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Fats and oils in pet food

Do you ever get a craving for fried chicken, pizza or any other fatty foods? There’s no shame we do too, and so do our dogs! Fat is a very tasty ingredient to dogs and chances are it is something that you will see on a pet food ingredient list in one form or another. However, while some fats may be good for our dogs, others may be harmful.

Cooking meal in a pot with olive oil Cooking meal in a pot. Bottle of Extra virgin oil pouring in to pot for cooking meal. Healthy food concept. oil pour stock pictures, royalty-free photos & images

Why is fat added to pet food?

Almost all pet food has some kind of added fat, whether that is from a plant or animal source. Fat (or lipid) is one of 6 essential nutrients that dogs need to survive. It serves multiple purposes that help dogs survive and thrive. One of the most important functions of having fat in food is for energy. Fat is digested and absorbed in the gastrointestinal system. Once absorbed, the products of fat digestion, fatty acids and glycerol, are metabolized by the body’s liver cells to create ATP (the compound the body uses for energy). This occurs when the liver takes fatty acids that are oxidized through fatty acid or β-oxidation into two-carbon acetyl CoA molecules, which can then enter the Krebs cycle to generate ATP, as stated by the authors of Anatomy and Physiology II

This figure shows the reactions in which ketone is oxidized to acetyl-CoA.
Lipid metabolism from Anatomy and Physiology II.

Aside from energy production, fat is also necessary for basic and important bodily functions such as:

  • Absorbing vitamins
  • Keeping warm
  • Maintaining cell membrane function
  • Synthesizing hormones

Fats are also added to pet food because they taste good to dogs. Generally, pet food is more palatable to dogs when there is more fat in it. We all want our pups to enjoy their dinner right?

Can fat be bad?

Like everything in nutrition, it is all about balance. Too much fat can be a bad thing. When dogs are receiving more calories than they burn, it can contribute to obesity. This is because unused dietary lipids are stored in adipose tissue as fat for later energy usage. Unfortunately, this is a very big problem for modern day dogs. Over 50% of all dogs that enter clinics in North America are diagnosed as overweight or obese. This is because most of our companion dogs are living a sedentary life and are being overfed. The excess fat in their diet ends up being stored as fat rather than utilized for energy. The obesity epidemic in companion animals is a very serious problem as being overweight puts pets at a much higher risk of developing other critical health problems such as cancer, diabetes, hip dysplasia, heart disease and many more

Dog Corgi overweight and fatness with tapeline Dog so cute Pembroke Welsh Corgi breed fat body overweight from obesity and fatness check waist scale by soft tape measure or tapeline fat dog stock pictures, royalty-free photos & images

What are the different types of fats?

Not all fat is created equal and different fats are healthier than others. There are a few different types of fats:

  • Saturated fats are the “bad” fats which raise cholesterol levels. Sources of saturated fats include fatty meat, cheese and other dairy products. 
  • Mono-unsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats can help lower cholesterol levels and are great additions to a dog’s diet. Sources of these fats include ingredients like canola oil, sunflower oil, fish oil, and flax seeds. 
  • Trans fats are probably the worst of all the fats. Trans fat occurs when vegetable oils undergo a process called halogenation. Luckily trans fat sources are not commonly used in pet food.
Coconut oil and fats natural ticks fleas repellent for pets Coconut oil and fats are good and natural ticks and fleas repellent for pets like dogs due to lauric acid. oil dog stock pictures, royalty-free photos & images

What are the types of fats you would normally see in pet food?

A good portion of the fat found in pet food is actually from the cuts of meat added as a protein source, like chicken, lamb, turkey and salmon. However, some ingredients are also added as an independent fats source. Plant oils and animal fats are the most common types of lipids added to pet food. Some examples include:

  • Canola oil
  • Chicken fat
  • Beef fat (or tallow)
  • Sunflower oil 
  • Turkey fat
  • Fish oil
  • Soybean oil
  • Coconut oil
  • Corn oil
  • Pork fat (or tallow)
  • Linseed oil

Our personal favourite oil to see as an ingredient in pet food is fish oil! This is because fish oil is jam packed with omega 3 fatty acids. Omega 3s come from a class of polyunsaturated lipids that are extremely important for metabolism and daily physiological processes. Specifically the omega 3s eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) have been shown to improve cognitive function, especially in association with conditions like Alzheimers and depression. These fatty acids are also involved in maintaining general cardiovascular function and are also important for proper fetal development, including neuronal, retinal, and immune function.

Fish oil vector icons set in flat style isolated on white background. Fish oil icons set in flat style isolated on white background. Healthy seafood, fish oil in bottle and softgel pills. Vector illustration. fish oil stock illustrations

The majority of these fats are safe for dogs to eat, however it is good to be aware about how much fat is added to the food. Avoid pet food that has fat listed high on the ingredient (i.e. the second or 3rd listed ingredient). Fatty diets like these are not only unhealthy for dogs but can also go rancid faster and/or contain more preservatives to postpone spoilage.

How much fat is in my dog’s food?

The fat content of your dog’s food should be clearly labelled on the guaranteed analysis on the pet food packaging. AAFCO requires a minimum of 5.5% crude fat in adult maintenance foods and 8.5% rude fat for puppies. When reviewing the nutrient levels of pet food, remember to be mindful of the moisture content as it can make the values portrayed on the guaranteed analysis a little misleading. If you would like more information on how to read a guaranteed analysis check out our other article


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