Is Fat Important in a Dog's Diet? Finding the Balance in Dog Food Ingredients

Is Fat Important in a Dog's Diet?
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vet verified Dr. Joseph J. Wakshlag, DVM Associate Professor of Clinical Nutrition

Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine Ithaca, NY

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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 dogโ€™s food, youโ€™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 dogโ€™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 donโ€™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 petโ€™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 bodyโ€™s most potent fuel. In fact, fat provides more than twice the amount of energy than do carbohydrates or protein. Without fat in your petโ€™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 dogโ€™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 dogโ€™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 dogโ€™s dietary needs will change over the course of their life, and you can be ready to respond to these changes as necessary.

How Good Are Oils And Fats For Your Dog?

Just like healthy fats and oils are good for humans, this is also the case with dogs. Their bodies need 3 main macronutrients to function. These nutrients are fats, proteins, and carbohydrates. That makes oils and fats a necessity in a dogโ€™s diet.Although fats and oils are good, they are only good in moderation. Obesity and overeating can be a big problem in the dog community as well. The key is to keep your dog on a balanced diet and provide him with an adequate amount of exercise in order to balance his food intake and calories burnt. In order to know whether fats are good for your dog, it is important to know what fats are.

FATS โ€“ What Are They?

Fats are nutrients that give energy to your dog. They give your dog twice as much energy as proteins and carbohydrates. Fats are an important part of a dogโ€™s diet. The first nutrients to be used by his body as energy, are fats. Fats are made up of fatty acids (named because of their chemical structure and how theyโ€™re bound). There are healthy fatty acids that a dog requires because his body cannot make them. These are known as the essential fatty acids. Essential fatty acids are divided into 2 groups. Namely, omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids. These fatty acids are to be provided in a balanced ratio with every meal.

The Functions Of Fats

They are essential for the proper function of muscles, nerves, body cells, and body tissues. They are important for the production of hormone-like substances in a dogโ€™s body called prostaglandins. These substances are necessary for decreasing inflammation and performing many other important bodily functions.Oils and fats make food taste and smell better to your dogs. It gives structure to dog foods. Vitamins such as A, D, K, and E are better absorbed in the body with the help of fats and oils. Fatty acids help to maintain the shine in your dogโ€™s coat. They are also important for reproduction.Remember to choose healthy fats for your dog, as not all types of fats are beneficial. You can find fats in:

  1. Animal fats (Pork, chicken etc.)
  2. Oils from Plants (sunflower oils, safflower oils, corn, and soybean oils etc.)
  3. Canola Oil

There are 4 types of oils that are especially healthy for our dogs. These are:

  1. Krill Oil Comes from organisms like shrimp and lobsters. These oils decrease inflammation in the body.
  2. Coconut Oil Coconut oil is a healthier alternative to processed saturated and trans fats. The oil helps improve bad breath, alleviate effects of dry skin, provide more energy, and aids in weight loss.
  3. Flax-seed Oil High in omega-3, this oil boosts your dogโ€™s heart health. It also helps with mobility and aids in kidney function.
  4. Fish Oil It has anti-cancer effects, contains DHA, EPA, and Omega-3 which helps arthritis, and improves memory. To top it all off, it also has an anti-inflammatory effect for dogs.

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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