Essential Fats for my Dog’s Diet: The Ultimate Guide

March 24, 2020

Slim fat doggy. We are a globally obsessed about the fat content of foods, limiting fats when we need to lose weight, reducing certain fats in the belief that they are bad for us. The truth is, it’s about balance, it’s about less carbohydrates (do one dry food!!!) and more about the quality of proteins and looking at the beautiful essential fats that our dog’s require. Dogs utilise fats rather differently to us but the premise is the same, good fats equals good health. Simples….

What are fats?

The main macronutrients for health are proteins, fats and carbohydrates. Proteins and fats are responsible for many bodily functions. However, carbohydrates are a pure source of energy only and given that the dog only produces a minimal amount of amylase by the pancreas, their need for carbs is very low indeed (think beautiful vegetables here).

Fats contain 2.5 times more energy than protein or dietary soluble carbohydrate. Around 90% of dietary fat is made up of triglycerides that are made up of fatty acids and a glycerol. In a fat molecule, the fatty acids are attached to each of the three carbons of the glycerol molecule with an ester bond through the oxygen atom. Here's the boring bit about classifications of fatty acids....

‘There are different classifications of fatty acids based on the length of their carbon chain, by the presence or absence of double bonds, the number of double bonds, the position of those bonds along the carbon chain, and by their melting point.

Fats with no double bond at all are called saturated fats. Fats containing fatty acid chains with a double bond are called unsaturated fats.”

Saturated fats contain the maximum level of hydrogen atoms possible and have no double bonds.

Unsaturated fats, some of the hydrogen atoms are missing and have been replaced with double bonds between the carbon atoms.

Monounsaturated fats, have one double bond.

Polyunsaturated fats, have two or more double bonds.

Polyunsaturated fats (PUFA's) can be divided into two main groups: Omega-6 and Omega-3. The difference between the two is where the first of the double bond occurs. Omega 3 fatty acids, the first double bond occurs on the third carbon atom. In Omega 6 fatty acids, the first double bond is on the sixth carbon atom, coutning from the methyl end.

Omega-6 fatty acids include linoleic acid (LA), arachidonic acid (AA) and gamma linolenic acid (GLA).

Omega-3 fatty acids include alpha linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).

What fats are essential for my dog’s health?

Your dog requires both saturated and unsaturated fats but in particular balance. If that balance is out, particularly with the polyunsaturated fats, inflammation can occur and therefore, health issues arise.

It is proven that dogs metabolise up to 95% of the fats they consume even though fat digestion is more far more complex than breaking down and assimilating protein and carbohydrates.Fats are a highly digestible and accessible form of energy for doggos and absolutely essential for health.

Fats have many vital roles within the body;

·     Energy production

·     Development of all cells

·     Neurological function

·     Production of hormones

·     Reproductive support

·     Reduce inflammation

·     Healthy skin and coat

·     Nutrient absorption (such as vitamin A,D,E,K)

Let’s talk about the most known and essential to health. Omega-6 and Omega-3 fats help to control hormones in the body such as regulating inflammatory response and blood pressure.

Omega-6 fatty acids produce immune hormones that increase inflammation. Omega 6 fatty acids also help with blood clotting, brain function, and normal growth and development, helps stimulate skin and hair growth, maintain bone health,regulate metabolism, and maintain the reproductive system.

A diet rich in Omega-6, can often cause skin issues and aggravate allergies, arthritis and any possible inflammatory disease.

Omega-3 fatty acids are part of the phospholipid bilayer in the membrane of your dog’s cells. This means that they help regulate cellular communication in every area of the body. Omega-3 fatty acids form a large percentage of brain matter and are the foundation of pro and anti-inflammatory compounds.

The balance between Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids is an important part of a healthy immune system and balances out inflammation. A diet poor in Omega-3 can lead to chronic disease and autoimmune disease.

