Sugar alternatives for dogs

Think outside the sugar jar when fixing delicious treats for your best friend.

These days, there’s a lot of press about dogs eating a whole foods diet. But what about when we want to give them a sweet treat? Sugar isn’t any better for dogs than it is for us, and artificial sweeteners are just that – artificial. Some, such as Xylitol, are actually toxic to dogs.

In this article, we look at six “whole” sweeteners that not only taste good, but pack a powerful nutritional punch too. They give sweet treats a whole new meaning!


For centuries, honey has been used as both a food and a medicine. The ancient Greeks developed the original “energy bar” by combining 1 cup of honey with 1 cup of toasted sesame seeds and 1/2 teaspoon salt. This is a very easy treat to make for the holidays, and you can share it with the whole family – add sun dried unsulphured cranberries for a seasonal twist.

The color and flavor of honey varies widely, depending on the bees’ nectar source. The darker the color, the deeper the flavor. Darker honeys, like buckwheat (no relation to wheat), sage and tupelo, contain the most antioxidants.

There is ample evidence that honey, especially New Zealand’s Manuka honey, may be effective against Helicobacter pylori bacteria, which causes stomach ulcers.

If a recipe calls for 1 cup of sugar, use 1/4 cup to 1/2 cup honey (to taste) instead.

Maple syrup

You may be surprised to learn that maple syrup is considered one of the world’s healthiest foods. This tasty syrup comes from the sap of sugar, black or red maple trees, though more exotic syrups, like birch, are also now available.

Maple syrup contains fewer calories than honey and an even higher concentration of minerals. It offers “sweet support for your immune system”. Maple syrup is an excellent source of manganese and a good source of zinc. Manganese is an essential co-factor in a number of enzymes critical to energy production and antioxidant defenses. Even superoxide dismutase requires manganese. Zinc and manganese work together to support the immune system, lessening inflammation and acting as an immuno-stimulant.

Try the darker amber syrups for a rich taste that’s packed with nutrients. A little goes a long way.

Black strap molasses

Here’s another natural sweetener that’s considered one of the world’s healthiest foods. It was the most popular sweetener until the late 19th century, since it was much more affordable than refined sugar. Molasses is made from the third boiling of sugar syrup, which is the concentrated by-product left over after sugar’s sucrose has been crystallized. Molasses is quite a powerhouse of nutrients, containing manganese, copper, iron, calcium, potassium, magnesium, vitamin B6 (pryidoxine), selenium and iron.

Choose organic unsulphured black strap molasses. Store it in a tightly sealed container in the refrigerator or cool dry place. Unopened containers keep for about a year, while open containers keep for about six months. Brown rice syrup This nutritive sweetener is about half as sweet as sugar. It is made by fermenting whole brown rice with special enzymes that break down the natural starch content.

Brown rice syrup

Brown rice syrup is gluten free and has a low value on the glycemic index, partly because it’s a complex sugar polysaccharide. This unique structure allows the syrup to be absorbed and broken down more slowly than simple sugars, avoiding rapid spikes in blood glucose levels.

Brown rice syrup is a good source of minerals, including magnesium, potassium, iron, manganese and B vitamins. It is also rich in protein concentrates. Brown rice syrup can be used in place of regular sugar. Use 1¼ cups for every cup of sugar, and use 1/4 cup less liquid than the recipe calls for.

Pure coconut sap/syrup

The coconut tree is often referred to as the “tree of life” because it provides fruit throughout the year that can be consumed at any stage of maturity. In Sanskrit, coconut is called “kalpa vriksha”, which means “the tree which fulfills all the necessities of life”.

Coconut sap/syrup is nutrient dense, containing 17 amino acids, B vitamins, including inositol, vitamin C, potassium and even FOS, a prebiotic that promotes a healthy digestive tract. Coconut syrup is referred to as the maple syrup of the Tropics.

“Green” stevia

It may be hard to believe, but stevia has been around since pre-Columbian times, and was not discovered by Europeans until the early 20th century. These days, a new stevia-based product seems to hit grocery and health food store shelves every day. It’s the most widely used sweetener in Japan.

Also known as sweetleaf and sugarleaf, stevia is actually a member of the sunflower family. It’s said to be 300 times sweeter than regular sugar, but because of its chemical makeup, it does not have an impact on insulin levels.

When it comes to stevia, go for the “green”, which contains a host of vitamins and minerals, including vitamin C, beta-carotene, iron, phosphorus, calcium, potassium, magnesium and zinc. White powdered stevia products have been chemically processed and do not have the nutrient value that green leaf stevia powder contains.

Maple syrup and cranberry pinch pots


• 4 cups whole flour (e.g. whole oat flour)
• 1/2 cup oatmeal
• 1 whole egg

• 1/4 cup maple syrup or other syrup or honey of your choice – e.g. brown rice syrup or pure coconut sap
• 1 cup filtered water
• 2 teaspoons baking powder (e.g. a certified organic, ricebased, gluten and aluminum-free product)
• 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract or powder
• 1/2 cup sun dried, unsulphured cranberries
• Cinnamon or dehydrated maple syrup


Choose organic ingredients whenever possible. Preheat oven to 375ºF. Cover a large cookie sheet with parchment paper for easy cleanup.

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl. The dough should pull away from the sides. Scoop up some dough and knead it gently.