A functional ingredient approach to weight management in companion animals

Published: 1-Mar-2024

For many years, being overweight or obese was a human concern. These days, however, more and more pets and companion animals are struggling with this condition

In this article, Dr Maygane Ronsmans, Product Manager Animal Nutrition at BENEO, explores how functional ingredients can help to naturally support weight management in pets and why the choice of carbohydrate and fibre matters when it comes to long-term health.

Pets are increasingly overweight or obese

Numbers of overweight and obese companion animals have steadily increased during the last few decades and now exceed 50% in Western countries.1 Recent statistics from the US have even classified six in 10 dogs and cats as being overweight or obese.2

As with humans, there are many serious health consequences for overweight or obese pets. These include cardiovascular and metabolic diseases (glucose intolerance, diabetes) or skeletal-associated disorders, leading to a negative impact on the pet’s — and owner’s — quality of life.

Pet owners are increasingly aware of the dangers associated with having overweight or obese companion animals and many opt for a preventive approach when it comes to managing their pet’s weight.

A recent global survey conducted by FMCG Gurus on behalf of BENEO showed that three in four pet owners worldwide were concerned about their pet’s weight and approximately four in five agreed that an on-pack claim about helping to control their pet’s weight naturally affects their purchase intention of a pet food product to some extent.3,4

There is therefore a market opportunity for functional ingredients that can help with weight and blood glucose management, such as a slow-release carbohydrate (isomaltulose) and prebiotic chicory root fibres.

Always willing to acknowledge the needs of pet owners and translate them into solutions, this consumer concern about pet weight has been picked up by the industry.

Not surprisingly, pet product innovations are showing an upward trend of carrying a weight management claim.

In 2023, 8% of global new pet food launches carried such a claim, an increase from 5% in 2020, according to data from Innova Market Insights.

Functional ingredients as part of the solution

As in humans, preventing obesity is always better than a cure … and a balanced diet should remain the “gold standard.” Nevertheless, when weight loss is required, a multifaceted approach that combines exercise with energy restricted diets is often key.

In the context of obesity, the choice of nutrients in pet food can also make a difference; including functional ingredients in a pet’s diet can help with weight and blood glucose management.

Carbohydrate choice matters

Carbohydrates are an inherent part of our pets’ diet. Not all carbohydrates have been created equal, however, and they therefore differ in composition, digestive properties and glycaemic effects.

A case in point is that high glycaemic carbohydrates, such as sucrose or cooked starches, are rapidly digested and absorbed in the first part of the small intestine, resulting in a fast and high blood glucose response.

Low glycaemic carbohydrates, by contrast, are digested more slowly and lead to a lower blood glucose response. Having a slower blood glucose supply results in more balanced glycaemia, lower insulin peaks and overall better metabolic health.

A 2012 study with dogs has further shown that low glycaemic diets can support weight loss.5

For pet food producers looking for low glycaemic carbohydrates, isomaltulose can become a key part of their ingredient toolbox; it’s a disaccharide of glucose and fructose derived from sugar beet that is characterised by a stronger glycosidic bond than that of standard sugar.

Owing to this specific linkage, it is more resistant to enzymatic hydrolysation in the intestine, therefore inducing lower glycaemic and insulin responses than regular sucrose as demonstrated in many species (humans, rodents and pigs). 

A functional ingredient approach to weight management in companion animals

A recent scientific publication has confirmed that isomaltulose is a suitable low glycaemic ingredient for use in dog food, triggering a lower blood glucose rise after consumption.6

The trials evaluated the digestion of isomaltulose as well as its glycaemic and insulinaemic effects in dogs (compared with other relevant carbohydrate sources).

An in vitro study of small intestinal tissue samples from three dogs showed that isomaltulose can be digested by canine intestinal enzymes with a lower enzyme activity compared with high glycaemic carbohydrates, indicating a slower rate of hydrolysis. 

