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Fiber is an often-overlooked nutrient in dog foods, but it’s surprisingly beneficial to our dogs. Although it comes only from plant-based ingredients, there are plenty of healthy ways it can be included in your dog’s diet—through ingredients such as sweet potatoes or green beans. The quality of the fiber is important, as well, so make sure your dog is getting high-quality ingredients instead of unhealthy fillers. For example, the ingredient labeled “cellulose” might sound innocent, but it can come from all sorts of different places, including shredded paper.

When it comes to fiber and most other ingredients, looking for whole sources, such as whole fruits and vegetables, is the best option. But if fiber is so important, why don’t many dog owners know more about it? They certainly should, as it has several benefits. The two types of fiber—soluble and insoluble—offer unique benefits. Soluble fiber creates gases by fermenting in the colon. Insoluble fiber absorbs water as it moves through the digestive tract, meaning that it’s metabolically inert. Unlike soluble fiber, insoluble fiber does not produce intestinal gas. Too much soluble fiber can cause gas and diarrhea, which usually happens when fiber is first introduced to the diet or is suddenly increased. Starting with small doses and increasing gradually will help alleviate these side effects. Insoluble fiber regulates intestinal transit time – meaning it increases the speeds during periods of constipation and decreases it during diarrhea. Although it’s usually well tolerated in high doses, too much insoluble fiber can decrease the diet’s nutrient value by binding minerals, leading to weight loss, poor coat quality, vomiting, diarrhea and flatulence.

Aiding in Digestion

As with humans, fiber is a great resource for a dog’s digestive tract. Fiber is often fermented into fatty acids by the beneficial bacteria naturally found in your dog’s intestine. This fatty acid then helps to prevent the overgrowth of any bad bacteria and helps the colon recover from injury.

Fiber may help reduce the risk of colon cancer in dogs, because it speeds elimination and therefore reduces the exposure of any carcinogens your dog has consumed. Not surprisingly, fiber can also reduce diarrhea and constipation symptoms, should your dog be suffering from either.

Managing a Healthy Weight

Fiber is an excellent nutrient for dogs on a weight management program. Obesity is the leading cause of many illnesses in dogs, but owners are reluctant to decrease the amount of food they feed their pets. Fiber allows dogs to feel full while consuming very few calories, so switching to a high-fiber dog food is often a good choice for those trying to take weight of their dogs. You might find that the majority of weight-control dog foods commercially available are high in fiber. If you don’t want to switch foods, you can also add healthy sources of fiber, such as green beans, to your dog’s meal, while you provide less than their normal portion. This will give them a healthy snack while they consume fewer calories and still feel satisfied.

Improving Diabetes Mellitus

Certain fibers slow digestion, which keeps blood-sugar levels from spiking. This causes fewer fluctuations in the blood sugar of dogs that eat high-fiber diets; meaning they may be able to maintain better management of their illness.

Veterinarians have found that fibers can reduce a dog’s sensitivity to insulin, although researchers aren’t quite sure exactly how this works yet. What is known, though, is that many veterinarians put diabetic dogs on high-fiber diets. It does, of course, depend on the individual dog, as some diabetic dogs do better with moderate or less amounts of fiber.