The ketogenic diet, otherwise known as “going keto,” is all the rage in humans. This high fat, (very) low carb diet is touted by some as a miracle weight loss solution. Others, including some doctors, point to serious health benefits.
Is it something you should consider for your dog?
The Details on the Keto Diet
Says Dr. Jeanine Au, Vetted’s Head of Veterinary Operations, “The ketogenic diet for people is a diet that is moderate in protein, low carbohydrate and very high fat. It pushes the body into a metabolic state known as ketosis, where body fat is used to generate ketone bodies that are used for energy.” Because ketosis takes several days to occur, a keto diet must be adhered to strictly in order for the body to remain in ketosis.
Continues Dr. Au, “Weight loss is the most common reason people are on the ketogenic diet, however, there are several claimed health benefits. What is being investigated the most is how it can help in management of refractory seizures in children.”
Keto Diets for Dogs…Are They Safe?
For a dog, eating a keto diet is a little less complicated than it is for a human. Instead of avoiding beer, cereal, or candy, dogs on keto diets basically abstain from grains and most plant-based carbohydrates like potatoes or even fruit. Instead, their intake of fatty meats like lamb, fish, and beef is increased along with green vegetables like kale and broccoli. To remain in ketosis, even carb-heavy vegetables like peas and carrots are off the table. Today, it’s even possible to buy ketogenic dog food!
The real question is…is it safe for your dog to be on a keto diet?
“There isn’t enough clinical research and data to show if ketogenic diets could benefit our pet patients,” says Dr. Au. “In general, I think the human keto diet is too low in protein for dogs and is too high in fat for some. I also worry that if people are creating homemade diets that are not properly formulated, their pets will be fed unbalanced diets and likely suffer repercussions.” For some people and some dogs, the adverse effects of a keto diet might include high cholesterol, weakness, and even heart disease.
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Recently, veterinarians have become more vocal about keeping dogs on trendy “people” diets. There are plenty of human doctors who think the keto diet is unsafe even for humans long-term given its concentration of fat. Many of those same concerns are echoed by vets when it comes to pets.
That said, a keto diet for dogs might be worth trying in some specific situations, explains Dr. Au. “An area that a low carb diet could be beneficial is with cancer. It is most beneficial early on in the disease and is a good option as part of a palliative/hospice care approach. The basis behind it is that you starve the cancer cells by decreasing their supply of glucose.” There’s also some evidence that a keto diet could be beneficial for dogs who suffer from seizures.
What Kind of Diet Should My Dog Be On?
In general, it’s best to avoid any fad diets specifically suited to help people lose weight. For the most part, animals’ nutritional requirements are pretty simple – resist the urge to tamper with them too much. From vegetarianism to Atkins, you should always (always!) talk to your vet before putting your dog on any kind of diet.
Most dogs do best on a balanced diet of meat, grains, and vegetables. If you have concerns about commercially made dog food and are considering making your own, talk to your vet about the optimal proportions for your specific dog. Just like people, every pet’s nutritional needs are slightly different!