I have a terrible sweet tooth. The urge to have something sweet is so strong that, once a week, I give in to my craving and make maple syrup-drenched waffles for breakfast. (Yum!) Then I give a few bites to my dog as well. But only just a few bites, Too much is bad for her.
That will depend on the syrup used, how often it’s fed, and what a particular dog’s dietary needs are.
- 1 General ratio of nutrients
- 2 When it’s appropriate
- 3 Common syrups
- 4 The final word
General ratio of nutrients
On average, a dog needs no more than 50% of their diet (weight-wise) to be made up of carbohydrates (with about 4.5% dietary fiber included). The rest must be protein (at least 10%), essential fatty acids (at least 5.5%), vitamins, and minerals.
That said, the ideal sweet syrup for a dog would be one that carries some vitamins and minerals along with the usual sugars or carbohydrates. (More on this, later!)
The energy that food generates is measured in calories. Calories of energy come from three main dietary components: fats, carbohydrates, and protein. And of the three, it’s carbohydrates that generate the most calories.
Just like humans, dogs get their carbohydrates from grain-based food and vegetables. Dogs may be descended from carnivores (wolves), but they’re not 100% carnivorous and should have a more omnivorous diet. (This is why the best commercial dog food brands are a healthy mix of meat, grains, and vegetables.)
So yes, this specifically means your dog’s diet can include ingredients laden with all types of carbohydrates, from the complex starches contained in cereals and legumes to the simple, fast-absorbing sugars (like fructose and glucose) in fruit juices, honey, and syrups.
How much and how often your dog consumes carb-rich food — and ultimately, his caloric needs — will depend on the following factors:
- Age (and expected rate of development or maturity)
- Breed and family-specific genes (which lead to tendencies or pre-existing conditions that affect health)
- Ideal size and weight
- Energy needs (based on the level of daily activity and other physical requirements – e.g., pregnancy)
Syrups are nearly pure sugars in liquid form. Giving a dog a tablespoon of it is like giving him a huge shot of calories, all in one go. Instead of the gradual release of energy that comes with the slower digestion of complex carbohydrates, the simple sugars in syrups are quickly absorbed into the dog’s bloodstream in minutes.
A sugar “shot” like that is therefore useful in situations where a dog needs that “emergency” boost between major meals. That’s when a few bites of a syrup-drenched doggie snack are appropriate.
However, if the dog is allowed to consume several tablespoons of syrup per day, that’s enough to cause great spikes in blood sugar in his system. Over time the dog’s system gets “used” to the highs. He can then develop diabetes.
When it’s appropriate
It’s best to use syrup in doggie snacks only in instances where a dog could benefit from that boost. (And even then, use the syrup sparingly!) Here are a few examples:
1. Active young dog (9-12 months old)
I’m serious about the word active here. Think of young dogs, barely out of puppyhood, that spend nearly an entire day playing sports or running alongside their athlete human. The occasional sweet treat can help tide them over for the next few hours, before their next meal.
2. Working dog (full adult)
Herding dogs and human assistance dogs (e.g., seeing-eye dogs) are constantly on the move and they burn a lot of calories. There may be moments in the middle of long working hours where they get tired and need a boost
3. Long journeys
You may find yourself stuck in a long car ride or commute with your dog as he gets hungry waiting for his next meal. A tiny dose of sweetness will help keep him comfy.
4. Nursing moms
A dog mother can get exhausted from suckling their pups for hours. A sweet snack while waiting for her pups to finish is a perfect energy boost.
Important Note: Don’t ever give syrup to a sedentary or overweight dog. You’ll just make his or her weight loss a lot harder to achieve and increase the risk of developing diabetes.
Next, consider what syrup you’re using. Some syrups are safe in moderation. Others need to be used extra sparingly. And then there are a few that are actually toxic and can kill your dog. You need to know which is which.
Real maple syrup is a traditional sweetener made from the xylem sap of maple trees. Every 2 tablespoons contain a whopping 110 calories (from the 27 grams of carbohydrates, which are nearly all various simple sugars).
But because it’s derived from tree sap, natural maple syrup comes with other essential nutrients — potassium, calcium, magnesium, Vitamin B1 (thiamine), Vitamin B2 (riboflavin), niacin (a form of Vitamin B3), iron, zinc, copper, and manganese. There are even over 67 polyphenols or plant compounds that have antioxidant effects on living tissues (both plant or animal) that help protect them from oxidative stress and certain diseases (like cancer).
This is why I prefer maple syrup on my waffles — whether I’m eating them or giving a few bites to my dog.
But beware of using imitation maple syrups or maple syrups that have been mixed in with other sugar-based syrups. These contain less or none of the nutrients I just listed. They may even contain artificial flavors or sweeteners (e.g., xylitol) that may be all right for humans but are harmful to dogs. (Again, more on that later.)
Honey or honey syrup
If you find the flavor of real maple syrup a bit cloying, you can use honey. Honey is another natural sweet syrup you can use both as human food and as part of a doggie snack.
Because it’s manufactured by bees out of flower nectar, honey is a super-concentrated mix of sugar (38.5%), glucose (31%), and various carbs (disaccharides, trisaccharides, and oligosaccharides). As a result, there are 85 calories per 28 grams (about an ounce) of honey. It has a higher glycemic index than that of maple syrup.
Honey also contains protein, vitamins (C, B3, B5, B6), and minerals (iron, copper, and phosphorus). It tends to be rich in nutrients that maple syrup has less of.
Whenever I make homemade doggie treats, I like to use honey as an alternative sweetener — but only enough to impart a mild sweetness. I also prefer pasteurized honey, and always use it in cooked treats. This is because raw honey can carry a few spores of yeast and C. botulinum spores (which cause botulism).
I don’t usually recommend using corn syrup for dogs. Yes, it’s an inexpensive sweetener derived from corn starch. But it’s only sugars (mostly maltose or fructose), sodium, traces of minerals like calcium, and nothing else.
And every tablespoon of corn syrup already contains 62 calories. There’s so much sweet energy with little extra nutrition or few health benefits — making corn syrup a source of “empty” calories. So use this syrup sparingly, or not at all!
Simple sugar syrup
What about sugar dissolved in water? It’s slightly better than corn syrup. Around 4 tablespoons of this will give your dog 145 calories and traces of sodium, potassium, iron, and calcium. As with corn syrup, use this sparingly or give it up.
Homemade caramel syrups pack even more calories — like 110 calories for a mere 39 grams — which can easily upset the balance of both human and canine diets. Commercial caramel syrups are even worse because of the added salt (sodium), which is meant to improve its taste. Skip this entirely!
Artificially-sweetened or artificially flavored syrups
These are a big no-no for dogs. Many of these syrups (especially “diet” syrups) contain artificial sweeteners and flavors that are either unhealthy or downright toxic for dogs. The most notorious of these is xylitol, which accounts for some canine deaths (from xylitol poisoning) each year.
The final word
So make sure you read the ingredients on the back label of every syrup you buy at the grocery. Make sure it’s all-natural and has none of the substances that are dangerous for your dog (like xylitol!). Better still, stick to honey or maple syrup, and use those sparingly for your dog’s treats.