Fiber is a vital nutrient when it comes to dog nutrition and there are plenty of ways you can add fiber to your dog’s diet. Fiber helps to absorb water and provide bulk to stool, helping to keep your dog’s bowels regular and their stools formed and firm. It can also promote good gut health by keeping the intestinal oxygen levels unsuitable for bad bacteria, preventing their growth and colonization. Fiber only comes from plant based ingredients and it can be soluble or insoluble. Soluble fiber is able to absorb water and be broken down and utilized by the body whereas insoluble cannot be digested. If a dog is given too much soluble fiber, or if they are introduced to it too quickly, they may become flatulent and/or have diarrhea. Insoluble fiber, although being indigestible, can be beneficial in the fact that it helps regulate transit time in the gut. This means insoluble fiber can increase transit time during times of constipation and decrease it during times of diarrhea. However, too much insoluble fiber can hinder the absorption of other vital nutrients and can lead to weight loss, a poor coat, vomiting, and diarrhea. In commercial dog food, fiber can be sourced from grains such as rice and corn but also from things such as soybeans, beet pulp, and peanut hulls.
All commercial dog food will have something called an AAFCO statement that declares whether the food was formulated (i.e. the company took the list of required nutrients and added ingredients to fulfill those nutrients) or whether the food underwent animal feeding trials (these serve to ensure that a nutrients are actually bioavailable for the dog to digest and use) and it also declares what life stage the dog food was made for. As of right now, AAFCO only recognizes two life stages: adult maintenance and growth/reproduction. It’s important to note that if a food is labeled for ‘all life stages’ it will more closely fit the regulations for growth/reproduction as those are more stringent. Obviously, this fails to represent the senior pet population. As dogs age, they may require less protein and more fiber in their diet. Unfortunately, with no recognized life stage for senior dogs, you may find that your senior dogs needs fiber supplementation if it develops chronic GI issues.
The Healthiest and Best Ways to Add Fiber to Your Dog’s Diet
The easiest way to boost your dog’s fiber intake is to add a high fiber food to their meals. The most commonly reached for item is pumpkin. It’s readily available as canned pumpkin. Smaller dogs will only need about a tablespoon added to their meals while larger dogs may need up to a quarter cup. As with any diet change in dogs, it’s recommended to start slowly, so if you have a large or giant breed, start with a smaller amount of pumpkin and slowly work your way up to a quarter cup.
Green beans are another whole food that can be a great fiber source. Raw green beans are less digestible but they can be steamed for easier digestion. Obviously make sure they are sufficiently cooled before giving to your dog. Alternatively, frozen green beans are also a great option. Similar to pumpkin, smaller breed dogs may only need about a tablespoon (you can chop them up for easier measuring) while larger breed dogs can have a quarter cup.
Sweet potatoes are another fantastic option for naturally boosting your dog’s fiber. As with green beans, steamed is the best way to prepare them for your dog. Once cooked and cooled, they can be added to your dog’s food as small, cubed chunks or you can mash them. Again, depending on the size of your dog, you can can add anywhere from one tablespoon to a quarter cup.
Over the counter psyllium-based powdered fiber supplements can also be an option, but this is more for short term use, such as when a dog may be constipated. Adding fiber in this manner should be done cautiously to avoid adding too much too quickly and causing diarrhea. A small breed dog may tolerate about 1/2 tsp while a large or giant breed dog may tolerate up to 2 Tbl per day. Mix the powder with food and ensure that your dog is drinking plenty of water. Sugar-free formulations should be avoided to prevent potential exposure to xylitol, which is toxic to dogs. As always, consult with your veterinarian before adding supplementation to your dog's diet, especially if you are trying to address a problem.
What to Stay Away From
There are things that you should avoid when looking to add fiber to your dog’s diet. If you’re going the puréed pumpkin route, ensure that you are purchasing canned pumpkin only and not canned pumpkin pie mix. This is because canned pumpkin pie mix will have added sugar and spices that may upset your dog’s stomach.
Canned green beans should also be avoided when possible. This is because they will have a higher sodium content than fresh or frozen. If all you have available to you is canned, look for low sodium varieties.
Fiber is an essential nutrient for dogs but some dogs may require more of it in their diet than others. For more information about your dog’s dietary needs and how best to supplement their diet, speak to your veterinarian.