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Keto Diet for Dogs

By JoAnna Pendergrass, DVM
published: July 9, 2020 • 2 min. read

Fad diets never cease to captivate us. Proponents of these diets boldly make claims of quick weight loss, improved fat-burning, or some other health benefit.

One of these fad diets is the ketogenic diet. As is the case for many dietary trends in people, keto diets have also captured the attention of pet parents.

What is a keto diet? Is it safe for dogs? Let’s explore these questions in more detail.

What Is a Keto Diet?

Before talking about the keto diet itself, we need to understand the science behind the diet. A keto diet stimulates ketosis, which is an alternative process for generating energy in the body.

Typically, the body’s cells use carbohydrates, namely glucose, for energy. When there are little to no carbs available, the body will resort to breaking down body fat to produce substances called ketone bodies. These ketone bodies are then used by the cells to generate energy.

Keto diets are high in fat, moderate in protein, and very low in carbohydrates. They are also calorie-restricted.

Keto diets in people commonly consist of processed and fresh meats, eggs, nuts, and limited fruits and vegetables. It typically takes a few days on the diet to put the body into a ketotic state.

Weight loss is the main draw for the keto diet in humans. Clinical studies have shown that keto diets can reduce seizure activity in children. Keto diets could also benefit patients with cancer, but the current clinical research does not yet support this claim.

The drawbacks for keto diets are numerous. For example, the diet isn’t sustainable in the long-term because of the severe carbohydrate restriction. Other potential dangers of the keto diet are nutritional imbalance, worsening of liver and kidney problems, and mood swings.


Are Keto Diets Safe for Dogs?

Dogs do well on a variety of diets, so it’s worth at least considering a keto diet for dogs. It would follow the same principles as a human keto diet: high fat, moderate protein, low carbs. A dog on a keto diet would eat fatty meats (e.g., beef) and low-carb vegetables like kale or broccoli. Commercial keto diets for dogs are also available.

However, dogs metabolize ketones quickly, meaning that a dog would take longer than a human to reach a state of ketosis.

Very few clinical veterinary studies have evaluated the benefits and safety of keto diets for dogs. So, for now, we can’t say one way or the other if these diets are a good idea for dogs.

The potential health risks in dogs, though, could be very similar to those in people. Also, a pet parent may quickly realize that preparing a homemade keto diet for their dog is time-consuming and challenging to get just right.

Summing Things Up

The jury is still out on whether keto diets are suitable for dogs. In the meantime, focus on feeding your dog a high-quality, nutritionally-balanced food.

Remember that, no matter what the pet food commercials say, there is no magic or perfect diet for dogs. Dogs do just fine and stay healthy on a variety of diets.

Also, do not assume that dietary trends in people are right for dogs. The gluten-free trend in human health led to the explosion of grain-free diets for dogs. Unfortunately, several grain-free dog diets have been linked to dilated cardiomyopathy, a heart condition that occurs when the heart muscles became thin and weak.

Always consult with your veterinarian before making any changes to your dog’s diet.

joanna pendergrass
By JoAnna Pendergrass, DVM

JoAnna Pendergrass, DVM, is a veterinarian and freelance medical writer in Atlanta, GA. After graduating from the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine with her veterinary degree, JoAnna completed a 2-year research fellowship in neuroscience at Emory University. During this fellowship, she learned that she could make a career out of combining her loves of science and writing. As a medical writer, JoAnna is passionate about providing pet parents at Healthy Paws with clear, concise, and engaging information about pet care. Through her writing, she strives not only to educate pet parents, but also empower them to make good health decisions for their pets. JoAnna is a member of the American Medical Writers Association and Dog Writers Association of America.

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