Fats and oils are a necessary part of a balanced diet for dogs. A diet that provides about 10-15 percent fat (for normal, healthy adult animals) is best to maintain health. The time when fat in the diet becomes a problem is when animals are allowed to eat too much fat and calories (such as from extra treats and table scraps), without getting enough exercise to balance things out.
Dogs never have to worry about cholesterol levels like humans do, as they won’t end up with the same types of health issues humans can from eating a high-fat diet. If fat levels are too low; however, dogs can develop dry, itchy skin and a dull coat. Other problems that can develop include a diminished immune system and other potential health problems such as heart disease and diabetes.
What Are Fats?
Fats are a concentrated form of energy that give your dog more than twice the amount of energy as carbohydrates and proteins do. Fats used in dog foods are highly digestible and are the first nutrients to be used by the body as energy, ahead of protein and carbohydrates.
Fats are made up of building blocks called fatty acids. Fatty acids are named according to their chemical structure and how they are bonded together. There are certain fatty acids that dogs require in their diet because the body cannot make them. These are known as essential fatty acids. These essential fatty acids are divided into two groups called the omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Fatty acids in both these groups must be provided in a specifically balanced ratio in the daily diet.
What do Fats Do for Dogs?
Fats have many important functions in the canine body. Not only do they provide energy, but they are also necessary for the normal development and function of body cells, nerves, muscles, and body tissues. They are important components in the body’s production of hormone-like substances called prostaglandins. Prostaglandins work to reduce inflammation, as well as perform many other important functions in the body.
Fats are part of the reason that dog foods taste good and smell good too (at least to your dog). Fats and oils also give structure to foods. They help the body to absorb certain vitamins called the fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, and K). Fats and oils in the diet keep your dog’s coat shiny and healthy and are also important in reproduction.
Not every fat or oil is good for our pets, however. The source, quality, and quantity of fat needs to be carefully considered when choosing a quality dog food.
Common Sources of Fats and Oils for Dogs
When considering a food for your dog, check out the list of ingredients to see where the fats and oils are coming from. Fats in dog foods are typically supplied by both animal fat and oils from plants. Quality dog foods will list sources of fat that provide the proper balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.
Common sources of omega-3 fatty acids are fish oils (herring, salmon, etc.) and flaxseed and canola oils. Commonly used omega-6 fatty acid sources include pork fat, chicken fat (or any poultry fat), safflower and sunflower oils, as well as corn and soybean oils (vegetable oils). Watch out for lower-quality ingredients such as tallow or lard.