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Dog Food FAQs: Fiber

Drs. Foster & Smith Educational Staff
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What exactly is fiber?
Fiber is made up of several different compounds - all of which are carbohydrates. The term "fiber" is used to describe the "insoluble carbohydrates" that resist enzymatic digestion in the small intestine. Found in the cell walls of plants and grains, the most common fibers are cellulose, hemicellulose, pectin, gums, and resistant starches. Almost all carbohydrate sources will contain some fiber. Some of the most common sources of fiber in pet foods include rice hulls, corn and corn by-products, soybean hulls, beet pulp, bran, peanut hulls, and pectin.
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Why add fiber to dog food?
Fiber is not considered an essential nutrient in your dog's diet, but it is present in almost every commercial dog food. While dogs do not derive any energy from fiber, adding fiber to a diet improves colon health, helps with weight management, and helps with diarrhea, constipation, and diabetes mellitus.

Some fiber is fermented into fatty acids by the "good" bacteria in the intestine. These fatty acids will aid in preventing the overgrowth of harmful bacteria. They will also help the colon cells to recover from injury and possibly help reduce the risk of colon cancer.

Fiber in dog food also helps in the dietary management of obesity. By adding extra fiber (particularly slowly fermented fiber which holds its shape longer) in a specialized weight-loss diet, weight can be reduced and better maintained. The bulk of the fiber helps your dog to feel full without adding calories. Your dog will eat a satisfying meal, but consume fewer calories and thus lose weight. If rapidly fermented fiber source (which loses its shape and bulk quickly) is used at an excessive level, loose stools or excessive gas may result. If problems arise using weight-management pet foods, the fiber source should be examined.

Diabetes mellitus, a common metabolic disease in dogs, is caused when the pancreas fails to produce insulin, a hormone that allows blood sugar (glucose) to be taken up by cells that require it to function. Controlling this disease can be difficult and time consuming. However, diabetic dogs who eat a diet high in fiber experience less fluctuation in blood sugar levels. Feeding diabetic dogs a high-fiber diet has now become standard and many diabetic dogs have been helped.
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Why is a high-fiber diet recommended for anal gland disease?
As your dog is viewed from behind, anal glands (also called anal sacs) are located on each side of and slightly below the anal opening, at approximately the 4 'clock and 8 o'clock positions. A tiny duct or tube leads under the skin to an opening directly beside the anus. Unfortunately, these glands may become impacted or infected, and may even abscess.

When anal glands are impacted, your dog will sit down and drag his anal area across the floor or ground. This is called scooting. Your dog may also lick the anal area excessively. Impacted anal glands are a very, very common problem for dogs, especially the smaller breeds.

Dogs with recurrent anal gland impactions are often placed on a high-fiber diet to bulk up the stool. Bulky stool puts more pressure on the anal glands, hopefully causing them to express themselves when your dog defecates. While this is not a cure for anal gland disease, it is beneficial in many animals.

Several commercial brands of dog food are available in a high-fiber formula. You may also choose to supplement your dog's diet with bran or a product like Metamucil.

If your dog appears to have anal gland problems, discuss a change in diet with your veterinarian.
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