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The Truth About Fats for Dogs: The All-You-Need-to-Know Guide

The Truth About Fats for Dogs: The All-You-Need-to-Know Guide

Dogs have been feeding themselves for thousands of years, and doing a better job than we tend to give them credit for. In the wild, their instincts tell them exactly what they need to eat in order to survive, and they successfully find it within their environment. 

Since the domestication of dogs, humans have adapted their canine companions’ diets to suit their own needs, which is not always the best idea for the dog. For example, knowing which ingredients our dogs need in order to thrive has become quite the conundrum, with fats being one of the nutrients we’re unsure about. 

Fat can be a tricky term when it comes to our dogs, as we’ve been told many different versions of its effects on their health. Whilst too much fat can be unhealthy, the same can be said for too little. 

Low-fat foods are prescribed for a variety of canine health conditions, and in some cases, this is the right course of action. However, the difference between fats in general and healthy, essential fats is a wide gap; not all fats are created equal, and not all sources of fat are good (or bad). 

Dogs need fats in their diet just like they need protein, vitamins, and other essential nutrients. The balance between each element of their diet can sometimes seem impossible to fathom, but it doesn’t have to be as complicated as it sounds. 

If you’re wondering how you can achieve this balance for your canine friend, continue reading for a complete breakdown of why dogs need healthy fats, and how you can provide these for them.

What happens when a dog eats fat?

How much fat should a dog eat?

What fat can I give my dog?

What fats and oils are good for dogs?

What are the healthiest animal fats?

Is cooked fat good for my dog?

The truth about canine pancreatitis

A word on kibble

How can I add fat to my dog’s diet?

What happens when a dog eats fat? 

Fats are responsible for many important processes in your dog’s body. They act as chemical messengers and form membranes around cells, as well as facilitating the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins such as A, D, E, and K [1]

They also help to keep hormone levels balanced, as well as controlling inflammation throughout the body. As you can see, there are a lot of important tasks that fats are responsible for maintaining! 

When given the right percentage of fresh, high-quality, unprocessed fats in their regular diet, a dog’s body can function at its best; especially if you’re feeding a raw diet. 

This is because these high-quality fats are more easily incorporated into your dog’s cell membranes, which has been proven to promote longevity as well as improving mental and physical performance. 

How much fat should a dog eat? 

Fats are equally as important to your dog’s diet as protein. However, whilst adding the right fats to your dog’s diet is beneficial for their health in numerous ways, it’s important not to give too little or too much. 

Too much fat adds more calories than your dog needs and cannibalises the nutrients in their protein and other elements of their diet. Too little fat won’t allow them to absorb the important fat-soluble vitamins mentioned earlier and decreases their ability to form healthy cell membranes. 

Age plays a role in how much fat your dog needs to maintain optimum health as well.  As a general rule of thumb (and assuming no health conditions are present), adult dogs should get at least 10% fat in their daily diet (ideally closer to 15%), whereas puppies need more for their energy, growth and development. Just how much they’ll need depends on several factors, such as their developmental stage, breed, activity levels and what their regular diet consists of. 

What fat can I give my dog? 

Raw, unprocessed, high-quality fats are the best option for keeping your dog healthy. These are more easily absorbed into the body, allowing their cells to form strong membranes, and are healthier overall. 

Fats from fresh foods and healthy oils can easily be incorporated into your dog’s diet. Which fats benefit your dog most will largely depend on their existing diet, as the aim is to strike the right balance of nutrients. 

It’s important to balance the levels of Omega-3 and Omega-6 fats in your dog’s diet, as Omega-6 can cause inflammation when given in excessive amounts over Omega-3. For the correct balance, a ratio of about 4-1 Omega-6s to Omega-3s is considered optimal.

The Omega-3 and Omega-6 fats your dog requires to thrive are detailed below, as well as some healthy options for both: 

Omega-6 fats 

Linoleic acid 

Linoleic acid is an Omega-6 fat that contributes to skin and coat health, as well as optimising energy levels. It can be found in poultry, safflower oil, and hemp seed oil, among others. 

Arachidonic acid 

Arachidonic acid is also an Omega-6 fat and is responsible for healthy brain development in puppies. It can be sourced only from animal products, such as poultry and other meats, some fish, and eggs. 

Omega-3 fats 

Alpha linolenic acid

Alpha linolenic acid is an Omega-3 fat, primarily found in oils such as hemp seed and chia seed. This fat allows dogs to produce adequate levels of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), which they require for eye, brain, and overall health. 

Docosahexaenoic acid 

Whilst docosahexaenoic acid (or DHA) can be synthesised from alpha linolenic acid, it can also be given directly in your dog’s diet. This essential Omega-3 fat is found in oily fish such as salmon and sardines, as well as eggs and organ meats.  

