Can Dogs Eat Sugar?

German Shepherd with peanut butter on its nose
© Sharon Snider/Shutterstock.com

Written by Shanti Ryle

Published: November 28, 2022

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Humans love sugar – it’s in everything from our favorite sweets to dozens of pre-packed food items, such as nut butter and pasta sauce. While humans can tolerate moderate amounts of sugar (though it’s certainly not healthy), dogs have a much weaker stomach when it comes to sweets.

Read on to learn how sugar affects dogs, what to do when your dog eats sugar, and everything to know about sneaking your dog something from the dessert table.

Can Dogs Eat Sugar? 

Different types of sugar

Sugar isn’t necessarily toxic for dogs, but it’s not healthy for them.

©Bowonpat Sakaew/Shutterstock.com

Sugar isn’t necessarily toxic for dogs, but it’s not healthy for them. Like their human counterparts, dogs have an inclination for sweets, a part of their omnivorous diet. Dogs would naturally encounter carbohydrates in the wild as fiber or the occasional fruits and berries. Modern cane sugar, table sugar, and other human-produced sweeteners aren’t natural for dogs. As such, sugar can upset their stomachs and impact their biome of gut bacteria.

Is Sugar Harmful to Dogs?

Sugar has a similar impact on dogs as it does on humans. Regular consumption can lead to weight gain, inflammation, and the myriad health concerns that arise with weight-related issues.

Dogs need carbohydrates for energy and to support everyday activities and metabolic functions. That said, not all sugars are created equal. Natural sugar from berries or cantaloupe is present in moderate levels, while the fruits’ fiber and water content help slow and ease the body’s absorption of fructose. Not to mention the benefit of the micronutrients found in fruit that are an essential part of a dog’s diet.

However, manufactured sugars are too quickly absorbed into the dog’s bloodstream, destabilizing your pup’s equilibrium and resulting in several health issues. Xylitol, a sugar-free sweetener, is especially toxic to dogs. Xylitol can be found in candy, gum, and many familiar “zero-sugar” sweet treats. Even a tiny amount can cause liver failure or seizures, sending them into hypoglycemic shock.

How Much Sugar Can a Dog Safely Eat?

It is advised to exercise restraint in feeding your dog any sweets.

©iStock.com/Candice Bell

Generally speaking, dogs shouldn’t eat table sugar. Dogs can safely eat fruit and other foods with naturally occurring carbohydrates, but you should exercise restraint in feeding your dog any sweets. Even with fruit, moderation is key. Consult your vet to know the exact amounts best suited for your dog and its metabolism. 

Health Risks of Sugar for Dogs

Upset Stomach

While humans can tolerate moderate sugar levels, dogs’ stomachs are more sensitive. Excessive consumption takes a toll on your pup’s digestive tract, at minimum causing an upset stomach and, in worst cases, leading to bloating, diarrhea, and vomiting.

Metabolic Dysfunction

Regular sugar consumption can lead to long-term health complications in many physiological symptoms. Dogs can quickly gain weight and risk obesity, hyperglycemia, diabetes, and heart disease if exposed to too much sugar throughout their lifetimes. Sugar is also a known inflammatory, which can worsen inflammation-related issues and cause pancreatitis, which can be severely life-threatening.

Tooth Decay

Ever had a cavity? Sugar does the same thing to dogs’ teeth, with continual exposure leading to tooth decay, gingivitis, or gum disease. Harmful bacteria also can reside on sugar, producing acids that decay the tooth’s enamel and cause inflammation in the gums.

What Should I Do if My Dog Has Eaten Sugar?

If you’ve discovered your dog snout-deep in some sweets, the first thing to do is determine exactly what kind of sugar they’ve eaten and how much they’ve consumed. When detected early enough, usually within two hours, owners can induce the affected dog to vomit up the culprit food. 

If your dog only consumed table sugar, chances are things will be okay, though your pup will likely experience stomach discomfort and some digestive issues. Keeping sugar out of your dog’s reach, whether hidden in a cupboard or candy wrappers tossed in a secure garbage bin, should be the priority.

If your dog’s eaten a toxic sugar, such as xylitol or other artificial sweeteners, immediately call your vet for the next steps. Timely action can save your dog’s life, and your dog may require treatment by a veterinarian in-office until its glucose levels are back to normal.

Can Dogs Eat Artificial Sugar?

A small white dog stares at a spoonful of peanut butter

Peanut butter made for humans often contains ingredients like Xylitol, which is toxic to dogs.

©Josfor/Shutterstock.com

The artificial sugar xylitol is highly toxic to dogs and can cause liver failure and death even in small amounts. Present in mints, toothpaste, and even some peanut butter, these artificial sweeteners can make your dog severely ill. 

Other artificial sweeteners like erythritol, aspartame, sucralose, or saccharin – found in different color packets in your neighborhood diner – are generally safe for dogs. However, they can cause digestive issues if too much is eaten, and they’re certainly not healthy for dogs. Natural sweetener alternatives such as stevia or monk fruit are also safe for dogs to consume, but they can cause diarrhea if consumed in large quantities.

Conclusion

Overall, it’s important to keep your dog’s diet as free of sugar as possible and certainly free from xylitol. Remember that sugar may be hiding in many common packaged human foods – it’s always a good idea to read the labels and, when sugar is found, avoid sharing the food with your pup.

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About the Author

Shanti Ryle is a content marketer with nearly a decade's experience writing about science, real estate, business, and culture. Her work has been featured in Forbes, Wall Street Journal, Global Finance and Banking, Weedmaps News/Marijuana.com, and other publications. Her favorite animal (by far) is the Pembroke Welsh Corgi!

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