Fezeg Amazon Review

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Are carbohydrates simply empty fillers in dog food?

We are becoming more health conscious as a nation, not only for ourselves but for our pets too. What we eat is a huge part of that, so it’s only natural to question what goes into your dog’s food. Carbohydrates feature quite highly in some complete dog foods, particularly dry kibbles; leading many owners to wonder if they are just being used as a filler. In this blog, we will explore what the term filler means, as well as whether carbohydrates are good for our dogs or not.

What are fillers?

There is no standard definition as to what filler means. But some people think these are ingredients that are high in starch and low in protein; used to bulk pet food out. Corn and rice are examples of healthy nutritious fillers, but corn syrup and MSG (monosodium glutamate) are perhaps less good. 

How is pet food regulated?

It’s important to know that here in the UK, pet food production is strictly regulated by The Food Standard Agency. There is certain legislation that manufacturers need to follow, in particular around food labelling. This means that owners are provided with honest information about what ingredients are in their dog’s food.

How to Read an Ingredients List

The list of ingredients on a packet of any food, human or animal, is a legal requirement and tells us what the product contains. Ingredients are ordered in decreasing amounts (based on weight), such that the ones that make up the bulk of the diet are listed first, with the other ingredients following in decreasing order. 

Choosing a diet with carbohydrate fillers that appear lower down in the ingredient list might be a good idea, with meat, meat meal, or meat by-products appearing above this, but we definitely shouldn’t be avoiding carbohydrates altogether. Animal proteins tend to be more expensive than carbohydrate sources, which may explain why some cheaper commercial diets have higher amounts of these compared to meat.

The most common source of carbohydrates in dog food is cereal grains. These grains are cooked or ground up to make them tastier and more digestible. Common grains found in pet food include –

  • Pearled barley
  • Oats
  • Rice
  • Wheat 
  • Corn
  • Millet

Other sources of carbohydrates that may be found in dog food include vegetables like potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots and legumes.

Are carbohydrates bad for dogs?

No, carbohydrates are not bad for dogs, nor are they ‘empty fillers’. Dogs are in fact classed as omnivores meaning that they are designed to eat plant material as well as meat. Carbohydrates in dog food have the following benefits:

  • They provide a highly digestible energy source allowing the dog to perform daily functions including exercise and play.
  • They create structure and texture for dog food, allowing it to be formed into convenient-to-eat pieces. This also helps with shelf life.
  • They provide a source of fibre for our dogs, which aids with healthy digestion
  • Ingredients like vegetables and grains can provide essential vitamins and minerals, in addition to carbohydrates

However, as with all things, getting the balance right is key and choosing a good quality pet food can help with that.

What about grain-free diets?

Grain-free diets are heavily marketed but only dogs that have true allergies need to avoid grain. As discussed previously, dogs are omnivores, which means that the carbohydrates provided by grains are absolutely fine for most pets. Actually, there is even evidence to suggest that grain-free diets can contribute to a serious heart condition known as dilated cardiomyopathy. Research into this is still ongoing, with a new paper this month suggesting that “traditional” mixed diets tend to lead to better heart health.

If your pet does have an allergy that has been diagnosed (usually through a veterinary lead food trial), then you should of course avoid diets containing ingredients that may trigger symptoms in your pet. 


Carbohydrates are thought of as a filler in dog foods, bulking them out and helping give the food structure. This doesn’t however make them bad. Dogs are designed to process carbohydrates, but they should be carefully balanced with protein from meat or meat meal. When choosing a good quality diet, the primary ingredient should be an animal protein source, with carbohydrates lower down. If you have any concerns regarding your dog’s diet then speak with your vet who should be able to advise you further.

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