Low Fat Dog Food – When Is It Good?

Humans like to humanise their pets. This has led to the myth about fat; specifically, about high fat diets causing heart disease among dogs.

It is true that high fat foods, especially saturated fat, are associated with the clogging of arteries thereby causing heart attacks in people. But it doesn’t work the same way for animals, so there is no need to restrict fat in a dog’s diet for this reason.

In fact, restricting or removing fat can do more harm than good to dogs. Fats are essential to their health and we will explain why in this article.

However, there will be situations where giving them a low fat diet may be necessary. Read on to know more.

Do dogs need fat in their diet?

Definitely. At least 5.5% of dogs’ daily calories should come from fats. This percentage is not for the purpose of giving them energy but more for nutritional purposes.

Fats contain specific nutrients which are essential for all animals. Each food source contains different kinds of fatty acids and each fatty acid serves a different function.

Fatty acids which dogs cannot produce on their own are called essential fatty acids, and these must be obtained from diet.

Essential fatty acids are are linoleic acid (an omega-6 fatty acid), and the three types of omega-3 fatty acids: alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).

The whole point is this: provide some rather than none but not too much of it. Excess of both omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids becomes counterproductive.

Omega-6 or linoleic acid

Animals which are deprived of linoleic acid can develop health problems such as poor skin and coat, abnormal growth in young animals, and weakened immune systems.

Linoleic acid can be found in both plant and animal sources. Examples of plant sources are corn oil, canola oil, olive oil and coconut oil. Examples of animal sources are chicken fat and beef fat.

Animal fats are logically the most natural sources for canines. You wouldn’t see a wild dog eat corn, canola flowers, olives and coconuts, now would you?

One of reasons plant-based fats have been included in commercial dog foods or made into supplements is because these resources are normally cheaper than the animal counterparts. The other reason is that some plant sources contain more linoleic oil than animal fats.

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Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are available in algae, krill oil, as well as cold water ocean fish or fish oils. Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) is usually extracted from seeds such as flaxseed and trendy chia seeds, as they are rich in ALA.

EPA and DHA are more beneficial to pet health than ALA – once again, animal sources are better than plants.

Is a low fat diet good for dogs?

It depends on whether there is a need for it. Here are the conditions which may require it:

  1. When a dog is overweight
  2. When a dog has pancreatitis
  3. When a dog has a sensitive stomach

Low fat dog food for overweight dogs

First of all, what makes a dog chubby? It is not specifically what the dog eats. Instead, it is how many calories the dog consumes.

Unutilised calories from its diet are turned into fat to be stored as energy reserves. What counts more for portly pups is the total caloric content.

Protein, animal fat and carbohydrate can all be synthesized by a dog’s digestive system into calories. Proteins and carbohydrates are each worth 4 calories per gram. Fat has 9 calories per gram.

The logical thing to do in this case is to cut down the amount of fat per meal since it contributes the most calories per gram. So, yes, low fat diets are good for overweight dogs.

Do dogs need fat in their diet?

Low fat dog food for dogs with pancreatitis

This type of diet is often prescribed by veterinarians for dogs recovering from pancreatitis. The disease occurs when the pancreas becomes inflamed, causing difficulty in digestion.

Fat molecules are far more complex and dense than proteins and carbohydrates, which makes fat a little harder to digest. That is why reduction of fat is the first recommended step to alleviate the dog’s suffering and reduce the burden on its inefficient pancreas.

You can read more about pancreatitis in: Pancreatitis in Dogs – Symptoms, Causes, Treatment and Diet

What is the best low fat dog food for pancreatitis?

Most veterinarians recommend a highly digestible, low-fat food for dogs recovering from pancreatitis. Others may suggest prescription dog foods.

However, some prescription foods (both wet and dry) can contain higher levels of fat than commercial dog food. The types of dog food which contains lowest natural fat content are fresh food – either gently cooked or raw.

