Healthy Low-Fat Diets for Dogs
Feeding dogs prone to pancreatitis or who can’t tolerate dietary fat.
Article by Mary Straus, published in the Whole Dog Journal, December 2008
Also see these related articles:
- Sample Low-Fat Diets
- Weight Loss Diets
- Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency
- Cushing's Disease
Last month, we talked about the causes, diagnosis, and treatment of pancreatitis. This month, we will discuss diets that can be used long term for dogs who cannot tolerate too much fat in their diet. These guidelines are meant for adult maintenance only, not for puppies or females who are pregnant or nursing, as their requirements are different.
Many dogs with chronic pancreatitis and those prone to recurrent attacks of acute pancreatitis do better when fed diets that are low in fat. Dogs with exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI) due to damage to the pancreas, or with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), may also respond favorably to a low-fat diet. Some dogs need a low-fat diet to control hyperlipidemia (high levels of triglycerides in the blood) that can lead to pancreatitis.
Dogs with fat intolerance or malabsorption may show signs such as diarrhea and weight loss, or steatorrhea (excessive excretion of fat in the stool, resulting in large, pale, greasy and malodorous stools) in more severe cases. Fat malabsorption can also be associated with liver and gall bladder disease, intestinal infection (viral, bacterial, or parasites), lymphangiectasia, and other conditions. It’s a good idea to try a low-fat diet for any dog with digestive problems to see if he improves, though if no improvement is seen, it need not be continued.
When comparing the percentage of fat in different foods, you must consider the food’s moisture content. The percentage of fat in wet food (canned or fresh) must be converted to dry matter (DM) for comparison purposes, or to use the guidelines above. To do the conversion, first determine the amount of dry matter by subtracting the percentage of moisture from 100, then divide the percentage of fat by the result. For example, if a food is 75 percent moisture and 5 percent fat, divide 5 by 25 (100 – 75) to get 20 percent fat DM.
To see the percent of calories from fat, you can use this Guaranteed Analysis Converter.
Percentages give you only a rough estimate of the actual amount of fat your dog will consume. For a more exact figure, calculate the grams of fat per 1,000 kcal (kilocalories, the standard caloric measurement). For simplicity’s sake, I will call this GFK, though that is not a standard abbreviation. Veterinary nutritionists consider diets to be low-fat if they have less than 25 GFK (22.5 percent of calories from fat). This measurement can be used for any type of food: dry, canned or fresh.
The ratio of fat to calories is more accurate than the percentage of fat in the diet, since the amount of food your dog needs to consume is determined by calories, not by weight or volume. For example, a diet that is 10% fat with 4,000 kcal/kg provides 25 GFK, while a diet that is 8% fat with 2,700 kcal/kg provides 30 GFK. Your dog would actually consume more fat when fed the same number of calories of the food with the lower percentage of fat.
In other words, for every 1,000 kcal your dog consumes, he would get 30 grams of fat from the food with 8% fat, but only 25 grams of fat from the food with 10% fat. See the sidebars below for instructions on how to easily calculate the GFK in commercial foods, fresh foods, and combination diets.
Here is a list of the percentages of fat that would translate to 25 grams per 1,000 kcal for foods with various calories:
5 percent fat @ 2,000 kcal/kg
7.5 percent fat @ 3,000 kcal/kg
10 percent fat @ 4,000 kcal/kg
Vegetarian diets are sometimes recommended to provide a low-fat diet. I do not advise feeding your dog a vegetarian diet, whether commercial or homemade. See “Have Dinner In,” WDJ April 2007, for more information on how such a diet can lead to serious nutritional deficiencies. If you do choose to feed such a diet, I recommend adding some low-fat animal protein, such as skinless chicken breast and low-fat or nonfat plain yogurt, to the diet to improve nutrition.
Some low-fat recipes for dogs are excessively low in fat, providing as little as 5 to 8 GFK, with as much as seven times more starches than meat. With very few exceptions, it’s not necessary to feed such an extremely low-fat diet to dogs recovering from or prone to pancreatitis or with other forms of fat intolerance, nor is such a diet likely to be nutritionally adequate, regardless of how many supplements you add. The NRC (National Research Council) recommends a minimum of 11.1 GFK for adult dogs (10 percent of calories from fat, or around 5 percent fat DM).
Diets that are too low in fat can lead to deficiencies of fat-soluble vitamins and problems with skin and coat; they can also leave your dog feeling tired and hungry all the time. It’s important to feed adequate fat unless your dog absolutely cannot tolerate it. In that case, you can add easily digestible fat in the form of medium-chain triglycerides, found in coconut oil and MCT oil (generally made from coconut and/or palm kernel oil). See last month’s article for more information on MCTs.
Not all dogs who have had acute pancreatitis, or who have EPI, need a low-fat diet. Many dogs who have experienced acute pancreatitis can return to a normal diet with no problem. A recent study showed that severe fat restriction (less than 13 percent of calories from fat, or less than 15 GFK) failed to show any significant benefit for dogs with EPI.
A case report of three German Shepherd Dogs with EPI demonstrated that a diet with 19 percent fat (on a dry matter basis) was well tolerated and resulted in weight gain, decreased diarrhea, and an improved coat (the diet used hydrolyzed protein, which is processed in such a way as to render the proteins nearly hypoallergenic). Diets with 43 percent calories from fat have been shown to promote better protein, fat, and carbohydrate digestibility compared to diets containing 18 and 27 percent calories from fat in dogs with experimental EPI.
Find the amount of Fat in Commercial Foods below will give you an idea of how much higher the actual amount of fat in a food may be compared to the minimum amount shown on the label.
Most senior and light (weight loss) diets are relatively low in fat, but look for those that are not also low in protein. Low-protein diets should be avoided, as they can increase the risk of both hyperlipidemia and pancreatitis. Diets that are low in both protein and fat are mostly carbohydrates. Dogs get more nutritional value from protein than from carbohydrates, so it’s better to feed a diet that is higher in protein and therefore lower in carbohydrates. You can increase the amount of protein in the diet by adding high-protein, low-fat fresh foods, if needed. Moderate amounts of protein (up to 30 percent on a dry matter basis, or 23 percent of calories) are recommended for dogs recovering from or prone to pancreatitis.
