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Most dogs that need a low fat dog food usually need this kind of diet because of health reasons. A low fat diet is not exactly the same as a low calorie or weight control diet. Low fat diets are normally intended as maintenance diets for dogs that have had chronic or acute problems with pancreatitis, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), hyperlipidemia (often a precursor to pancreatitis) and other health problems associated with fat in the diet. Some dogs don’t tolerate fat in the diet very well. They may experience diarrhea or lose weight when there is too much fat in the food. Dogs that have these issues may need a low fat diet.
How low is “low fat”?
Most premium dog foods today are relatively high in fat. The AAFCO minimum requirements for fat in an adult dog’s diet are just 5 percent; and 8 percent for a growth and reproduction diet. Premium dog foods typically have 15 percent fat or more today. Some grain free foods – especially those with lots of meat protein, and some canned foods have even higher fat percentages.
If your dog needs a low fat diet for health reasons, foods are usually recommended to have less than 10 percent fat by dry matter basis. This would be less than 17 percent calories from fat. A diet with “moderate” fat would be one that has between 10 and 15 percent fat by dry matter basis. This would be between 17 and 23 percent fat from calories. High fat diets are considered to be diets that have more than 20 percent fat by dry matter basis.
Obviously these are only estimates about fat content in dog foods. You should be aware that many dog foods contain more fat than is listed on the label. If you want to know exactly how much fat the food contains – and the other nutrient information for the food – you will need to contact the manufacturer and ask for precise information. If you are concerned about the fat in the food for health reasons for your dog, this is not an unusual request to make. This is the only way to get accurate numbers for your calculations.
If your dog does need a low fat diet, you should keep in mind that if the diet is too low in fat it can be deficient in fat-soluble vitamins. Your dog may have problems with his skin and coat. It’s easy to forget that fats serve a useful purpose in the diet. Your dog may also lack energy and feel hungry. If your dog can’t eat fat in his dog food you may be able to add a medium chain triglyceride (MCT) such as coconut oil to his diet to help with these problems.
It's also important to note that a low fat diet should not be fed to a pregnant or nursing dog or to a growing puppy. These dogs have greater nutritional needs and a low fat diet would be harmful for them. A low fat diet is only meant as a maintenance diet for adult dogs in certain situations.
Since dog foods often rely on fats to make them tasty to dogs, low fat dog foods may be less appealing to your dog. If your dog is reluctant to eat low fat dog food, you may want to add some canned or fresh food that has low or moderate fat. Or add some nonfat, low-sodium broth to your dog’s food to make it taste better. Or you can try mixing a low fat dog food with some moderately fat food to make your dog’s diet more palatable.
If your dog needs a low fat diet, try checking foods made for senior dogs and lite diets. These foods are usually low in fat. However, you will need to check the protein percentages for these foods since they are often correspondingly low. Just because your dog needs a low fat diet doesn’t mean he needs a low protein diet. Many of these foods are high in carbohydrates which is not desirable. If you choose one of these diets and it is low in protein, you can increase the protein by adding some fresh food that is high in protein and low in fat.
If all else fails, you can talk to your veterinarian about prescribing a prescription low fat dog food. As usual with prescription diets, these foods are more expensive than most commercial foods so this is usually a last resort for most dog owners.
If your dog needs a low fat diet for health reasons, you will probably need to consider the amount of fiber in his diet as well. For example, dogs recovering from pancreatitis who need a low fat diet may do better with low fiber, too, in a mix of soluble and insoluble fibers. But some dogs can do well with moderate amounts of insoluble fiber. If your dog is recovering from pancreatitis or you are feeding your dog a low fat diet for other health reasons, it’s a good idea to consult with your veterinarian about how much fiber s/he recommends in your dog’s diet.
It’s estimated that more than half of the dogs in North America are overweight or obese today. Obesity is a serious health problem in dogs today since it can lead to diabetes, affect a dog’s respiratory system, cardiac functions, worsen joint and mobility issues such as arthritis, cause problems if your dog needs any kind of surgery, and shorten your dog’s life. Many dogs can benefit from a weight control diet.
There is some overlap between low fat diets and low calorie/weight control foods. The big difference is that many dogs can eat a weight control diet even though they may not currently have a specific health problem. The dog may not have any specific problems with eating fat, for example.
Many of these weight control dog foods do have less fat than regular foods. They generally have fewer calories. They are often high in carbohydrates. Some of them are high in fiber. The protein content is often relatively low. In some cases these foods can be suitable for dogs that need a low fat diet but you should carefully calculate the dry matter basis for the nutrients in the foods to see if they would work for your dog. Many different companies/brands make these foods in kibble and canned formulas so they are widely available. Again, if you want to make absolutely certain about the nutrient percentages in the food, we suggest that you contact the company for their analysis of the food.