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Can Dogs Eat Sugar?

By Colleen Williams and medically reviewed by Jennifer Coates, DVM
published: May 21, 2018 - updated: January 19, 2023 • 2 min. read
Dog eating a donut

Key Takeaways

  • Granulated sugar is not good for dogs and may put them at risk of weight gain and other health problems.
  • Sugar found naturally in fruit and vegetables is safe in moderation.
  • Sugar-substitute xylitol and chocolate are very dangerous for dogs.

Basically, dogs use sugar and other carbohydrates as a source of energy, just like humans, but don’t feed your dog unneeded granulated sugar and try to avoid sweets.

Sugar naturally contained in fruits and vegetables, called fructose, is safe for your dog when fruits and veggies are given as a treat or as part of a nutritionally complete and balanced diet. (Please note, however, that not all fruits are safe. For example, grapes are toxic for dogs.)

Granulated sugar, on the other hand, is not a good choice for your dog, whether that is in the form of a cube or a cookie. Added sugar provides empty calories and can lead to weight gain, which increases a dog’s risk for many serious health problems including:

  • Osteoarthritis
  • Cruciate ligament ruptures
  • Intervertebral disk disease
  • Congestive heart failure
  • Cushing’s disease
  • Skin problems
  • Some types of cancer

Dogs can use carbohydrates as an energy source, breaking them down into glucose that fuels cells. “We just don’t need to be giving them candy since there’s no real added value,” says John Faught, DVM and medical director of the Firehouse Animal Health Center in Austin, Texas, to PetMD. “Excessive amounts cause inflammation all throughout the body, and it’s just not necessary.”

There are some other problems that may also go along with a diet high in sugar:

  • Upset stomach: sugar-rich foods can lead to vomiting, diarrhea, and a loss of appetite.
  • Highs and lows: some pet parents report a streak of hyperactivity followed by “the blahs” when their dogs eat sugar, although this relationship hasn’t been scientifically proven.
  • Diabetes: most dogs get a form of diabetes (type 1 diabetes) that is not related to sugar intake, but the other form (type 2 diabetes) does occasionally occur.

In addition to sugar, there are two important “sweets” that are absolutely off-limits to dogs. If you don’t already know about the hazards of xylitol and chocolate, familiarize yourself with the symptoms and check your ingredient labels. You will definitely want to make sure both products are far from paw’s reach:

  • Xylitol: Many candies, gums, toothpastes, sugar-free baked goods, peanut butters, and diet foods are sweetened with the sugar substitute xylitol. Ingestion can cause a dog’s blood sugar to drop to dangerous levels and can lead to liver failure. Symptoms include vomiting, lethargy, poor coordination, seizures, and death. If you suspect xylitol poisoning, take your pet to the vet immediately.
  • Chocolate: Most pet parents are well aware that chocolate is bad for dogs. The most dangerous types of chocolate include dark chocolate and unsweetened baking chocolate due to higher levels of theobromine and caffeine (both are methylxanthines). Chocolate can cause a dog to vomit and have diarrhea, and in more severe cases, it can lead to heart problems, tremors, seizures, and death.
Pet Poison Helpline: The Pet Poison Helpline is available 24/7 at 855-764-7661. A consultation fee may apply.

Want to find out more about what dogs can and cannot eat? Check out our comprehensive guide for more information on “What Human Foods Dogs Can and Can Not Eat.”

colleen williams
By Colleen Williams

Over the past decade, Colleen has written about health, wellness, beauty, and even pets for The New York Times, The Cut, Refinery29, xoVain, Healthy Paws Pet Insurance, and Seattle Met Magazine, as well as many beauty brands. She has a BFA in Art History from the University of New Mexico and an AAS in Fashion Design from Parsons School of Design in New York.

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jennifer coates
By Jennifer Coates, DVM

Dr. Jennifer Coates received her Bachelor of Science degree in biology from McGill University in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. After graduation, she worked for several years in the fields of conservation and animal welfare before pursuing her childhood dream—becoming a veterinarian. She graduated with honors from the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine and has worked as an Associate Veterinarian and Chief of Staff in Virginia, Wyoming, and Colorado. Jennifer is also a prolific writer about all things related to veterinary medicine and the well-being of our animal friends. She has published several short stories and books, including the Dictionary of Veterinary Terms, Vet-Speak Deciphered for the Non-Veterinarian. She currently contributes to the Healthy Paws pet insurance blog as a freelance writer. In her free time, Jennifer enjoys life in Colorado with her family and friends… many of whom walk on four legs.

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