Low-fat foods are inherently less palatable (not as tasty). If your dog is unwilling to eat low-fat foods, try adding some low- or moderate-fat canned or fresh foods, or low-sodium nonfat broth, to make the food more attractive. See the homemade diet section below for more information on foods to add. You can also combine low-fat food with moderate-fat food to keep fat at reasonable levels while increasing palatability.
Veterinarians debate about the amount of fiber that is best for dogs recovering from pancreatitis. Some dogs respond better to low-fiber diets (0.5 to 5 percent DM), using mixed soluble and insoluble fiber types, while others do better on diets that include moderate levels of insoluble fiber (10 to 15 percent). The difference may depend on what other gastrointestinal disorders the dog has. Low fiber is recommended for dogs in the initial recovery stages of acute pancreatitis, as fiber slows gastric emptying, which may prolong pancreatic stimulation.
The majority of the carbohydrates should be starchy foods, such as rice, oatmeal, barley, quinoa, pasta, potatoes, sweet potatoes, pumpkin and winter squashes (e.g., acorn and butternut), to supply low-fat calories. Other types of vegetables, such as broccoli, summer squash, and leafy greens, can be included, but they supply fewer calories so they can’t replace the starchy carbs. You can also use a low-fat pre-mix designed to balance out a homemade diet, such as Preference from The Honest Kitchen.
The other half of the diet should be mostly low-fat meats, or meats cooked to remove much of their fat. Skinless chicken breast is very low in fat, but other parts can be used as long as you remove the skin and visible fat. Turkey, venison, goat, buffalo, and rabbit are low in fat, while lamb and pork are generally high in fat. Ground beef comes in varying levels of fat.
Whole eggs are relatively high in fat but are highly nutritious, so they should be included in the diet in limited amounts. A large egg has about 5 grams of fat, which is not a lot for a very large dog, but too much for smaller dogs. You can hard boil eggs and then feed just a portion each day, or split them between multiple dogs. Almost all of the fat and calories are in the yolks, so the whites alone can be added to increase protein without increasing fat, if needed. When feeding just egg whites, they should either be cooked or a B vitamin supplement should be added, as raw egg whites can deplete biotin over time when fed without the yolks.
Low-fat or nonfat dairy products are also good to include in the diet. Cottage cheese, plain yogurt, and kefir (a cultured milk product that is easy to make at home using low-fat or nonfat milk) are all good choices. Avoid most other cheeses, as even low-fat ones are high in fat (nonfat is OK).
Homemade diets should include organ meat, and most organs are low in fat. Liver and kidney should be fed in small amounts only, no more than 5 to 10 percent of the total diet (around 1 to 1.5 ounces organ meat per pound of food). Beef heart is quite low in fat and is nutritionally more of a muscle meat, so it can be fed in larger quantities, as long as your dog does well with it.
Fruits such as apple, banana, melon, papaya, and blueberries are fine to include in the diet in small amounts. Avoid avocados, which are high in fat.
Meat can be fed either raw or cooked. Certain types of cooking, such as boiling and skimming off the fat, can be used to reduce the amount of fat, while other types, such as frying in oil, will increase the amount of fat. You can buy less expensive, fattier cuts of meat if you remove the fat by cooking or trimming before feeding.
Grains and starchy carbs should be cooked to improve their digestibility, while other vegetables must be either cooked or pureed in a food processor, juicer or blender in order to be digestible by dogs (raw whole veggies are not harmful, but provide little nutritional value).
If you feed raw meaty bones, the amounts should be small, as these tend to be high in fat. Be sure to remove the skin and visible fat from poultry, and avoid fattier cuts such as lamb and pork necks and breast (riblets).
This is one case where “balance over time” does not apply. A high-fat meal can’t be balanced out later with a low-fat meal. Instead, combine foods so that no meals are high in fat.
Some dogs prone to digestive problems do better with more fiber, while others do better with less. Many vegetables and fruits are high in fiber, as are beans and some grains, while white rice has little fiber. If you need to add fiber, you can use canned pumpkin or psyllium.
Because you need to feed more food when feeding a low-fat diet in order to supply the same number of calories, it’s better to calculate the amount of calcium needed based on the calories your dog consumes rather than the weight of the food. The National Research Council (NRC) recommends 1 gram (1,000 mg) of calcium per 1,000 kcal for adult dogs. Another way to compute the amount of calcium your dog needs is by body weight: the NRC recommends 30 mg calcium per pound of body weight (65 mg/kg) daily. Be sure to divide this daily amount by the number of meals you feed.
If you are feeding RMBs but they are less than 20 percent of the diet, adjust the amount of calcium proportionately. For example, if your diet is 10 percent RMBs, you would need to add only half as much calcium as the NRC recommends to balance out the rest of the diet.
You should also adjust the calcium amount if you feed part commercial and part homemade. There’s no need to add calcium if the homemade food is just a small percentage of the diet, say 25 percent or less, but if you feed more than that, calculate the amount of calcium based on the percentage of the diet that is made up of homemade food. For example, if you feed half commercial and half homemade, give half as much calcium as your dog would need based on body weight, or calculate the calories in the homemade portion and base the amount of calcium to add on that amount alone.
You can use any form of calcium, such as calcium carbonate or calcium citrate. You can also use bone meal. Ground eggshells can be used to supply calcium. Rinse and dry the eggshells, then grind them in a clean coffee grinder or blender. One-half of a teaspoon of ground eggshell provides approximately 1,000 mg of elemental calcium. See Crash Course on Calcium for more information.
Balance IT Canine and Furoshnikov's Formulas Vitamins & Minerals for Home-Cooked Dog Food.
When using Balance IT, calculate the amount of calcium your dog should have based on the formulas above, then figure how many scoops of the supplement are needed to supply that amount of calcium. If you feed a diet high in protein and low in carbohydrates, use Balance IT Carnivore Blend instead.
