By Lorie Huston, DVM
We often think of fat as an evil thing when it is added to our diet, so it comes as no surprise that many of us are also wary of it in our dog's food. However, some amount of fat is necessary, even vital, to the health of your dog. Let's take a look at just how and why fat is important in dog food.
There are many types of fats present in dog food and each type of fat plays a different role in the diet. Fats used in dog foods are typically highly digestible and are by the body as energy source.
All fats are made of fatty acids. These fatty acids can be thought of as the building blocks of the different types of fats. Fatty acids may be characterized in several different ways. They may be classified, based on the length of the carbon-chain that makes up their backbone, as long-chain, medium-chain, or short chain. They may also be classified as saturated, unsaturated, or polyunsaturated based on the number of bonds between the carbon atoms in the backbone. In addition, they may be classified based on where the bonds between the carbon atoms occur. Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are examples of this type of classification.
Essential fatty acids are those that your dog is unable to synthesize by itself and therefore must be supplied in the diet. For dogs this includes the omega-6 fatty acid called linoleic acid. The omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA are not technically essential fatty acids but are also often supplemented in dog food due to their many benefits, including increasing brain function and lessening inflammation (i.e., anti-inflammatory).
Fat is important to the health and well-being of a dog in a variety of ways. Here are just some of them:
- Fat is a concentrated energy source for dogs. In fact, fat provides twice the amount of energy of protein and carbohydrates.
- Fat makes up part of your dog's cell membranes and helps transport nutrients and other substances across cell membranes.
- Fat plays a role in the speed of nerve signal transmissions
- Fat produces metabolites, which help control inflammation.
- Fat contributes to the formation of some hormones, including estrogen, testosterone, and progesterone.
- Fat provides a barrier against bacterial and viral invasions.
- Fat makes dog food more palatable and affects satiety, the feeling of being full after eating.
- Fat enhances the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K.
Animal fat and vegetable oil are often used as sources of fat in the diet of dogs and cats. Linoleic acid is found in the fat of poultry, beef and pork but the best sources are corn, soybean and safflower oil. Arachidonic acid is found in animal fat and fish oil. Omega-3 fatty acids are found in fish oil, krill oil, and flaxseed.
The best dog foods will have an appropriate and balanced amount of fat in the diet. However, each pet is individual, with unique feeding requirements. For example, dogs with conditions like pancreatitis may need dog food that is lower in fat. Consult your veterinarian to discuss what is most appropriate for your pet.