Findings here

A ratio of approximately 4-1 Omega-6 to Omega-3 is considered optimum for a dog’s diets. Many commercial dog foods contain ratios of 20-1 and sometimes ratios up to 50-1 (often seen in foods that contain high amounts of corn, naturally high in Omega-6 EFAs). This will result in an Omega-3 deficiency and a huge amount of inflammation.

If you feed your dog a commercial dog food, it will more than likely be too high in pro-inflammatory Omega-6 fats. And if you feed your dog a raw meat diet that isn't raised 100% on pasture, they too may be high in pro-inflammatory Omega-6 fats.  

Sources of Omega-3 and Omega-6

Omega-3 fatty acids, ALA (alpha linolenic acid) is often found in certain plants such as flax seed, sacha inchi seed, hemp seeds, chia seeds, avocado flesh only and oysters. Although ALA foods and supplements are not a substitute for fish or algae oil, due to the high Omega-6 content also, they can be an excellent additional supplement to include in the diet and added to certain meat sources.

DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) are often found in high levels and good ratios in fish (these have the most anti-inflammatory effect). Found in salmon, tuna, trout,cod, krill, oysters, seabass, mackerel, sardines and anchovies.

Non animal sources containing DHA and EPA are phytoplankton and marine algae oil. Although these are wonderful additions to your dog’s diet, they do not contain as much DHA and EPA as fish.They therefore don’t exert as much of an anti-inflammatory effect.

Fish and fish oil
Whole fish is a wonderful addition to the your dog’s diet but ensuring you don’t feed fish from the Pacific due to radiation, heavy metals and toxins, is essential.

Feeding small fish such as krill, sardines, anchovies and mackerel are better options because they will contain less toxins due to what they consume in the sea. Oils in this form can be found. You must not be kept for longer than 3 months and kept in a safe, cool, refrigerated place. Glass tinted bottles or air tight pumps and capsules are best. Always look for antioxidant technology or the addition of tocopherol (vitamin E 4-10 iu for 1 gram is good). Quality is key and storage is also key, not allowing the fats to oxidise and go bad is paramount.

There are many research papers on EPA, DHA and fish oil on the inflammatory response and disease.

Findings here

Algae oil

Algae are aquatic, plant-like organisms. Algae is always a great option for dogs allergic or don’t like fish. DHA and EPA are phytoplankton and marine algae oil.Although these are wonderful additions to your dog’s diet, they do not contain as much DHA and EPA as fish so less of an anti-inflammatory effect. Algae sources are also DHA dominant as opposed to fish that is EPA dominant.

Phytoplankton are microorganisms that drift about in water. They are single-celled and sometimes grow in large colonies. Phytoplankton are photosynthetic (have the ability to use sunlight to produce energy). While they are plant-like with this ability, phytoplankton are not plants. However they also contain DHA and EPA and hold similar values to algae. Phytoplankton is a good option for those who want sustainable, as it can be grown in filtered water, free from heavy metals and toxicity found in the ocean.

Hemp seeds milled and hemp seed oil (Non Psychoactive)

The only plant oil rich in Omega-3 that I tend to use is organic hemp oil. I use organic as crops can be laced with pesticides. The reason hemp seed oil and hemp seeds milled are so popular and effective is because of the perfect ratio it offers of Omega-6 to Omega-3 fatty acids 3:1. Hempseed contains a lot of an Omega 6 fatty acid called GLA (gamma linolenic acid) that seems to be in perfect balance with the Omega-3. Research shows that GLA can support production of various prostaglandins and leukotrienes (the compounds that influence inflammation and pain). Some of the prostaglandins and leukotrienes can increase symptoms, while others decrease them. Taking GLA helps support the favoured prostaglandins and leukotrienes, helping to reduce inflammation and disease associated with inflammation such as skin disorders, reproductive issues, arthritis and cancer (evidence from the American Cancer Society say there’s evidence that people with cancer, diabetes and skin allergies don’t create enough GLA).