See Spot Live Longer Homemade Dinner Mixes can also be used, but give a little less than the recommended amount, since it’s made for diets that are higher in fat. Each of these supplements supplies calcium in the proper amounts, so there’s no need to add more. See Dog Food Mixes for up-to-date information on these and other supplements designed to balance homemade diets.
Even if the diet you’re feeding has a lot of variety, it’s a good idea to add certain supplements. As discussed last month, digestive enzymes and probiotics may help to control the effects of chronic pancreatitis, and sometimes are helpful for other digestive problems. Fish body oil, such as salmon oil (not cod liver oil), and antioxidants, including vitamins C and E, beta carotene, and selenium, may help reduce the risk of acute pancreatitis. Dogs with chronic pancreatitis can be deficient in B vitamins, so a B-complex supplement is also recommended.
The problem with this approach is that variety is key to good nutrition. Human nutritionists would never supply a single recipe and expect clients to eat that and only that for the rest of their lives. Instead, they give guidelines for which foods can be eaten in quantity, which in moderation, and which should be avoided or eaten in only very limited amounts. That’s what I’ve tried to do here. If you do use a recipe from a nutritionist long term, don’t be afraid to sometimes substitute other foods in the same category as those used in the recipe if they have similar amounts of fat (as long as your dog does not have severe digestive problems or food allergies that require a very limited diet).
The other problem with these recipes is that they often are excessively high in carbohydrates, with minimal amounts of protein, and rely on supplements to provide many nutrients. Carbohydrates are needed to supply low-fat calories for dogs who require a low-fat diet, but they provide less nutritional value than animal products such as meat, eggs and dairy. Diets that are high in carbohydrates must rely on synthetic supplements to supply much of the nutrition that your dog needs.
A diet that contains more animal products and variety will meet more of your dog’s nutritional needs naturally, without requiring a “complete vitamin-mineral supplement” to do so. In addition, diets that rely on supplements may lack nutrients as yet unidentified as necessary or beneficial, as was the case with taurine before it was discovered that a deficiency leads to heart disease in cats (and, as is now known, some dog breeds as well). Taurine is one example of a nutrient that is found in meat, but not plant products.
Many commercial treats are low in fat. Check the fat percentage on the label of dry treats to get an idea of how much fat they contain; most dry treats with 8 percent fat or less should be fine. Moist treats are harder to calculate, since you must either convert the fat percentage to dry matter, or know the number of calories so that you can use one of the formulas above in order to determine the actual amount of fat (most treat labels do not provide information about calories).
Some dehydrated or freeze-dried lung and other meats are low in fat. Avoid using dehydrated chicken jerky, though, as most are imported from China (check the small print carefully), and the AVMA and FDA have warned that these treats have been linked to kidney failure in dogs (if you're looking for safe jerky treats, I recommend Smart Dog Jerky and Kona's Chips, made in the U.S.). Also avoid using pieces of cheese, hot dogs, lunch meats (even those marked low fat) and other fatty foods as treats.
You can create your own dehydrated treats by drying thin slices of low-fat meat in a dehydrator or an oven set to a very low temperature. Sprinkle with garlic powder or nonfat parmesan cheese before drying to make them even more enticing. Anise is another flavor that dogs really like – try boiling beef heart in water with a couple of teaspoons of anise seed powder, then cut into small pieces to use as treats.
Use low-fat or nonfat yogurt in place of peanut butter or cheese for stuffing Kongs. Put them in the freezer to create a frozen yogurt treat that will last a long time.
Some chews, such as bully sticks (also called pizzles), are low in fat, while others, such as dried trachea and pig ears, are quite a bit higher. Dried tendons appear to be low in fat, but may be greasy, so use your own judgment. Similar products from different manufacturers may vary in fat content, so pay attention both to the amount of fat listed on the label and to the feel of the chew. Marrow bones are filled with fat and should be avoided. Knuckle bones also appear to be too high in fat to use safely.
Two low-fat chews that last a long time are Himalayan dog chews, which are made from yak and cow milk and are less than 1% fat, and deer antlers, such as those marketed by Lucky Buck. Mindy Fenton, who owns K9 Raw Diet, carries these and other low-fat chews, and has helped many customers whose dogs are prone to pancreatitis to find chews that work for them.
I found several anecdotal reports of rawhide chews, particularly those that were imported, causing acute pancreatitis in dogs, but could find no studies or warnings from veterinarians or other reliable sources on this topic. Some people fear that the act of chewing for long periods may overstimulate the pancreas and cause problems for some dogs, but I could find no supporting evidence. A veterinary pancreatitis specialist confirmed that he feels chewing is not a problem as long as the chews are not high in fat (such as pig ears). Keep an eye on your dog and discontinue giving chews if they appear to cause any discomfort. Otherwise, low-fat chews should be fine.
Pockets for the first time; I had avoided them because I thought they were too expensive, but it turns out that they're extremely malleable, so you can easily pinch off just as much as you need and one "pill pocket" can be used for many pills. Note that Pill Pockets are now available in a Duck and Pea Allergy Formula for dogs with food allergies. Here are some ideas that you can try for wrapping or dipping pills that might work for your dog:
- Pill Pockets
- Nonfat mozzarella cheese
- Fat-free cream cheese
- Low-fat or nonfat yogurt
- Banana slices
- Skinless chicken breast or other low-fat meat
- Canned low-fat dog food
- Canned pumpkin (not pie filling)
Be careful about trying to hide pills in food, or adding too many supplements to the food, as this will cause some dogs to not want to eat their meals.
If your dog continues to have problems, try different foods to see if he tolerates some better than others. If possible, feed frequent small meals, which are easier to digest. Experiment with supplements to find those that seem to help your dog. Keep a journal of what you feed, including treats and supplements, to help you see patterns and identify foods, treats or supplements that might be causing problems for your dog.
If problems continue no matter what you feed, work with your vet to look for other causes, such as intestinal infection, parasites, or food allergies that may be an underlying factor.
