Sugars such as glucose, fructose, lactose, maltose and others are groups of carbohydrates. They are naturally found in many fruits, vegetables and dairy products. They are a key macronutrient, along with protein and fat. Sugars in moderation can actually serve important functions in pet foods. Small amounts of sugars in pet foods can provide a source of energy, improve palatability and help ensure a product retains its texture and softness throughout its shelf life. It is excessive caloric intake through all food groups, not sugar or carbohydrate specifically, that is a primary risk factor for obesity in cats and dogs.
Sugars are found naturally in many fruits and vegetables used in pet food such as apples, pumpkin, carrots, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, peas, or spinach.
The majority of carbohydrates in complete and balanced pet foods come from “complex” carbohydrates” (e.g.: cereals, potato and certain leguminous plants). When found in pet foods, simple sugars (like sucrose, dextrose, fructose, etc.) comprise a very small percentage of the total metabolisable energy of the diet.
Some of them play an important role in pets’ nutrition. Glucose, for example, is the primary source of energy for the body’s cells, while lactose is critical for early development. Both dogs and cats are capable of metabolising and utilising the dietary sugars contained in pet foods. Small amounts of sugars can improve the palatability, texture and appearance or can act as a preservative.
The term "various sugars" that appears on pet food labels is a category description, which may refer to different sugars (e.g. sucrose, fructose, glucose among others). It has to be used always in plural (“sugars”) even if the recipe contains only one type of sugar.
Many people associate sugar in pet foods as the cause of obesity. However, one of the main risk factors for obesity in dogs and cats is excessive caloric intake. Obesity, not dietary sugar, is the main risk factor for diabetes mellitus in dogs and cats. The key is to maintain ideal body condition and limit food items that are not complete and balanced to less than 10% of the pet’s total caloric intake.