What role does fat play in dog nutrition? Are fats good or bad for dogs?
Ok, so bacon isn’t the best thing to feed your dog. Although I’m sure they wouldn’t complain. But what about fat in general? Should there be fat in your dog’s diet?
“There better be,” says Fido.
Even though his motives might be questionable, Fido is right. As much as fat often gets a bad reputation, it plays an important role in dog nutrition.
Your dog loves fat for a reason
Fat not only makes food more palatable/appetizing, but it is also an important component of a healthy diet. Even when your dog needs a low-fat diet, such as dogs with pancreatitis, they still need at least a minimum amount of fat in their food.
What is fat?
The terms fat and fatty acids are often used interchangeably.
However, fatty acids are the building blocks of fat much in the same way as amino acids are structural components of proteins. Fat molecules typically consists of three fatty acids joined up together–ever heard the word triglycerides? That’s what they are.
Most fat in food as well as in the body are triglycerides.
Fats are a concentrated, highly-digestible source of energy. That is their most obvious role in nutrition. Fats contain more than twice as many calories per gram as compared to proteins or carbohydrates.
But that is by far not all they do. While your dog can get energy from other nutrients, nothing else can fulfill the other roles fats play.
Types of fats
Fats fall into two general categories: saturated and unsaturated. I’m sure you’re familiar with this classification.
Saturated fats are mostly of animal origin. They are typically solid at room temperature and their main role is to serve as a source of energy (think lard).
Unsaturated fats are usually of plant origin. They are liquid at room temperature (think olive oil).
Other roles of fat
Absorption of fat-soluble vitamins
The nutritional availability of fat-soluble vitamins depends on guess what? Fat.
There are three fat-soluble vitamins that are essential to dogs. These are vitamins A, D and E. Your dog cannot live without them.
As the term fat-soluble suggests, their absorption directly depends on the presence of fat. Without some fat in the diet, these vitamins won’t be absorbed well even if they are present in adequate amounts.
Linoleic acid (Omega-6)
Linoleic acid is really the only fatty acid that is considered by AAFCO as essential in dog nutrition because dogs cannot make it within their own bodies. It is an unsaturated omega-6 fatty acid. Be prepared to be amazed at how important this fat is.
Linoleic acid is vital for
- healthy skin and coat
- kidney function
- brain function
- immune function
- reproduction, and other body processes
Linoleic acid is also a constituent of cell membranes.
The role of Omega-6 in immune function is to stimulate inflammation, blood clotting, and tissue repair. In English, Omega-6 fatty acids are important for your dog body’s ability to fight off infections, stop bleeding, and to heal.
Nothing fishy about omega-3 fatty acids
Well, except the smell since the main source of Omega-3 for dogs is fish oil. While flaxseed oil is also a great source of Omega 3 for us humans, our dogs cannot utilize it the same way we do and supplementing flaxseed oil to your dog’s diet is not going to bring about the desired effect.
While omega-3 fatty acids are not officially considered essential, they are known to be beneficial for dogs because of their anti-inflammatory properties. A great source of omega-3 fatty acids for dogs is fish oil.
Inflammation is an important defense mechanism to fight off infections, remove foreign material, and to promote regeneration of damaged tissue. However, chronic inflammation that no longer serves any useful purpose can lead to a number of serious health issues.
Supplementing omega-3 fatty acids can be beneficial for dogs with a variety of inflammatory conditions such as
- autoimmune diseases
- kidney disease
- heart disease
- even cancer
That is not all
Fats also help transport nutrients and other substance across cell membranes, contribute to the formation of bile acids and some hormones.
The rule of thumb is that a healthy dog benefits from a ratio of between 5:1 and 10:1 omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids. Depending on your dog’s health condition a different ratio might be called for.
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