Next month, we’ll describe some low-fat homemade diets, both raw and cooked, that people are feeding to their dogs.
Fat percentage ÷ kcal per kg x 10,000 = grams of fat per 1,000 kcal (GFK)
For example, if a food is 10.0% fat and has 4,000 kcal/kg:
10.0 ÷ 4,000 x 10,000 = 25 GFK
For dry food, you need to know the kcal per kg, not per cup, a volume measure that cannot be converted to kcal/kg.
For canned food, if you know the number of calories and ounces per can, you can use this formula instead:
If you know the kcal per pound (rather than per kg) of any food, you can use this formula instead:
See the tables below for examples of higher-quality, lower-fat commercial foods (presented alphabetically, grouped by type). This is just a sampling; there are other brands that would be comparable. Most are senior or light (weight-loss) formulas, but I have also included some adult formulas that are only moderately higher in fat, which will be fine for many dogs. For comparison, see the gastrointestinal prescription diets at the bottom; note these are not high-quality foods.
The most important column in the tables is “Grams Fat/1,000 kcal (GFK).” That value gives you the most accurate measurement of the amount of fat in each food, and can be used to compare different types of food. Some varieties of food shown are lower in fat than most dogs need (less than 25 GFK); these can be combined with foods that have moderate amounts of fat to give you more feeding options. Foods that are very low in protein, such as Dick Van Patten's Natural Balance Original Ultra Reduced Calorie Formula, should not be fed exclusively; combine them with some higher-protein commercial or fresh foods to improve the diet.
Be careful to check the individual food you’re considering feeding; just because one variety a company offers is low-fat doesn’t mean they all are. Canidae Platinum Formula is an example of a food where the canned version has almost twice as much fat as the dry. Foods in red are included for comparison purposes only; the amount of fat is too high for dogs who need a low-fat diet.
I’ve included three incomplete dehydrated pre-mixes: Preference from The Honest Kitchen, and Sojos Original and Grain-Free (formerly European-Style and Europa) Dog Food Mixes. These must be mixed with fresh foods per instructions to provide a complete diet. The added foods will boost the protein level of the overall diet to an adequate level.
Actual vs. label percentages: The fat percentages in the table are taken from the minimum values as shown on the label. The actual amount of fat will be somewhat higher than the guaranteed minimum. Some companies have provided the actual “as fed” amount of fat found when the food was tested. Ranges of fat percentage and GFK are given for those foods, showing the difference between the computations using the minimum and actual amounts of fat. Where it says "as fed," that means the as fed percentage was the same as the guaranteed minimum.
For canned and raw foods, I also show the dry matter (DM) percentages of fat and protein in parentheses; dry foods have so little moisture that their DM percentages are only slightly higher than their “as fed” percentages. Use the DM percentages of wet foods when comparing the amounts of fat or protein to the amounts in dry foods.
Warning: The minimum amount of fat shown on the label may not accurately reflect the actual amount of fat in the food. Nature’s Variety raw diets, Wellness Senior Recipe canned, and Merrick Grammy's Pot Pie and Thanksgiving Day Dinner canned foods appear to have a much higher percentage of fat than the minimum amount shown on the label. Nature's Variety must have more fat according to my calculations based on the number of calories in the food (the company did not respond to my queries on this topic). While the label shows 6% to 8% fat, the actual amount may be over 18% fat (50% DM). I don’t consider this food safe to feed to dogs who need a low-fat diet. Note this applies only to their raw diets, not their canned or dry foods. Wellness reports that their Senior Recipe canned has 6.1% fat rather than the 3% shown on the label. Merrick reports that Grammy's Pot Pie has 5.75% fat and Thanksgiving Day Dinner has 5.97% fat, rather than the 4% shown on the label. When unsure, contact the company and ask for the actual "as fed" percentage of fat (I'd appreciate it if you'd let me know as well, my contact info is below).
Also, if fat is low, then calories should also be low in comparison to similar foods with more fat. If calories are much higher than expected, then either the calories are incorrect, or the amount of fat is higher than shown.
|BRAND||TYPE||KCAL/KG||Percent fat||Grams fat / 1000 kcal (GFK)||Percent Protein|
|Blue Buffalo Chicken Dinner||can||1,213||4.0% (18.2%)||33||8.5% (38.6%)|
|Blue Buffalo Longevity Mature||can||962||3.0% (13.6%)||31||7.0% (31.8%)|
|Burns Chicken, Brown Rice & Vegetables (UK)||pouch||764||2.6% (12.1%)||34||4.8% (22.4%)|
|Canidae Platinum Formula||can||900||4.5% (18.0%)||50||6% (24%)|
|Chicken Soup for the Pet Lover’s Soul Senior Dog Formula||can||981||3.5-5.0% (15.9-22.7%)||36-51||7.5% (34%)|
|Chicken Soup for the Pet Lover’s Soul Adult Dog Formula||can||1,139||4.0-7.0% (18.2-31.8%)||35-61||8% (36%)|
|Fromm Four-Star Nutritionals Shredded Beef Entree||can||894||2.5% (12.2%)||28||9% (44%)|
