Beet pulp is a very common ingredient in many different pet foods. It has long been recognized as a popular feed additive for horses and other livestock and, more recently, has also been added to many dog and cat foods. There are many reported benefits to using beet pulp in animal foods, but there is also some controversy concerning its use. This article will help explain the benefits and potential disadvantages of this common feed ingredient.
The origin of beet pulp
Some people confuse beet pulp with the common garden vegetable, but beet pulp is actually very different. Beet pulp is the by-product of the extraction of raw sugar from commercially grown sugar beets. Sugar beets are grown in huge quantities for the production of sugar. After the sugar has been extracted, the remaining pulp contains very little sugar, but is valuable as a fiber and energy source.
The benefits of beet pulp
One of the biggest advantages of by-product feed sources is that they are usually readily available and affordable. In addition, beet pulp has several additional advantages over many other common fiber sources such as peanut, rice, or soy hulls. Beet pulp is an insoluble fiber source that is moderately fermentable. This means the fiber from beet pulp has the benefits of adding bulk and moisture to animal stools while providing an energy source that can improve the health of the colon. Slow to moderately fermentable fiber sources, like beet pulp, are often recommended as one of the best sources of fiber for dogs and cats.
Beet pulp has been most commonly used in horse feeds. Horses are true herbivores and up to 40% of their calories come from digestion of food in the colon. There, fermentable fibers are broken down into volatile fatty acids by bacteria. These volatile fatty acids are then utilized by the beneficial bacteria and the horse as an energy source. Little digestion occurs in the colon or large intestine in dogs and cats, however, so they would receive few calories from the beet pulp. Nevertheless, beet pulp would improve colon health by providing the beneficial bacteria with a small amount of volatile fatty acids.
The disadvantages of beet pulp
There have been several reported problems concerning the use of beet pulp in animal foods, including potential swelling in the stomach, palatability, and plugging of the intestinal villus. Few of these have been substantiated and most refer to the feeding of beet pulp to horses. Some studies conducted in horses actually used a quantity of beet pulp that provided up to 50% of their daily calories, therefore, any negative (or positive) effects of beet pulp were related to the large quantities that were fed. Keep in mind that the amount of beet pulp that is normally fed to horses is a much larger quantity and greater percentage of daily intake than would ever be fed to a dog or cat.
In summary, beet pulp is considered to be an excellent fiber source in most commercial pet foods. The addition of beet pulp to commercial dog and cat food is widespread, but the actual amount eaten per day is quite small. Beet pulp is rarely the only available fiber source; as a rule, a variety of fiber sources that cross all ranges of fermentability and solubility are recommended. In addition to being a good fiber source, beet pulp may have a slight advantage over some other fiber sources because of its benefit to the intestinal bacteria that help maintain colon health. Beet pulp is often found in many quality foods, and when fed correctly, is an ingredient that can be beneficial to almost all pets.