Eicosapentaenoic acid 

EPA can also be synthesised from alpha linolenic acid, but like DHA, is also available through direct sources. This Omega-3 fat is anti-inflammatory and helps stabilise energy levels. It can also be found in oily fish like salmon and sardines, as well as high-quality salmon oil. 

What fats and oils are good for dogs? 

As mentioned earlier, the best fats come from raw, unprocessed, fresh foods and healthy oils. These are typically found in animal products and plants, and the more natural the better. 

You can play around with different variations depending on your dog’s individual taste and health needs, as long as you’re keeping the ratio of Omega-3s and Omega-6s in mind. 

Foods rich in Omega-6 fats are plant oils such as hempseed, flaxseed, and chia seed, as well as walnut oil and safflower oil. Poultry, eggs, fish, and certain meats are also sources rich in Omega-6. 

Omega-3 fats are largely found in marine life, such as high-quality, oily fish and fish oils, green-lipped mussels, and algae. Two exceptions to this are hemp seed and flaxseed oils, which are plant-based sources of Omega-3 fats. 

What are the healthiest animal fats? 

The healthiest animal fats are from raw, unprocessed, fresh, high-quality sources. They can come from poultry, beef, venison, oily fish, lamb, and eggs, among others. These are the purest sources of fats that contain the most beneficial nutrients for your dog, as they haven’t been altered or denatured by any form of processing, cooking, or additives.  

The type of fat you feed your dog will depend on their existing diet, as different fats complement a variety of foods. This can be a complex process, requiring some research on your part. 

That’s why ProDog’s Complete Raw Dog Food and 80 10 10 food contains just the right amount of fats for your dog’s ultimate benefit, as well as the appropriately matched sources for your chosen varieties of raw food: so that you can be sure your best friend is getting everything they need in one convenient package. 

Is cooked fat good for my dog? 

Actually, no. Fats are quite sensitive to oxygen and heat, and when exposed to either of these they oxidise and become rancid very quickly. Rancid fats are essentially the opposite of raw fats in the nutritional sense; they reduce the nutritional value of your dog’s food instead of enhancing it and can even be dangerous to dogs’ health [2]

In fact, when fed rancid fats, dogs become vulnerable to widespread inflammation, which wreaks havoc on the body at a systemic level. Inflammation can be held responsible for a host of health problems of both the acute and chronic varieties. The range of health concerns stemming from rancid fats is wide. 

Your dog may suffer from short term symptoms like diarrhoea and stomach upset, though they’re also susceptible to longer term health issues. Liver and heart problems, macular degeneration, arthritis, cancer, and cell damage can all be attributed to rancid fats in the diet. Needless to say, we definitely do not recommend feeding cooked fats to your dog! 

The truth about canine pancreatitis 

It’s a common misconception that all fat given to your dog poses the risk of canine pancreatitis. Whilst certain health conditions do require a lower fat diet, the fat itself is not to blame for this particular ailment. Rather, a combination of rancid fats in the diet (even seemingly innocent foods like cooked turkey skin) as well as other factors are what actually encourage inflammation of the pancreas, and in many cases, other organs as well. 

Dogs were not naturally designed to ingest large amounts of grain and starch. In the wild they would be likely to eat some plant material such as grasses, fruit, and herbs, but their digestive systems aren’t equipped to process foods such as wheat, potatoes, corn, or rice. The inclusion of these ingredients in dog foods (especially kibble) creates extra work for the pancreas, inflaming and stressing it beyond what is natural. 

When processed by the liver, starchy foods like grains, cereals and potatoes produce triglycerides, which can aggravate the pancreas when high levels circulate through the blood. Though previously thought to be the culprit for this, fats aren’t always to blame. Rather, the combination of extra stress from digesting unnatural materials and the damaging qualities of rancid fats are more likely to cause pancreatitis than the fats alone. 

Especially when fed alongside (or as part of) a raw, species-appropriate diet, healthy and natural fats are an essential building block that creates optimal nutrition in your dog. The active enzymes and other nutrients in raw, uncooked food aid digestion instead of working against it, reducing the need for the pancreas to work harder than it should [3]. Without being required to produce additional enzymes for digestion of unnatural ingredients, the pancreas can return to its designed function and inflammation can subside. 

With cases of acute pancreatitis, a lower fat diet is, in fact, ideal in the short term. However, this is not to be confused with feeding a low-fat diet long term, as essential fatty acids and absorption of fat-soluble vitamins is key for dogs’ overall health. During these times, a lower fat raw diet, such as ProDog’s Lower Fat Bundle raw dog food, can ensure that dogs still receive the adequate nutrition they need while allowing their pancreas to heal. 

A word on kibble  

It’s important to note that whilst kibble might seem to be the most convenient and cost-effective of available dog foods, it’s also quite possibly the worst option for your dog’s health. At the start of the intense manufacturing process, some Kibbles may contain the right balance of ingredients for your dog’s nutritional needs, but most people don’t realise that these ingredients are essentially made nutritionally redundant through the very process used to keep them shelf stable. 