Different types of meat also contain varying levels of fat. Kangaroo meat and venison have the lowest levels.

For example, Pet Cubes’ Gently Cooked Wild KangarooGently Cooked VenisonRaw Wild Kangaroo and Raw Venison have only 4% of fat.

Commercially prepared fresh foods are more likely to be complete and balanced compared with homemade food because getting the right percentage of ingredients can be tricky, especially if you need to cater to your dog’s weight, age and health condition.

Low fat dog food for sensitive stomachs

‘Sensitive stomach’ here refers to a mild intestinal upset. How do you know that a dog is experiencing this? Here are the symptoms:

  • Occasional vomiting
  • Loose stools
  • Flatulence

A dog can have one or all of these symptoms at the same time. If any of the symptoms is severe, it should be brought to the vet’s immediately. These are common signs of many serious illnesses.

What causes sensitive stomachs?

There can be a number of reasons, so the first thing you need to do is get your dog examined by a vet. This is to rule out the possibility of any serious conditions, including ingestion of inedible objects.

Once that is done, find out whether your beloved pet has been secretly munching on stuff that it is not supposed to, like things in the garbage bin, on the road, in the ditch or in the garden.

If that is ruled out, you need to determine what type of food triggers a tummy upset. Some dogs are sensitive to certain proteins, some are lactose intolerant and so on.

Or perhaps your pet’s current diet lacks or has too much something. It can be fiber, vitamins, fat or even minerals.

What dog breeds have sensitive stomachs?

Certain dog breeds have predispositions for this problem. For example, the Scottish Terrier and the Yorkie. Regardless of breed, dogs which are more susceptible are aging dogs, puppies and small dogs.

Does the amount of fat in your pet’s food matter?

Some dogs don’t tolerate high fat diets well and will get diarrhea.

What foods are high in fat for dogs?

Cheese is not only rich in fat but also high in sodium. Certain types of meat have naturally higher fat content than other meats. For example, mutton being the highest, pork, chicken and beef.

Low fat dog food without chicken

Commercial dog food, especially kibble and canned food, usually contain chicken fat to add flavour to the highly processed ingredients. If your dog has intolerance towards chicken, you need to scrutinise the label on the packaging to ensure there is no chicken meal, chicken meat or chicken fat. Otherwise, just go with any other type of dog food except these two.

What else you can do for dogs with sensitive stomachs

The first step is to eliminate extra food items from his daily intake such as treats and table scraps. If it gets both, eliminate either one first then observe its reaction.

Once you are sure neither of these cause stomach upset, you need to look into what’s in his feed. If chicken has been its regular protein, switch it to something else, preferably lower in fat such as kangaroo or venison.

If that does nothing, look into fiber intake. Adding a little extra may help improve its digestion and bowel movement.

If reducing or increasing fibre makes no difference, look into the fat content of its meals. Study the existing brand and type of food. Then, put it on a different one which has lower fat.

Once that is ruled out, investigate whether your dog has been getting enough vitamins and minerals. Most commercially prepared dog foods have adequate amounts.

Check with your vet whether you have been feeding your dog all the necessary nutrients first before adjusting according to your vet’s advice.

What can you do if your dog is totally intolerant towards fat?

Whether it is animal or plant source, if your dog has zero tolerance for it, you still need to make sure it gets its omega-3 and omega-6. In such extreme situations, supplements can help. As always, check with your vet first before giving these to your ailing pet.


No one food works for all dogs with sensitive stomachs. Each dog is an individual with special needs and special problems, just like us.

It may take quite a bit of time to pinpoint the exact problem for dogs with sensitive stomachs. It will take some trial and error.

This goes the same for dogs with pancreatitis. You may need to try this and that before you can find the perfect diet that works, as even prescription diets may not agree with all dogs with pancreatitis.

Just be sure to always consult with a veterinary nutritionist so that your dog’s nutritional needs are not compromised.