|Fromm Four-Star Nutritionals Shredded Chicken Entree||can||844||1.5% (7.3%)||18 (likely higher)||8% (39%)|
|Fromm Four-Star Nutritionals Shredded Pork Entree||can||940||3% (14.6%)||32||8% (39%)|
|Innova Senior||can||1,060||3.2-6.5% (14.5-27.8%)||30-62||4.4-8.6%
|Natural Balance Chicken & Sweet Potato||can||1,159||3.5-4.5%
|Natural Balance Ultra Reduced Calorie||can||958||4.0% (18.2%) (per analysis)||42||7.5% (34%)|
|Newman’s Own Canned Beef Formula||can||1,840||4.5-4.8%
|24-26 (not reliable)||12% (67%)|
|Newman's Own Canned Beef & Liver Formula||can||1,690||3.0-5.5% (16.7-29.6%)||18-33 (not reliable)||10-11%
|Newman’s Own Canned Liver Formula||can||1,520||2.5-2.7% (14.7-15.9%)||16-18 (not reliable)||11% (65%)|
|Tiki Dog* Lahaina Luau (chicken/brown rice)||can||890||2.0-2.5% (9.1-12.3%)||23-28||11-13.4% (50-66%)|
|Tiki Dog* Maui Luau (chicken/brown rice)||can||870||2.0-2.5% (9.1-12.8%)||23-29||12.0-12.9% (50-66%)|
|Tiki Dog* North Shore Luau (salmon/brn rice)||can||1,160||2.0-3.4% (9.1-16.2%)||17-29||12-13%
|Wellness Whitefish & Sweet Potato||can||946||4.0% (16.0%) per analysis||42||8.0-9.5% (36-38%)|
|Wellness Senior||can||1069||3.0-6.1% (13.6-24.4%)||28-57||7-8.3% (32-33%)|
|Weruva** Funky Chicken||can||750||1.4-1.5% (9.3-10.0%)||19-20||8% (53%)|
|Weruva** Grandma's Chicken Soup||can||750||1.2-1.5% (9.6-12.0%)||16-20||8% (64%)|
|Weruva** Paw Lickin' Chicken||can||750||1.4-1.7% (9.3-11.3%)||19-23||10% (67%)|
|Wysong Senior||can||1,136||4.0-5.5% (16.0-22%)||35-48||5.5% (22%)|
|Hill’s Prescription Diet i/d||presc. can||1,311||3.0-4.4% (10.1-14.9%)||23-34||6.5% (22%)|
|Hill’s Prescription Diet i/d Low Fat||presc. can||948||2.1% (8.5%)||22||6% (25%)|
|Hill's Prescription Diet r/d||presc. can||733||2.2%? (8.6%)||29?||6.3%? (25%)|
|Iams Veterinary Formula Intestinal Low Residue||presc. can||1,044||2.5-2.8% (11.4-12.7%)||24-27||7% (32%)|
|Purina Veterinary Diets EN Formula||presc. can||1,194||3.0-4.2% (11.5-15%)||25-35||6.5% (25%)|
|Rayne Clinical Nutrition Low Fat Kangaroo||peel & serve||705||1.0-1.6% (6.7-7.4%)||23||6.5-7.5%
|Royal Canin Veterinary Diet Digestive Low Fat LF||presc. can||1,148||1.5-2.0% (6.8-6.9%)||13-17||8% (32%)|
* Tiki Dog has other varieties with relatively low GFK (as fed): Lomi Lomi Luau (31), Kauai Luau (32), Hilo Luau (35), Kohala Luau (35), Tonga Luau (35). Tiki Dog is available at Amazon.com and PetFoodDirect.
Several of their cat food varieties are also very low in fat and could be fed to dogs: Koolina Luau (15), Napili Luau (20), Papeekeo Luau (22), Hanalei Luau (25), Molokai Luau (25), Puka Puka Luau (28).
** Weruva has other varieties with relatively low GFK (as fed): Wok the Dog (27), Amazon Liver (29), Steak Frites (31), Bed & Breakfast - 2.3% (31 GFK), and Jammin' Salmon (32). Note their Kobe/Kuobuta line is high in fat.
|BRAND||TYPE||KCAL/KG||Percent fat||Grams fat / 1000 kcal (GFK)||Percent Protein|
|The Honest Kitchen Force||dehyd.||3,930||14.6%||37||21%|
|The Honest Kitchen Keen||dehyd.||4,140||14.5%||35||20%|
|The Honest Kitchen Verve||dehyd.||3,880||8.0%||21||21%|
|The Honest Kitchen Zeal||dehyd.||3,849||8.4%||22||35%|
|The Honest Kitchen Preference (incomplete mix)||dehyd.||3,510||5.0%||14||12%|
|Sojos Original Dog Food Mix (incomplete mix)||dehyd.||3,738||6.0%||16||13%|
|Sojos Grain-Free Dog Food Mix (incomplete mix)||dehyd.||3,469||6.5%||19||15%|
|Grandma Lucy’s Artisan Grain Free Dog Food (Chicken)||freeze-dried||3,871||11%||28||26%|
|Primal Pet Foods Rabbit Formula||frozen raw||1,376||5.0%
|Primal Pet Foods Turkey & Sardine Formula||frozen raw||1,481||7.0%
|Primal Pet Foods Venison Formula||frozen raw||1,481||5.0% (16.1%)||34||19% (61%)|
|JustFoodForDogs Chicken and Rice *||frozen cooked||1,295||3-3.4% (11%)||26||8-9.7% (29%)|
|JustFoodForDogs Fish & Sweet Potato *||frozen cooked||902||2-2.4% (10.5%)||27||7-7.2% (37%)|
|JustFoodForDogs Balanced Remedy *||frozen cooked||1245||0.5-1.0% (2.0%)||8||6% (21%)|
|Rayne Clinical Nutrition Low Fat Kangaroo||presc. frozen cooked||705||1.35% (6.2%)||19||7.5%
* JustFoodForDogs also offers JustDoItYourself kits for their Daily Meals (but not their Vet Support Diets), consisting of a recipe and a customized supplement blend, so you can make this food yourself at home. Customized recipes and supplement blends can also be created for a one-time fee of $195. Once created, you have the option of having the company make the food for you, or you can buy the recipe and supplement blend to make the food yourself at home.
Once again, the most important column is the “grams fat/1,000 kcal,” which gives you the most accurate fat measurement for comparison purposes. Note that some of these foods, such as eggs, are high in fat, suitable only when combined in limited amounts with lower-fat foods. Several foods show a range, representing the different values found for different entries in the nutrition database. Values will vary depending on how the food is prepared (raw, roasted, boiled, etc.). See nutritiondata.com for details.
A simple formula similar to the one used for commercial foods will allow you to calculate the grams of fat per 1,000 kcal (GFK) in any individual food or recipe. All you need to know is the number of calories and the grams of fat (not the percentage) for each food or recipe, both of which can be found at nutritiondata.com.