In addition, two in vivo studies compared the effects of isomaltulose, sucrose and maltodextrin in dogs. The results showed that isomaltulose significantly lowered blood glucose and insulin responses — compared with maltodextrin or sucrose — even after continuous feeding.

All in all, this property makes isomaltulose a particularly interesting solution with the potential to support metabolic health and weight management in dogs. 

The power of chicory root fibres

Other functional ingredients that enable blood sugar management in dogs, as well as weight management in pets, are BENEO’s natural chicory root fibres Orafti Inulin and Oligofructose.7–13

These inulin-type fructans belong to the very few scientifically proven prebiotics that support a pet’s intestinal health and are linked with nutritional benefits that go beyond the gut.14

For example, studies show that including Orafti Inulin and Oligofructose in a pet’s diet can curb their appetite, improve satiety and hence decrease voluntary food intake.11–13 In doing so, chicory root fibres can help to maintain the healthy condition of a pet’s body. 

Additionally, as inulin-type fructans are non-digestible carbohydrates and dietary fibres, they do not trigger a rise in postprandial blood glucose or insulin concentrations. As a result, they support blood sugar management in dogs.

A functional ingredient approach to weight management in companion animals

What’s more, studies in dogs have shown that feeding them with chicory prebiotics can allow for a lower blood sugar response after a meal.7,8 Furthermore, this benefit can extend to a subsequent meal taken hours later, even if that meal doesn’t include chicory root fibres (the so-called second meal effect).9,10

Pet food producers can also combine isomaltulose and chicory root fibres in their formulations to take advantage of the ingredients’ complementary benefits when it comes to maintaining normal weight and metabolic health.

Quality production

BENEO produces its functional carbohydrates, including isomaltulose and chicory root fibres in state-of-the-art and food-certified processing facilities, which enables the highest product quality to be continuously guaranteed.

Also, the non-GMO sugar beets and chicory roots are sourced from farmers near the production sites. Isomaltulose, Orafti Inulin and Oligofructose are all natural ingredients that are acknowledged as feed materials in the EU.15 They are suitable for use in both dry and wet pet foods or in snacks. 

With more and more companion animals struggling with being overweight or obese, it is no wonder that pet food producers are turning to functional ingredients — such as those from BENEO — to help owners resolve these issues.

By choosing the right ones, it is now possible to support weight and blood sugar management in pets more naturally, whilst supporting their long-term health.


  1. https://doi.org/10.1136/vr.l6498, https://doi.org/10.1136/vr.k2.
  2. www.petobesityprevention.org/2022.
  3. BENEO Consumer Research on Pet Care 2023. FMCG Gurus conducted a quantitative online survey in August 2023 with 2500 pet owners in the US, Brazil, UK, Germany and China (250 cat and 250 dog owners per country). Question: How concerned are you with each of the following issues regarding your pet’s health? Number refers to respondents with the answers “very concerned” and “somewhat concerned.”
  4. BENEO Consumer Research on Pet Care 2023. Question: To what extent would each of the following on-pack claims impact your likelihood of buying a food product for your pet? Number refers to respondents with the answers “will affect my interest to buy a lot” and “will somewhat affect my interest to buy.”
  5. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3671726/.
  6. https://doi.org/10.1111/jpn.13860.
  7. S.P. Massimino, et al., Journal of Nutrition 128, 1786–1793 (1998).
  8. M. Diez, et al., American Journal of Veterinary Research 58(11), 1238–1242 (1997).
  9. P. Deng, et al., British Journal of Nutrition 110(5), 960–968 (2013).
  10. C. Alexander, et al., British Journal of Nutrition 120(6), 711–720 (2018).
  11. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19144213/.
  12. www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fanim.2022.873924/full.
  13. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30039140.
  14. https://doi.org/10.1038/nrgastro.2017.75.
  15. https://faolex.fao.org/docs/pdf/eur215215.pdf.

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