Kibble is formulated in part by an extreme heat process, which is designed to kill any potential bacteria that may grow within the food as well as to create its dry, hard consistency. However, this excessive heat removes all moisture from the kibble, and though this is by design, it’s also dehydrating to the ingredients within the food itself. 

The vitamins, minerals, proteins, and fats that go into the food come out of this process unrecognisable and can even be detrimental to the health of the animals the food is intended for: your dogs. 

Moisture is an essential element of any mammal’s diet, and dogs are no exception. In fact, a lack of moisture in the diet has been associated with several health conditions in both dogs and cats, including renal failure and some forms of cancer. Whilst providing fresh drinking water is a start, dogs also need to receive a large portion of their hydration requirements through the food they eat. With most kibble containing only 10% moisture, this simply isn’t possible. A raw food diet, however, contains both adequate dietary moisture and the best varieties of fat available (fresh, unprocessed, natural fats from plant and animal sources), making it much more beneficial to a dog’s health. 

Another aspect of kibble is that it’s subject to oxidation, despite its expiration date. These dates are intended to inform the retailers that sell the food of when it’s time to pull it from the shelves, and not actually to inform customers of how long the food remains fresh after it’s been opened, despite popular opinion. In truth, the fats inside the open bag of kibble become oxidised further each time it’s exposed to the air (i.e., every time you open it), and as such is only “fresh” for two or three weeks after the bag’s seal has been broken [4]

How can I add fat to my dog’s diet? 

Ensuring your dog gets enough healthy fat in their diet isn’t quite as simple as “adding fat” to their regular food. It depends on a variety of factors, such as whether they eat raw or kibble, the quantity of fat in their existing food, and how to go about achieving balance throughout the structure of their diet. For example, kibble likely contains only rancid fats as mentioned earlier, which changes the formula for adding fats entirely.  

Pre-prepared, quality raw dog food generally contains the right amount of fat dogs need already and is more likely to provide the best versions of fats that are beneficial for your dog’s health. Our Complete Raw Dog Food range is a great example of this, with each formula containing the right balance of  ingredients to promote your dog’s optimal nutrition and overall health.  

When making your own raw dog food at home, remember to ensure meals contain at least 10% fat. The balance of Omega-3 and Omega-6 fats is also important, as is the quality of the fats you provide. A 4-1 ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3 is ideal, from the most natural sources possible. Raw, unprocessed, fresh animal fats and cold-pressed plant oils will help you achieve the best results for your dog, allowing them to live longer, healthier, happier lives with you.  

Conclusion 

The inclusion of healthy fats in dogs’ diets is essential to their nutrition, as well as their overall health. Processed foods strip the benefits of these fats away and even make them dangerous, leaving dogs missing the key components of their diets that they need to thrive. Providing the right balance of healthy, unprocessed Omega-3 and Omega-6 fats allows your dog’s body to work like the well-oiled machine it’s designed to be, successfully absorbing the vitamins it needs to operate at its full potential. 

Whilst we love our canine family members and want them to live long, healthy lives, over the years the commercialisation of dog food has led us in the wrong direction. Feeding dogs highly processed food that includes rancid fats and low moisture content is not what nature intended; in fact, quite the opposite. As part of a natural, raw food diet, fresh, unprocessed, natural fat sources are as essential to dogs’ health as the love of their humans. Discover the many benefits of raw dog food.

References:

  1. Crisi PE, Chatgilialoglu C, Di Tommaso M, Sansone A, Gramenzi A, Belà B, De Santis F, Boari A, Ferreri C. (Aug 2020) The Erythrocyte Membrane Lipidome of Healthy Dogs: Creating a Benchmark of Fatty Acid Distribution and Interval Values. Frontiers in Veterinary Science.;vol 7:502. doi: 10.3389/fvets.2020.00502
  2. Tan Pei Yee,  Teng KIimTiu. (March 2019) Effects of oxidised oils on inflammation-related cancer risk. Journal of Oil Palm Research Vol. 31 (1). doi:10.21894/jopr.2019.000.
  3. Algya KM, Cross TL, Leuck KN, Kastner ME, Baba T, Lye L, de Godoy MRC, Swanson KS. (Sep 2018) Apparent total-tract macronutrient digestibility, serum chemistry, urinalysis, and fecal characteristics, metabolites and microbiota of adult dogs fed extruded, mildly cooked, and raw diets1. J Anim Sci. 7;96(9):3670-3683. doi: 10.1093/jas/sky235
  4. Gross KL, Bollinger R, Thawnghmung P, Collings GF. (Dec 1994) Effect of three different preservative systems on the stability of extruded dog food subjected to ambient and high temperature storage. J Nutr. 124(12 Suppl):2638S-2642S. doi: 10.1093/jn/124.suppl_12.2638S

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