Grams of fat ÷ number of calories x 1,000 = Grams of fat per 1,000 kcal (GFK)
Example: To calculate the grams of fat per 1,000 kcal in low-fat cottage cheese (using the numbers from the table below), divide 1.0 grams of fat by 72 kcal and multiply by 1,000:
1.0 ÷ 72 x 1,000 = 14 GFK
Remember that not everything you feed must be low-fat. Moderate-fat foods can be combined with very low-fat foods in order to create a low-fat meal. Use the Nutrition Data website to determine the amount of fat and calories in a combination of different foods. To calculate the GFK in any recipe, divide the total grams of fat in the recipe by its kcal and multiply by 1,000.
Example: nutritiondata.com says that 8 ounces of cooked white rice combined with 8 ounces of roasted skinless dark meat chicken provide 22.3 grams of fat and 750 kcal:
|Food||KCAL/100 grams||Grams Fat/100 Grams||Grams fat / 1000 kcal (GFK)|
|Beef, ground, 95% lean||137-193||5.0-7.6||36-39|
|Beef, ground, 90% lean||176-230||10.0-12.0||52-57|
|Cheese, Mozzarella, part skim (low-fat)||254||15.9||63|
|Cheese, Mozzarella, nonfat||149||0||0|
|Chicken breast, skinless||110-165||1.2-3.6||11-22|
|Chicken, light meat, skinless||109-159||1.6-4.5||15-27|
|Chicken, dark meat, skinless||113-205||3.6-9.7||32-47|
|Cottage cheese, low-fat||72||1.0||14|
|Cottage cheese, dry nonfat||85||0.4||5|
|Eggs, two large, raw||143||9.9||70|
|Pork, various parts, lean only||136-215||5.2-10.5||38-49|
|Ricotta cheese, part skim||138||7.9||57|
|Tripett canned green beef tripe||124||7.0||56|
|Turkey, light meat, skinless||108-161||0.5-3.7||5-23|
|Turkey, dark meat, skinless||111-192||2.7-7.8||24-41|
|Yogurt, plain, low-fat||63||1.5||24|
|Yogurt, plain, nonfat (skim)||56||0.2||4|
|RAW MEATY BONES|
|Chicken necks, skinless||118-164
|Turkey necks, skinless||116-135
|Rabbit, whole w/bone, skinless||125||5.8||46|
|Cod (fresh or canned)||82-105||0.6-0.9||7-9|
|Pink salmon, canned||136-139||4.8-6.1||35-44|
|Jack mackerel, canned, drained||156||6.3||40|
|Sardines, packed in water||94-200||3.8-12.6||40-63|
|GRAINS AND STARCHY FOODS|
|Egg Noodles, cooked||138||2.1||15|
|Rice, white, cooked||123-130||0.2-0.4||2-3|
|Rice, brown, cooked||111-112||0.8-0.9||7-8|
|Sweet potato, cooked||76-90||0.1-0.2||1-2|
|Winter squash, cooked||27-56||0.1-0.6||2-13|
If you feed the same amount of two or more foods, just add the values together before doing the calculation. For example: if you feed half Innova Low Fat Adult (7.9% fat, 3,340 kcal/kg) and half Innova Senior Plus (10.2% fat, 3,491 kcal/kg) add the values for each together:
7.9 + 10.2 = 18.1 grams of fat
3,340 + 3,491 = 6,831 kcal
18.1 ÷ 6,831 x 10,000 = 26 GFK
What if you feed different amounts of two different foods? Say you feed 3 ounces of canned Blue Buffalo Chicken Dinner (4.0% fat, 1,213 kcal/kg) plus 1 ounce of dry Blue Buffalo Weight Control Chicken & Brown Rice Recipe (6.0% fat, 3,100 kcal/kg); that’s a ratio of 3:1. To do the calculations, multiple each canned value by 3 and add them to the values for the dry food:
3 x 4.0 = 12.0 + 6.0 = 18.0 grams of fat
3 x 1,213 = 3,639 + 3,100 = 6,739 kcal
18.0 ÷ 6,739 x 10,000 = 27 GFK
If you know the kcal/oz of a canned food, you’ll need to convert that to kcal/kg in order to compute the GFK of a combination of foods. To do so, divide the number of calories per can by the number of ounces in the can, then multiply by 35. For example, if a food has 360 kcal per 12 oz can, 360 ÷ 12 x 35 = 1,050 kcal/kg.
If you know the kcal/lb of any food, again you’ll need to convert that to kcal/kg in order to compute the GFK of a combination of foods. To do so, multiply the kcal/lb by 2.2. For example, if a food has 1,200 kcal/lb, 1,200 * 2.2 = 2,640 kcal/kg.
Things get a little trickier when you combine fresh foods with commercial foods. To calculate the GFK in a combination of a commercial food and fresh foods, convert both to amounts per 100 kcal.
To convert kcal/kg (which is how the information is usually given for commercial foods) to kcal/100 grams, just divide by 10. Percentage of fat is the same as grams of fat per 100 grams, so no conversion is needed there. Use nutritiondata.com to get the grams of fat and kcal for 100 grams of any food or recipe (be sure to change the serving size to 100 grams).
If you feed half commercial food and half fresh food, just add the grams of fat per 100 grams of the fresh food to the percentage of fat in the commercial food, then divide by the combined total calories. Remember that calculations are based on weight, not volume.
For example, to calculate the GFK in a meal that is half Blue Buffalo Weight Control Chicken & Brown Rice and half broiled 95% lean ground beef (e.g., 4 ounces of each), add the values for the two together and use the same formula from above. Blue Buffalo has 6.0 grams of fat (6.0% fat) and 310 kcal (3,100 divided by 10) per 100 grams. The ground beef has 6.5 grams of fat and 171 kcal per 100 grams.
6.0 + 6.5 = 12.5 grams of fat
310 + 171 = 481 kcal
12.5 ÷ 481 x 1,000 = 26 GFK
This same formula will work no matter what combinations you use, as long as you adjust for weight ratios. For example, if you combine 4 ounces each of three different foods, you’re feeding the same amount of each food, so just add the grams of fat and kcal for all three foods together.
