibers for that very reason.
If you decide that you ultimately don't want to make the full switch to a high fiber dog food, you can still help your dog to maintain a healthy weight by adding a natural fiber source, such as green beans, to their diet. The healthy additive to your dog's diet will help them to feel full and energized for a longer duration, without overeating and consequent weight gain.
Dogs with Diabetes Mellitus
Dogs with present health concerns, such as diabetes, may also benefit from a high-fiber diet.
Certain fibers work to help slow digestion. Slower digestion helps to keep blood-sugar levels from spiking. Therefore, fiber helps to decrease the number of fluctuations that occur in the blood sugar levels and helps to regulate illnesses like diabetes.
With that being said, it is always important to discuss new dietary changes with your veterinarian, particularly when it comes to a dog with existing health issues. While many vets prescribe a high-fiber diet for dogs with diabetes, some dogs with the condition benefit from a moderate to low fiber intake. All dogs are different. Your veterinarian will be able to guide you in the appropriate direction for your dog's individual needs.
Source of Fiber for Dogs
Now that you know all of the great ways in which fiber can benefit your dog, you're likely wondering how to get started. Many dog owners are unsure of whether they should make a total switch to a high-fiber dog food brand, simply add fiber-rich foods, or if a fiber supplement may be best. Unfortunately, there is no single right answer.
We recommend trying out a few different ways of incorporating fiber and seeing which best suits your dog. Again, go slowly! Don't suddenly bring home high fiber food, supplements, and treats and expect Fido to react enthusiastically. Slowly integrate whichever fiber source you choose and allow your dog's body to get used to the new source of nutrients at its own pace.
Best Foods with Fiber for Dogs
High fiber dog food doesn't have to be a store-bought brand of pet food. In fact, you may have the best luck heading straight to the produce aisle. Many fruits and veggies are perfectly safe for Fido and are packed with fiber that can easily be added to your dog's diet.
For starters, sweet potatoes are a wonderful source of fiber and can provide excellent support for your dog's digestive health. In fact, one medium-sized sweet potato contains over 3 grams of dietary fiber. The best part? Most dogs absolutely love the taste.
In preparing the sweet potato feast, simply clean the whole potato with warm water and pierce it several times with a fork. Cook the potato in the microwave for 8–10 minutes, turning it over halfway through. Once cooked, cut the sweet potato in half and scoop out the insides, throwing away the skin. Mash the sweet potato with a fork and allow it to cool thoroughly. Dog owners can add 1 to 3 tablespoons of the delicious dietary fiber to Fido's food bowl for a tasty, healthy treat.
Have you ever heard of pumpkin for dogs? With fall just around the corner, Fido can also partake in your love for all things pumpkin! Pumpkin is a great source of soluble fiber and contains essential vitamins and minerals that help to relieve dog diarrhea. Canned pumpkin contains vitamins A, C, E, potassium, and iron, among other beneficial nutrients. The natural fibers and essential vitamins slow down digestion by absorbing water and adding bulk to the dog's stool. To relieve dog diarrhea, simply mix the dog's current dry food with a tablespoon of canned pumpkin and watch the dietary fiber work its magic on the digestive system.
Adding pumpkin can also help significantly with weight management. Of course, you love your fur baby no matter what the scale says. However, as we previously mentioned, obesity is directly tied to a number of health conditions that dog owners must work to avoid. Canned pumpkin is a great way to ensure that your dog maintains a healthy weight without feeling hungry.
We want to quickly note that canned pumpkin for dogs is NOT pumpkin pie filling. When purchasing canned pumpkin, make sure that pumpkin is the sole ingredient. The product should not contain any added sugars, salt, etc., as these ingredients will ultimately do a lot more harm than good to your dog's gastrointestinal tract.
Finally, green beans! Green beans make for an excellent source of fiber for dogs and humans alike. Dog owners can steam fresh green beans, let them cool entirely, and then mash them up and add them to the dry dog food.
Other foods that make for great sources of fiber include:
- Green vegetables
- Beet pulp
*We want to note that dog allergies are something to be aware of whenever integrating something new into your dog's diet. It is important to closely monitor Fido and be aware of any changes that may indicate food allergies such as itching, dry flaky skin, and stomach issues.
Quality High Fiber Dog Food Brands
Some dog owners may choose to make the switch to a high fiber dog food brand. If this is something you're considering, it is important to be aware of the overall quality of the food and understand the origin of the fiber. It is not enough to simply add fiber. The fiber itself must be of high quality in order for your dog to truly benefit.
