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Is Fat Important in a Dog's Diet?

Finding the Balance in Dog Food Ingredients

By Lauren Leonardi. February 08, 2013 | See Comments

  • expert or vet photo
    vet verified

    Dr. Joseph J. Wakshlag, DVM

    Associate Professor of Clinical Nutrition

    Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine Ithaca, NY

Is Fat Important in a Dog's Diet?

How much fat is required in a dog's diet, and how can you know what dog foods are best before you buy them?

If you look at the ingredients list on your dog’s food, you’ll notice that the fat content is provided, usually as a percentage. When you see that number, you might wonder, would it be better to give my pet a food that is lower in fat than this one? Should I try to eliminate as much fat from my dog’s diet as I can?

The simple answer to this question is no. Dogs require fat in their diets to stay healthy and strong, in greater amounts than do humans. In fact, dogs do not suffer from atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries, like humans do, so fat does not hold the same risks in dogs as it does in humans. Dogs who don’t get an adequate amount of fat will not have the energy they need to run and play. Their coats will be dull and flaky, and they could even have reproductive problems from eliminating fat from the diet.

Of course, too much fat is a problem as well, leading to obesity and its associated problems. As in every aspect of your pet’s diet, the proper proportion of fats for your particular dog will make all the difference.

The Benefits of Fat

First and foremost, fats provide the energy that a dog needs to stay active. These fats are, essentially, the body’s most potent fuel. In fact, fat provides more than twice the amount of energy than do carbohydrates or protein. Without fat in your pet’s diet, he or she might seem listless and run down as compared to normal.

Fats are also the source of such essential nutrients as omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. These fatty acids are vital to keeping your dog’s skin and coat healthy. Dogs that do not receive enough of these fatty acids can develop skin problems such as flaking, and their coat will be thin and dull.

Third, fats are necessary for immune regulation, which means they help with proper cellular function in all cells of the body, helping to provide your dog with the means to fight off disease and pathogens.

Finally, and most importantly from your dog’s perspective, fat makes food taste better! A food without fat in it may be rejected by your dog come meal time. Given how happy most dogs are to eat, that would be a sad sight indeed.

How Much Fat?

The essential question here, of course, is how much fat is good for your dog? How can we make sure that dogs get enough fat in their diets to receive its benefits without causing obesity and its attendant problems, such as arthritis and diabetes?

To start with, purchasing high quality AAFCO-approved foods will help. Commercial dog foods are designed to provide your pet with the proper proportions of protein, carbohydrates, fat, and essential vitamins and minerals. Most foods will range between 5 and 10 percent fat, with the lower end being the minimum amount required for a healthy adult dog.

Certainly, a dog that is very active, especially one that hunts or herds, will need a higher fat intake than the average family pet. As well, an older, less active dog may not need as much fat in the diet as a younger active pet. A dog’s dietary needs will change over the course of their life, and you can be ready to respond to these changes as necessary.

Back to Your Dog Food Questions Answered
Previous: Should Fiber Be in Dog Food?
Next: Which Protein for Dogs Is Best?

This information is for informational purposes only and is not meant as a substitute for the professional advice of, or diagnosis or treatment by, your veterinarian. It has however been reviewed for accuracy by Dr. Joe, a board certified veterinary nutritionist and graduate of Cornell University's program for Veterinary Medicine.

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