If you use more of one food than another, then multiply the grams of fat and kcal for that food by the appropriate factor. For example, if you use three times as much of one food as another, multiply the grams of fat and kcal for that food by 3 and add it to the numbers for the other food.
For example, Innova Senior Plus has 10.2 grams of fat (10.2% fat) and 349 kcal (3,491 divided by 10) per 100 grams. Low-fat cottage cheese has 1.0 grams of fat and 72 kcal per 100 grams. If you feed 6 oz Innova Senior Plus and 3 oz low-fat cottage cheese, you’re feeding twice as much of the Innova as the cottage cheese, so multiply those values by 2 and combine them with the values for the cottage cheese:
10.2 x 2 = 20.4 + 1.0 = 21.4 grams of fat
349 x 2 = 698 + 72 = 770 kcal
21.4 ÷ 770 x 1,000 = 28 GFK
You can use the same formula for combining the values for raw meaty bones with other fresh foods, since Nutrition Data doesn’t have information on RMBs. Enter your recipe for all the foods except the RMBs into nutritiondata.com and get the grams of fat and kcal for 100 grams of that recipe; again, make sure to change the serving size to 100 grams. Then combine it proportionately with the values from the table above for RMBs.
Example: Suppose you want to calculate the amount of fat in a meal that is 8 ounces macaroni + 4 ounces raw skinless dark meat chicken + 4 ounces skinless chicken necks. Nutrition Data says that 100 grams of a recipe that includes 8 ounces cooked macaroni and 4 ounces raw dark meat only (no skin) chicken has 2.1 grams of fat and 147 kcal. There will be three times as much of this combination (12 ounces) as of chicken necks (4 ounces), so multiply those numbers by 3, and add them to the values per 100 grams for the chicken necks from the table above (7.5 grams of fat, 141 kcal per 100 grams average):
2.1 x 3 = 6.3 + 7.5 = 13.8 grams of fat
147 x 3 = 441 + 141 = 582 kcal
13.8 ÷ 582 x 1,000 = 24 GFK
Once you get a feel for the diet you’re feeding, there will be no need to continue to do the calculations. You’ll know about how much egg you can add, for example, without increasing fat too much – or you’ll know that you can add more egg when feeding a particularly low-fat meal.
Remember that when we talk about a meal being half one thing and half another, we are talking about weight, not volume. A cup of dehydrated food will weigh less than a cup of ground beef, for example, so use the weight to do your calculations. It’s easy to weigh the food you feed using an inexpensive kitchen or postage scale.
Example: The Honest Kitchen Preference has 5.0 grams of fat/100 grams (5.0% fat) and 351 kcal/100 grams (3,510 divided by 10). Broiled 95% lean ground beef has 6.5 grams of fat and 171 kcal per 100 grams. If a cup of Preference weighs 3 oz, and a cup of ground beef weighs 4.5 ounces, to calculate the GFK in a meal that is one cup Preference and one cup ground beef, multiply the values per 100 grams for Preference by 3, and the values per 100 grams for the ground beef by 4.5, and add them together:
5.0 x 3 = 15; 6.5 x 4.5 = 29.25; 15 + 29.25 = 44.25 grams of fat
351 x 3 = 1,053; 171 x 4.5 = 770; 1,053 + 770 = 1,823 kcal
44.25 ÷ 1,823 x 1,000 = 24 GFK
Here is a sample recipe that could be used for dogs who require a low-fat diet. This recipe has 25 grams of fat per 1,000 calories. Unless otherwise noted, meat and eggs can be fed raw or cooked. Rice, oatmeal, and sweet potatoes must be cooked. Other vegetables should be either cooked or pureed in a food processor, blender, or juicer.
- 1 pound (450 grams) raw dark meat chicken, skin and separable fat removed (feed cooked or raw)
- 1 pound (450 grams) raw ground turkey, 7% fat (feed cooked or raw)
- 4 ounces (100 grams) raw lean ground beef, boiled to remove most fat
- 2 ounces (50 grams) beef liver
- 2 large eggs
- 7 small sardines packed in water (about 12 grams or 1/2 ounce each, total 84 grams/3 ounces)
- 4 cups cooked brown rice
- 4 cups cooked oatmeal
- 32 ounces (900 grams) cooked sweet potato
- 8 ounces (1 cup) low-fat plain yogurt
- 8 ounces (1 cup) low-fat cottage cheese
- 12 ounces (350 grams) vegetables, such as broccoli, carrots, and peas (amount can vary)
- 7 ounces (200 grams, 2 small) banana, 4 ounces (100 grams) blueberries (or other fruits, such as apple, melon, and other berries; avoid grapes and raisins, which can cause kidney failure in dogs)
Nutritional Analysis (more details available at NutritionData):
- 4975 grams (175 ounces, 11 pounds)
- 4781 calories
- 346 grams protein (32% dry matter, 30% of calories from protein)
- 118 grams fat (11% dry matter, 22% of calories from fat, 25 grams of fat per 1,000 calories)
- 593 grams carbohydrates (55% dry matter, 48% of calories from carbohydrates)
- 6.8% dietary fiber
- 5,082 mg phosphorus (106 mg/100 calories, 0.47% DM, suitable for dogs with early-stage kidney disease)
- This recipe includes both chicken and turkey, so if you prefer to make separate batches, divide the amounts of everything else in half. Or you could use yogurt in one batch and cottage cheese in another, for example.
- You can mix and match various low-calorie vegetables as you want.
- It's OK to substitute chicken or turkey liver for beef liver no more than half the time.
- You can substitute chicken breast for dark meat chicken, but if so, leave on half the skin for comparable amounts of fat.
- It's OK to use skinless chicken breast or ground turkey with just 1% fat for dogs who need even less fat in their diets.
- If you leave out any of the ingredients in the recipe, additional supplementation may be needed. For example:
- If you don't feed fish, you will need to give cod liver oil for vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids, and kelp for iodine. Give an amount of cod liver oil that provides about 100 IU vitamin D per 25 pounds of body weight daily. See below for iodine supplementation.