Flaxseed milled and flaxseed oil

Flaxseed generally offers ratios of Omega-6 to Omega-3 fatty acids 1:4. It is high in Omega-3 and mostly only paired with chicken (not wild poultry) due to this ratio. It does contain phytic acid, a non nutrient proven to strip the body of minerals. However, amounts given would need to be extremely high and consistent and like anything in life, I always suggest variety. Flaxseed does however contain lignans, a phytonutrient that has shown evidence in rats as improving cardiovascular health, reproductive health and may help fight cancer. Flaxseed is beneficial when balanced with the right foods (chicken mostly) and given in low levels for inflammatory conditions.

Findings here

Coconut oil

i wanted to pop coconut in here as many of you ask, if this is suitable for their dog's diet. While coconut oil contains medium chained triglycerides and 50% lauric acid (researched as mostly beneficial), it ultimately contains over 80% saturated fat. To put it into perspective butter contains 63% saturated fat and lard contains 39% saturated fat.

Relatively recent research shows that the source of fat your dog eats can increase or decrease the amount of endotoxins (a toxin present inside a bacterial cell that is released when it disintegrates) in your dog’s blood. While fish oils reduced the amount of endotoxin, coconut oil increased the amount.

Findings here

If I do feed coconut oil, it has to be raw and organic. Amounts of phytic acids in coconut oil is nominal and although there are some distinct health benefits, I only advocate as a treat, as limited research is mixed. This fat by no means balances out your dog's dietary fats and should not be used as a main staple.

How to pair fats with your dog’s food

If you are feeding fresh and home cooked or raw food, this guide will be helpful.

However, if you feed dry food and a common brand from the vet or on the supermarket shelf, then I imagine you need to add a good source of fish or fish oil to attempt to balance the Omega-6 to Omega-3. I urge you to feed a fresher food that contains lets carbohydrates.

Beef, lamb and goat meat (compared to venison and other wild ruminants) are high in saturated fat, low in polyunsaturated fats and low in omega-3 fats. The foods/supplements most suitable in balancing the fats in beef, lamb and goat are whole fish, fish oil, hempseed oil and phytoplankton.

Chicken (in comparison to game poultry such as duck) is lower in saturated fat, slightly higher in PUFAs but much lower in Omega-3 fats. PUFAs in poultry are very high but one can add whole fish such as sardines or phytoplankton and they’ll help to balance the Omega-6 fats. Hemp oil isn't as well suited in this case as it is also high in Omega-6.

Recommended approximate amounts of fats to feed your dog

Whole Fish
Can be fed with ruminants (lamb, beef, goat and venison) and poultry.
Feed 28-30 grams of fish per 450 grams of ruminant. Feed 112-120 grams for every 450 grams of poultry.

Fish Oil

Can be fed with ruminants (lamb, beef, goat and venison) and poultry..
Must be made from sardines, mackerel or anchovies. There will be less toxins and only mostly fed from phytoplankton.

Phytoplankton
Can be fed with ruminants (lamb, beef, goat and venison) and poultry.
Follow instructions on the phytoplankton you purchase as they frequently differ in volume.

Hempseed milled
Can be fed with ruminants (lamb, beef, goat and venison) only, NOT poultry.

Feed 4-6 tsp per 1kg of food.

Hempseed oil

Can be fed with ruminants (lamb, beef, goat and venison) only, NOT poultry.

Feed up to 1 tsp per 5kg of weight

Coconut Oil
Safe (within reason) to give but do not use it to balance fats. Give as a treat or use to pop in a pill inside.
Feed up to maximum 1 tsp per 5kg body weight as a treat

Flaxseed Oil
Feed with poultry only.

Feed up to 1 tsp per 10kg body weight

I hope this guide has helped you as I get asked these questions all of the time. As always, we are here to help, if you want to check out our services, click the link:

Consultation

Ali x

Book a consultation
We take the trouble out of the confusion and support those clients wanting to optimise their pet’s diet.
Book Consultation