Wednesday, March 3, 2021

The Pet Expert: Understanding Keto Diets for Dogs

Brandon Forder

Ketogenic diets have become quite the popular subject of discussion in recent years. From best-selling books, to celebrity endorsements, to social media influencers, the keto trend is growing in popularity by leaps and bounds.

In 2018, the global keto industry was valued at $9.7 billion, and is expected to grow to almost $20 billion by the end of the decade. Much of keto’s popularity is due to claims of weight loss, and improved blood sugar levels to help those with Type 2 diabetes.

There is much debate on whether ketogenic diets are safe for long-term use with humans. In fact, US News & World ranked keto as one of the worst diets for humans out of 35 diets evaluated, citing concerns about kidney health, digestive issues, nutrient deficiencies, and increased risk for chronic diseases.

Ketogenic diets for dogs have been used for many years now, becoming increasingly popular over the last decade, and for many reasons. While there is still much research to be done to further our understanding of keto diets for dogs, studies show the benefits may outweigh the risks with certain canines.

When you look at biologically appropriate diets for dogs, they aren’t too far off from a ketogenic diet to begin with. The diet of wild predatory animals typically consists of 5% carbohydrates or lower, which ties in perfectly with a ketogenic diet. Raw dog foods and commercial grain-free dog foods focus on reducing carbohydrates while keeping fat and protein content high. Many dogs on these diets may already be in a state of ketosis (or close to) without the owner ever being aware.

From fighting cancer, reducing inflammation, balancing blood sugar, and more, keto diets seem to offer a wide array of health benefits for dogs. Let’s dive right into it and learn more about ketogenic diets for dogs.

What is a ketogenic diet?

A ketogenic diet is a high-fat, very low carbohydrate diet that is similar to other trendy low carb diets, like the Atkins diet, for example. The purpose of keeping carbohydrate content low is to shift the body into a metabolic state called ketosis. This process forces the body to use fat for energy instead of carbohydrates/sugar.

In order for healthy cells to produce energy, they need to use either fats or carbohydrates. In a moderate to high carbohydrate diet (such as grain-inclusive commercial dog foods), the body will do one of two things: convert carbs into glucose for fuel, or store glucose in the liver as glycogen. However, in a high fat, low carb diet, the body does not have enough insulin to convert glucose into energy. Instead, the liver produces ketones, which are short-chain fatty acids used to turn fat into energy.

Ketogenic diets have been shown to provide the following health benefits in certain dogs:


Cancer is the leading cause of death in dogs. It is a sad reality that approximately 6 million dogs in the United States are diagnosed with cancer every year. Studies show that a ketogenic diet for dogs may not only reduce the risk of a dog developing cancer, it may actually help fight cancer cells by removing their main fuel source.

Cancer cells love sugar, and it is known that high glycemic carbohydrates that break down into simple sugars are known to aid in the growth of tumors. When you remove carbohydrates from the diet, you remove one of the primary fuel sources for cancer cells. Cancer cells cannot survive if they can’t get glucose from carbohydrates, resulting in slowed tumour progression and tumor growth reduction. With that said, ketogenic diets are not a single solution for cancer prevention and treatment as there are many factors at play.


Many commercial dog foods contain a fair amount of high glycemic grains, sugary fruits, and starchy vegetables. These ingredients are converted to glucose in the body, and can result in elevated blood sugar levels. By replacing these carbohydrate sources with healthy fats, blood glucose levels can be lowered significantly. This is especially beneficial for dogs with Type 2 diabetes.


A 2015 study in the British Journal of Nutrition suggests ketogenic diets may help reduce or eliminate seizures in dogs. The study monitored 21 epileptic dogs on a keto diet and results showed seven of them had a 50% reduction in seizure recurrence, and three dogs became entirely seizure free.

While keto diets alone do not guarantee a completely seizure-free lifestyle for dogs, it may be a powerful tool to be used in conjunction with medications prescribed by a veterinarian.

Other benefits of a ketogenic diet for dogs could potentially include:

  • Improved insulin sensitivity

  • Improved liver health

  • Reduction in inflammation

  • Lowered risk of chronic diseases

  • Increased energy and stamina

  • Reduction in harmful free radicals

  • Weight loss

  • Improved cellular function

With all these benefits listed, ketogenic diets are not always suitable for every dog. Possible side effects of keto diets for dogs include:

  • Keto flu. When the body is transitioning into a state of ketosis, some dogs may experience flu-like symptoms and lethargy for a couple days.

  • Digestive problems

  • Pancreatitis

  • Decreased gut health

  • Nutrient deficiencies

  • Keto diets may be less palatable for some dogs.

Please speak with your veterinarian or your trusted pet health professional before putting your dog on a keto diet. Ketogenic diets for dogs are indeed becoming more popular, however more studies are needed to determine how safe they are in the long-term.

Brandon Forder, known as The Pet Expert, is vice-president of Canadian Pet Connection, an industry leader in healthy pet lifestyles. Brandon holds multiple certifications in pet nutrition, and has more than twenty-five years’ experience specializing in pet health and behaviour. He has written hundreds of informative pet-related articles for newspapers, magazines, radio, and the popular Ask the Pet Expert Blog. Brandon is highly skilled in pet problem solving, and enjoys teaching others about smart and responsible pet ownership. To learn more, visit

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