You might have noticed that your dog has a sweet tooth, many dogs do, but you cannot chalk it up to nature.
No one, human or animal, is born with a sweet tooth. It’s an acquired taste and as far as your dog is concerned you’re probably responsible for that.
Now, many dog owners are well aware of the dangers of too much sugar in their pets’ diet and wonder if agave syrup is a healthier option.
In this article we’ll have a look at agave nectar and other so-called natural sweeteners and see if they’re good for dogs… prepare to be shocked!
What is agave syrup/ nectar?
Many vegans and health-conscious people are increasingly turning to agave syrup, touted to be a healthier option to sugar. This product comes from a succulent plant called agave, which grows in warm climates, like the Southern part of the US or Mexico. The nectar (or syrup) comes from the root of this plant and, since it comes from a plant people assume it must be healthy or at least healthier than sugar, although the latter also comes from a plant or several.
The main problem with this syrup is that what you get in the bottle at the store is a chemically-processed and highly-refined version of the nectar that comes from the agave plant.
Basically, what you get is almost pure fructose and that’s not good for dogs or their owners.
What nutrients are in agave syrup?
If you have a look at the ingredients on the label of a generic agave syrup you might find at the store, you’ll immediately see just how ‘healthy’ this product really is.
A regular 100 g serving contains 68 grams of sugars. In other words, agave syrup is 68% sugar. You also have 22% water, which leaves you with a measly 10% of nutrients. Of these, you have 1% dietary fiber and trace amounts of various vitamins.
For instance, a serving of agave syrup does contain 13mg of an essential nutrient called choline, as well as folate, also known as B9 vitamin, which are good for your dog’s health.
However, does getting these small amounts of vitamins justify the risk of consuming that much fructose?
Table sugar is vilified for its high sucrose content, but the fructose in the agave syrup, while less risky for people or dogs with diabetes, can cause liver damage. Fructose is more difficult for the liver to process than both sucrose and glucose.
Finally, agave syrup has more calories than sugar, 310 calories per 100g. That’s quite a lot for humans, let alone dogs.
Honey vs Golden syrup (corn syrup) vs maple syrup. Which is the healthiest for your dog?
Loving pet parents are at a loss when choosing a healthy sweetener to use when they make various doggie treats. This is how most of them learn about the agave syrup, which, as we’ve seen, is not that good for dogs. What other options are there?
Many people use honey as a natural sweetener for their milk or tea and it does have some health benefits as it is rich in antioxidants. As for sugar, no, honey is in fact worse than the agave syrup.
100 grams of honey have 82 grams of sugar, way more than the agave nectar. On the other hand, honey has less fructose and contains more dextrose or glucose, another type of sugar which is better for your pet and is often used to treat hypoglycemic or dehydrated dogs.
Honey has the same amount of calories over 300 per 100 grams, so you should use it in moderation if your dog has weight problems.
However, if your dog has a sore throat or suffers from seasonal allergies, you can give him a spoonful of honey, just don’t overdo it.
Corn syrup, also known as golden syrup, is another popular sweetener. However, if you look at the label you’ll find that it’s 76% sugar. Golden syrup is a little better in terms of calories, 283 per 100g, but that’s about it. If you look at what other nutrients it has, you’ll see that it has no vitamins and just trace amounts of a few minerals, like zinc.
There are two types of corn syrup on the market. The regular one and the high-fructose version (HFCS).
If you want to use corn syrup to cook for your pet, use regular corn syrup in which the sugar is almost exclusively glucose. Stay away from the cheaper HFCS which is very high in fructose.
The ever popular maple syrup is at least less calorific than other sweeteners. 100 grams of maple syrup has only 260 calories. And it also has less sugar, just 60 grams, but unfortunately it’s all fructose, so that’s not very good for your dog.
On the other hand, maple syrup is an excellent source of riboflavin, aka vitamin B2, which is essential for cellular respiration. Riboflavin deficiency can cause various health issues like stomatitis (inflammation of the mouth), skin rashes and even anemia, as this vitamin is involved in iron absorption.
At the same time, maple syrup contains essential minerals, like calcium, magnesium, manganese and zinc.
Bottom line, if you want to use a syrup instead of table sugar for your dog’s treats, maple syrup is your best option.
Should dogs eat sugar?
If you ask a vet, they’ll tell you that a dog doesn’t need sugar. Just like us, dogs do need carbs to produce energy, but these carbs shouldn’t come from sugar, cookies, ice cream, etc.
That doesn’t mean that eating something sweet once in a while will harm your dog. Whenever possible give your dog a little bit of fruit, a few berries, or perhaps some apple or banana slices and he’ll get some natural sugars to maintain his energy levels.
Of course, if your dog is a couch potato and is prone to obesity, you should avoid feeding him sugar as this will cause him to gain more weight.
What are the side effects for a dog of eating too much sugar?
To put it simply, think of all the bad things you know sugar does to humans and multiply that a few times.
First of all, too much sugar can give your dog diarrhea, because it tends to destroy the good bacteria in the guts, which are responsible for a good digestion. In other words, if you share a box of cookies with your pet, he’ll have to pay for it by eating nothing but rice and plain chicken for a few days, until his stomach settles down.
Sugar causes cavities, you know that, because it feeds the wrong kind of bacteria that multiply and destroy teeth enamel. Also keep in mind that sugar is bad even for humans who manage to brush their teeth at least twice a day, which your dog probably doesn’t.
Too much sugar has also been linked with hyperactivity in dogs, so if your dog already has more energy than you can handle, he surely doesn’t need sweets.
Are there any healthy alternatives to these sugar alternatives?
If you want what’s best for your dog you should look for alternative products to use as sweeteners, although that’s easier said than done.
Raw honey is a safer choice than the honey you’ll find in most stores. These products are usually pasteurized at over 70C, a process which destroys most of the antioxidants, vitamins and minerals.
Stevia is another sweetener that’s rising in popularity. It comes from the leaves of the stevia plant and is much sweeter than sugar, which is good as you will only need to use very small amounts for your dog’s treats. Look for Green Stevia which is less processed than the white version and is rich in vitamin C, as well as minerals such as calcium, magnesium, zinc and iron.
You can call it chocolate for dogs. This powder comes from the beans of the Carob tree, which grows in the Mediterranean region and it does taste a bit like chocolate, only it’s caffeine-free so it’s not toxic to dogs. It is also a good source of vitamins A,B and D, and it contains various minerals, as well as fiber. Carob powder is not as sweet as sugar, but you can use it to make delicious ‘chocolate’ cookies for your dog.
Can dogs eat agave syrup?
Let’s put it like this – it’s not the worst thing in the world, but it’s not exactly healthy for your dog. Agave syrup is mostly sugar, and a very bad type of sugar at that, plus it has way too many calories. The few good nutrients to be found in agave syrup are in very small quantities, so they’re not worth the risk of feeding your pet that much sugar. If you need a sweetener for your dog’s treats try raw honey or maple syrup.
Also you can try to use stevia or carob powder, which is as good as chocolate for your dog or almost as good. Hopefully, he won’t know the difference.