I got a shock lesson in fat for dogs when I did the math on my “low in fat dog food”.
What did I find? This high-end, organic product advertised as 14% fat… actually contained a whopping 62% fat.
I was stunned.
So what the heck is going on?
Dog food labels describe fat content as % fat by weight. My food, for instance, was advertised as 14% fat by weight. Sounds low fat, right? Sure, until you convert the fat content from % fat by weight to % fat by calories, which is what matters to the body.
That 14% fat suddenly becomes 62%.
Quite a difference.
This post is for general informational and educational purposes only. I encourage readers to see my full disclaimer here.
Get your hands dirty
Sure enough, when I actually inspected the commercial grind that I was feeding, it contained many, many white globs which were actually squishy fat. (I had assumed it was ground-up bone because there was so much of it.)
How to read dog food labels
You can see why the companies don’t make this information readily apparent on the packet. They force you to work it out yourself. They’re counting on dog owners not doing the calculation… as I hadn’t for so long. We take their word for it. (This sleight of hand happens with human food labelling as well. Check out your milk carton.)
Should we be entrusting our dogs’ health to pet food companies?
Dog food companies, including raw dog food companies, tout their recipes as devised by vets and qualified dog nutritionists. The trouble with that is the overriding driver here is what? Profit. Dog food companies exist to sell a product, to make money. Which is fine, but there has to be integrity.
It is not profitable to remove the fat from meat, so dog food makers just grind up the whole animal, fat and all.
What’s written on the packet is not to be confused for nutritional fact. It is marketing, plain and simple.
The truth about fat for dogs is that if you’re feeding any kind of commercial dog food, your dog is getting too much fat.
But don’t take my word for it.
A vet’s perspective on fat for dogs
Prominent integrative vet Dr Karen Becker defines the fat content of dog food like this:
- Food with less than 17% of calories from fat is low fat.
- 17-23 % of calories from fat is moderately fatty.
- More than 31% of calories from fat is high fat dog food.
So my high end, boutique dog food masquerading as low fat was off the charts for fat.
This is the number one mistake people make with raw feeding for dogs.
Unfortunately, feeding a commercial pre-made grind guarantees your dog is getting too much fat.
When I put all this to the maker, who said she was a “qualified dog nutritionist”, she didn’t engage with the facts. She simply said she was sorry her dog food was “not for my dog”. Truth is, her dog food is not for ANY dog.
You only have to look at Dr Karen Becker’s classifications above to see it’s not just a matter of how many calories should a dog eat a day, but how many of those calories should come from fat, compared to calories from protein.
But there’s something even more powerful than anything any vet says about appropriate fat levels for dogs. What’s most instructive is to ask is: how much fat do dogs (ie wolves) consume in natural conditions?
What do dogs eat in the wild?
When I directly queried the makers of the fatty raw grind, they told me none of their animals were overweight so they never needed to remove any fat.
Are you buying that? The demonstrable truth is that dogs in the wild eat much leaner meats than they’re fed as pets.
Why? Because the products of modern agriculture — organic or not — lead sedentary lives compared to wild game. On top of that, farmed animals are deliberately fattened for slaughter. If you’ve ever cut up and de-fatted a whole chicken, even a free range, organic one, you know how much fat there is to remove. Compare that to the leanness of game meats like rabbit or kangaroo. So even if we’re raw feeding, we’re feeding more fat than our dogs are evolved to eat.
Add to that the fact that wild dogs rarely eat meat every day. Instead, wild dogs eat according to natural cycles of scarcity and abundance. Wolves in north-eastern Minnesota, for instance, subsist almost entirely on blueberries for a month at the height of summer.
So you start to see where human practices of feeding pet dogs might be going wrong.
What is the best dog food?
Dog owners frequently ask any number of the following questions: How to choose a dog food? Which is the best dog food? Which is the best dog food for sensitive stomachs? What is the best dog food for allergies?
All these questions have the same simple, but confronting, answer.
The blunt truth is the healthiest foods for dogs do not come in a can or packet — any more than they do for humans.
If you were to ask me which dog food brands to avoid, I would tell you to brace yourself for an answer you don’t want to hear. Because the answer is: avoid every single last one of them including raw grinds.
Homemade raw food for dogs (i.e. a diet centered on raw meaty bones) is your best best shot at helping your pup achieve optimal health. A typical meal for my dog is a chicken frame, diced lean beef and a little lamb liver thrown in.
If you’re in any doubt about the truth of that — or if you need to hear it from someone in a white coat — read the book Give Your Dog a Bone by Australian vet Dr Ian Billinghurst. In this easy to read guide he explains how the rise of so much disease in dogs can be traced to the advent of kibble.
How to feed a dog right
1. Avoid commercial dog foods.
No kibble. But also, no pre-made raw. Pre-made grinds are the kibble of the raw feeding world and will absolutely, 100%, all of the time be far too fatty. The dog food I use as an example above was a top of the line, raw pre-made grind. I thought I was doing the absolute best for my dog. I was wrong.
If you think your dog food might be the exception to the rule, look at the label and do the conversion yourself to find out how many calories are coming from fat. You will be aghast.
2. What to feed a dog?
I feed an entirely butcher-bought raw meaty bone-based diet, as described by Nora Lenz in her ebook Dog Nutrition 101.
Choose lean cuts of meat, remove the skin and trim all visible fat.
The point of this is to return the meat to a muscle to fat ratio that more closely matches what’s found in nature. In other words, it helps turn the fattened farm meat into something compositionally more like a game meat.
3. How often to feed a dog?
Consider including regular fast days in your dog’s diet and/or making use of fruit as a secondary food on non-meat days.
This will provide nutrition while lowering your dog’s overall fat intake. Regularly fasting dogs is another way to account for the higher fat content of modern meats. Fasting is not just for overweight dogs. It is healthy for all dogs. Dogs have no problem with fasting. It’s usually the owners who struggle to restrain themselves from overfeeding.
4. How much to feed a dog raw food wise?
A good guide is 3 to 5% of ideal body weight or 25 to 30 calories per pound of dog weight.
How many times to feed a dog? Once a day is best, at night. If you feed more often the dog’s energy is constantly taken up by digestion, which decreases the amount of energy that can be directed to cellular regeneration and renewal.
However, if you have a deep-chested or large-breed dog you may well be best to feed twice a day to reduce the chances of bloat as much as possible.
Either way, always feed at least two hours away from vigorous exercise. Ideally a dog should rest for the rest of the day after eating a hearty meat meal. Think of the meat comas you see wolves lapse into on the snow after gorging themselves on a moose.
In conclusion: There is clearly something wrong with this picture
Obesity in dogs is an epidemic.
Upwards of every second dog is overweight or obese. This is true in the US and in Britain, with other countries including Australia not far behind. It’s not much of a leap of logic to realize the multitude of health problems we see in modern dogs are more than likely related to what they’re being fed, and how far dog food has veered from dogs’ natural diet.
Fat dogs are dogs on their way to disease. Obesity can create chronic, low-grade inflammation in dogs, as it does in humans.
This opens the door to a whole host of diseases long term. You might think, “I feed my dog commercial dog food and he’s fine”. Young dogs’ metabolisms may cope better with high fat diets but if you look around at the modern dog population you can see that, sooner or later, health problems emerge.