In 2017 AAFCO approved maltodextrin for use in pet foods. The FDA lists it as a GRAS nutritive additive. But is maltodextrin safe for dogs?
GRAS stands for Generally Regarded As Safe. The FDA uses this term for food chemicals they believe aren’t harmful.
However, this does not mean they’ve done extensive research.
When you consider a food item or food additive you always want to consider the long term risks and benefits. We know chocolate bars are safe but we certainly can’t live on them forever.
So let’s review what maltodextrin is … and where it may be hiding that you may not realize.
What Is Maltodextrin?
Maltodextrin is a partially hydrolyzed sugar compound (polysaccharide) that comes from various starches. The most common starch sources are corn, oats, rice, potato, and tapioca.
Interestingly, maltodextrin, compared to other artificial sweeteners, isn’t always sweet. In fact, sometimes it’s tasteless.
Maltodextrins have a DE between 3 and 20. The European Union defines products with a DE over 20 as glucose syrup. DEs of 10 or below are called dextrins.
What Is Maltodextrin Used For?
The human food industry has used maltodextrin in processed foods for more than 30 years … and its use has spilled over into pet products too.
Maltodextrin is often used thicken and bind ingredients together. When you think about how sticky syrup is, it makes sense.
Some companies also use it to change the freezing points or textures of products. And it often replaces fats as a food energy source.
You’ll find it in many processed foods like …
- Salad dressings
- Rehydration drinks
- Frozen dairy products
- Health supplements – both for pets and people
- Pet foods
- Pet treats
So now you know that maltodextrin can be hiding in your dog’s food, treats, and supplements. The trouble is … it’s not always easy to spot on a label.
Labels also use the terms syrup solids or dextrins. So you need to read labels carefully.
And once you find it on a label, there’s another concern. With different sources and varieties, DE levels can vary. This means it’s hard to tell how much sugar is in your dog’s treats or supplements.[Related: What Are Fillers And Binders (And Why They Shouldn’t Be In Your Dog’s Supplements)]
Why Is There Sugar In My Dog’s Food And Treats?
Many pet foods, treats, and supplements contain maltodextrin sugars. Although dogs do have a “sweet tooth,” maltodextrin is added for the structural reasons I mentioned above. It’s not there for flavor.
So you’re more likely to find maltodextrin in canned foods, semi-moist treats, and supplements. These products need structural support and protection against moisture and freezing issues.
I did a little digging into products that contain maltodextrin. What surprised me was that most of them were supplements … not just processed foods.
This is a really important detail when you consider the concept of exposure over time.
So even if you’re feeding your dog a fresh, raw diet … you need to watch how much total maltodextrin you feed.
Remember to check all your supplements … and ideally replace them with ones without maltodextrin.
So now let’s look at some safety concerns with maltodextrin for your dog.
Maltodextrin Safety And Your Dog
There’s been some research on the use of maltodextrin in dog products … but the focus has been on its ability to boost recovery times after exercise.
I couldn’t find any long term safety studies for dogs or people. The most consistent message was it should be used in moderation … much like all sugars.
This study looked at some of the health impacts of consuming maltodextrin in people …
“… the decrease in the consumption of ‘whole’ foods and dietary fiber, along with a rise in the consumption of rapidly digestible and absorbable CHO sources such as isolated starches, starch derivatives, and sugars, parallels an increase in the global prevalence of obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease”
A few years ago Purina® Pro Plan® even launched a small line of exercise supplement bars for sporting dogs … and you can find dog rehydration products similar to the ones for people.
But if you have a sporting dog who needs a boost, you’ll want to skip on these products and choose a more natural route.
Dr Cheryl L Morris, from Evolve Animal Nutrition, reviewed a few rehydrating products in 2011 … when asked which she would use for her agility dogs.
She doesn’t reach for a product that contains maltodextrin to boost her dog’s recovery …
“I actually don’t use any of these products but I do “rehydrate.” I use a mixture of meat-based baby food, honey, and some glutamine mixed with water. ”
So stick with organic, fresh energy sources the next time your dog needs a boost, regardless of the research behind “energy” products. You’ll protect your dog from the top health risks listed below.
#1 Maltodextrin Can Cause Nutritional Deficiencies
Maltodextrin can be a source of quick calories at 4 per gram … but its energy is very short-lived. Ideally, you want to fuel your dog with energy that lasts and provides valuable nutrition.
Simple carbohydrates (sugars) may be good for short term energy boosts. But, the trouble is, they don’t provide any other nutrition.
In addition to “empty calories,” maltodextrin robs your dog of vitamins and minerals. This is because maltodextrin is classified as a complex carbohydrate … but acts like a simple carbohydrate.
A complex carbohydrate contains vitamins and minerals needed to use energy. But maltodextrin doesn’t have any vitamins or minerals … .so it borrows them from the body. This can deplete your dog’s vitamins and minerals.[Related: How Hidden Sugars In Your Dog’s Food Are Making Him Sick]
#2 Maltodextrin Can Lead To Poor Gut Health
The same study showed that maltodextrin can increase the growth of bacteria like E. coli. So if your dog has any digestive problems or leaky gut issues, feeding maltodextrin will make him worse.
And remember to check your dog’s supplement labels. I may sound like a broken record now …
But you might be shocked to learn that the pre- and probiotics you’re feeding to boost his gut health … might just have maltodextrin hiding in them too!
This leaves you fighting an uphill battle to restore your dog’s gut health.
#3 GMO Exposure
Maltodextrin is often manufactured from genetically modified (GMO) sources. This helps keep the costs down but it certainly adds more health concerns for your dog.
In the US, manufacturers mainly use corn, and in Europe they often use wheat. Although the FDA considers GMO corn is safe, we know there are risks associated.
Many studies showing GMOs to be safe are funded by the companies that create GMOs. But there are a lot of independent scientists who believe GMOs are harmful.
In fact, in 2015 GMO crops were banned in 38 countries around the world, including 28 countries in Europe.
Sadly, the US and Canadian governments still allow GMO crops and foods.
So there’s a strong likelihood that North American maltodextrin is from GMO crops. To reduce your dog’s risk, choose only certified organic products.[Related: Why Your Dog Is Probably Eating GMO Food – And Shouldn’t]
Less Is Always More
So, even though maltodextrin may be safe in small amounts … it’s wise to eliminate it whenever you can. Choose to feed fresh foods and avoid unnecessary ingredients. Trust me … your dog will thank you for it and he’ll live a healthier life!