Pet parents should avoid fiber that comes from ingredients such as corn and other unhealthy fillers. It is imperative that dog owners are aware of the ingredients listed on their pet's food. For instance, the ingredient “cellulose” can actually originate from a slew of sources including shredded paper. Knowing exactly what you are feeding your dog is the first step to ensuring that their diet is balanced and healthy.
Your vet will be able to lead you in the right direction in terms of a specific brand that will be best for your dog. Commonly recommended brands include Royal Canin, Nutro, and Hill’s Prescription Diet. Of course, there are several other good brands available.
Fiber Supplementation for Dogs
Just like their owners, dogs can become constipated. While we highly recommend first adding a supplement like canned pumpkin, sometimes the dog's digestive tract may need an extra boost to get it moving again. Many pet owners have found that adding a laxative, such a Miralax, can help to ease their dog's constipation. Other pet owners have found that adding brown rice can do wonders to relieve an upset stomach. It is so important to always consult your veterinarian regarding additional fiber supplements, particularly those that are formulated for humans. While they may end up working just fine for your dog, it's always better to be safe than sorry. The last thing you want is for your dog's constipation to be relieved, only to be confronted by a sudden bout of diarrhea.
Please also always make sure that Fido stays hydrated. Dehydration and constipation often go hand in hand, and you may be surprised to know just how beneficial a constant clean water source can be for digestive issues.
Transitioning to Food with Fiber
When transitioning your pets to a high-fiber diet, there are a few things to be aware of. First, dog owners should consider what constitutes their dog's current diet. If there is little to no fiber content, then a sudden fiber additive can easily cause digestive upset. It is important to make the transition gradual. Slowly begin to substitute small portions of your dog's current food with the new high-fiber food. Allow your dog's body to take the time it needs to adjust to the increased fiber content.
When simply adding a fiber source, such as pumpkin or green beans, it is important to know what your choices are, and how each can benefit Fido in slightly varying ways. Recognize how your dog would best benefit from each supplement and make a decision based on your dog's needs.
As always, stay alert. Switching diets can be a bigger change than you may imagine. The first step to ensuring that Fido stays happy and healthy is knowing your dog's "normal" and being able to recognize when something is off. If your dog begins to experience diarrhea or digestive upset, decrease the amount of fiber that you are adding to their meal. Again, ask your vet for recommendations on the appropriate amount of fiber for your dog's individual needs and be sure to follow their instructions.
Specific Dietary Options
Studies continue to prove just how important fiber is for all dogs. However, when fiber is used in the treatment of conditions such as obesity, there are several diets that your vet may recommend exploring.
Low-Fat Diet Dog Food: Rich in Fiber
Diets that are low in fat, including low-carb diets, often emphasize the additional feature of being rich in nutritional fibers. These diets use fiber to aid in making your dog feel full faster, which therefore helps to curb excess food intake. Low-fat diets are also often recommended for aging dogs that are less active in their older years and therefore require fewer calories.
Grain-Free Dog Food
Grain-free dog food often goes hand in hand with low-carb diets. Many pet owners have found that feeding grain-free food also helps to manage allergies and maintain a healthy weight.
Your vet may also recommend trying a dry or wet dog food that is high in dietary fiber and lower in protein content.
Typically, store-bought dog food contains 2–4% fiber. A prescribed diet or high fiber dog food may contain 6–10% fiber and less protein.
High Fiber Dog Food & CBD
Because CBD and fiber are both all-natural supplements, they can be safely used in conjunction with one another for even more benefits. Your dog's stomach problems can soon be a thing of the past by making a few simple changes, such as implementing fiber and CBD as a part of a well-rounded diet.
High Fiber Dog Food: The Bottom Line
At the end of the day, we know that you want the absolute best for Fido. We understand. At Honest Paws we are all dog owners and dog lovers, so we know first-hand how tough it can be to navigate the world of pet parenting. It is important to know that so many health conditions can be prevented by ensuring Fido is consuming high-quality dog food. Talk to your vet to determine if a high fiber diet may be just what your dog needs.
Petal Smart is a veterinarian who, after a brief stint in clinical practice, has been a medical, veterinary, and science editor for the past four years. She has edited hundreds of research studies that have been published in various academic journals, and more recently, she has been editing blog articles on pet health. She holds a DVM (Hons) from the University of the West Indies - St. Augustine. Her pets in the past have included dogs, fish, birds, and a turtle. At times, she also likes to think of herself as a horse whisperer. You can connect with her on LinkedIn.
*This article has been edited and updated for publication by Petal Smart, DVM.