- If you don't feed dairy products, you should increase the amount of calcium added by about 15% and may also need to supplement with kelp for iodine (see below).
- If you don't feed poultry, you may need to provide omega-6 fatty acids from plant oils.
- If you don't feed liver, the diet will be short on some minerals and B vitamins, including choline.
- Omitting eggs will leave the diet short on choline with a little less fat.
- Other nutrients may also be short if any foods are left out.
Amount to feed: See below for estimated amounts to feed adult dogs. The lower amounts are for senior, overweight, and less active dogs, while the higher amounts are for younger, more active dogs. Caloric needs can vary considerably between individual dogs, so always watch your dog's weight and adjust the amount fed as needed to keep your dog lean. If you find you are feeding less than the low amount shown below, you may need to add additional supplements to make sure your dog's nutritional needs are met.
- 5 pounds: feed 6.5 to 9 ounces (180 to 250 grams) daily (recipe will last 20 to 27 days)
- 10 pounds: feed 11 to 15 ounces (300 to 420 grams) daily (recipe will last 12 to 16 days)
- 20 pounds: feed 18 to 25 ounces (520 to 700 grams) daily (recipe will last 7 to 10 days)
- 30 pounds: feed 25 to 34 ounces (700 to 960 grams) daily (recipe will last 5 to 7 days)
- 40 pounds: feed 31 to 42 ounces (870 to 1200 grams) daily (recipe will last 4 to 6 days)
- 50 pounds: feed 36 to 50 ounces (1030 to 1400 grams) daily (recipe will last 3.5 to 5 days)
- 60 pounds: feed 42 to 57 ounces (1180 to 1600 grams) daily (recipe will last 3 to 4 days)
- 70 pounds: feed 47 to 64 ounces (1320 to 1800 grams) daily (recipe will last 2.8 to 3.8 days)
- 80 pounds: feed 52 to 70 ounces (1460 to 2000 grams) daily (recipe will last 2.5 to 3.4 days)
- 90 pounds: feed 56 to 77 ounces (1600 to 2200 grams) daily (recipe will last 2.3 to 3.1 days)
- 100 pounds: feed 61 to 84 ounces (1730 to 2370 grams) daily (recipe will last 2 to 3 days)
- 120 pounds: feed 70 to 96 ounces (1980 to 2700 grams) daily (recipe will last 1.8 to 2.5 days)
- 140 pounds: feed 79 to 107 ounces (2230 to 3000 grams) daily (recipe will last 1.6 to 2.2 days)
- Calcium: add 5,000 mg calcium to the entire recipe, or 450-500 mg per pound of food, or 30 mg per ounce. Calcium must be mixed in thoroughly so that the same amount will be given with each meal, or it may be easier to divide up the amount and add at mealtime. You can use any form of plain calcium, including eggshells that have been ground to powder in a clean coffee grinder or blender (1/2 teaspoon eggshell powder provides about 1,000 mg calcium).
- Vitamin E: Give 1 to 2 IUs per pound of body weight daily (or can give more less often)
- Solgar Liquid Vitamin E: with mixed tocopherols (ideal): 20 IUs per drop
- Now Foods Vitamin E Liquid: 15 IUs per drop, also available in 1 oz size
- Iodine: (optional) It is hard to know how much iodine is in a homemade diet. This supplement may not be necessary since the recipe includes saltwater fish and yogurt (fish is very high in iodine and yogurt is somewhat high). Give no more than 100 mcg daily for a 10-pound dog, 180 mcg for a 25-pound dog, 300 mcg for a 50-pound dog, or 500 mcg for a 100-pound dog daily. Sample products:
This diet would meet most nutritional requirements. Compared to NRC guidelines, it's a little short on zinc (7 to 9.5 mg compared to 14 mg for a 30-lb dog), selenium (49 to 67 mcg compared to 84 mcg), possibly iodine (unknown, compared to 210 mcg), choline (213 to 291 mg when amounts for poultry are included, compared to 397 mg), and vitamin D (32 to 44 IU compared to 128 IU), but I think these would be OK without having to add additional supplements. Feeding more beef in place of some of the chicken or turkey would increase zinc and selenium, but it's hard to know for sure how much fat is left in ground beef after it is boiled, and it's important that the meat be quite lean (less than 5% fat).
Balance IT Canine, 888-346-6362
Furoshnikov's Formulas Vitamins & Minerals for Home-Cooked Dog Food, 612-388-2315
See Spot Live Longer Homemade Dinner Mixes, (541) 685-0538
K9 Raw Diet, 818-888-6983, sells Himalayan dog chews and Lucky Buck deer antlers
Pill Pockets, made by Greenies, 1-866-GREENIES
Guaranteed Analysis Converter for calculating percentage of calories from fat.
For more information on homemade diets, see this series of articles:
Have Dinner In An introduction to home-prepared diets, including information about adding fresh foods to a commercial diet, and using dog food pre-mixes.
A Raw Deal Home-prepared raw diets that include bones that are consumed.
Now We’re Cooking! Home-prepared cooked diets, and those that use raw meat but no bones.
Reality Cooks Owners share their home-cooked diet recipes and strategies.
Keeping It Raw Owners share their home-prepared raw diet recipes and strategies.
A Homemade Diet Stew A medley of new products, updates, and answers to your FAQs.
The role of nutrition in the pathogenesis and the management of exocrine pancreatic disorders Canine Pancreatitis, Kenneth W. SIMPSON, BVM&S, PhD, MRCVS, Dipl ACVIM, Dipl ECVIM-CA, Encyclopedia of Canine Clinical Nutrition
Canine hyperlipidemia: causes and nutritional management, Patricia SCHENCK
DVM, PhD, Encyclopedia of Canine Clinical Nutrition
Small Animal Clinical Nutrition
by Hand, Thatcher, Remillard and Roudebush
If you have any questions or comments, you can contact me, but I have less time to answer questions than I used to, and it may be several days to a week before I can respond. My name is Mary Straus and you can email me at either or