Tips for Choosing Commercial Raw Dog Food, Part 2: Protein to Fat Ratio
How many of you find that choosing raw dog food is not the easiest job ever? The raw dog food market has grown substantially over the last few years and there are more choices than ever.
I'm happy that more pet parents are choosing fresh food diets for their dogs, however, I'm concerned about a widespread lack of detailed nutritional information available for commercial raw dog food; the type of information that would make it easy for pet parents to figure out if the food will meet their dog's requirements. As I've mentioned before, anyone can mix together whatever kind of meat and call it 'raw dog food'. Just because dog food is raw doesn't automatically mean it has all the nutrients (calcium, magnesium, zinc, iron, copper, B vitamins, etc.) your dog needs.
It is critical for pet parents to ensure that their dog's diet is nutritionally complete. In many cases commercial raw dog food will need additional components to meet overall nutrient requirements. But we need to know the nutrient composition of the food so that we know what needs to be added.
In my article, Tips for Choosing Commercial Raw Dog Food, I share some general guidelines to help pet parents choose raw dog food when nutritional information is scarce. One of my rules of thumb is to choose food that has a protein to fat ratio where the % of protein is approximately double the % fat* (as fed). Let's take a closer look at why that ratio is important.
Dietary fat is an essential requirement and it performs a number of very important jobs in the body. It also makes food taste better and creates a feeling of satiety. There is a wide range for how much fat can be included in the diet and the amount depends on many factors including health conditions and the individual dog's tolerance. Dietary fat also provides the essential fatty acids, omega-3 and omega-6. While we shouldn't be afraid of dietary fat - dogs need fat - we have to be aware of its impact on the levels of nutrients in the diet.
Fat and Protein Math
Your fully grown dog can only eat a certain number of calories or she will gain weight. At the same time, she also has a long list of nutrient requirements (amino acids, vitamins, minerals, fatty acids).
With fresh food, protein and carbohydrate supply 4 calories each, per gram; whereas 1 gram of fat provides 9 calories. For example, food that has 30 grams of fat will provide 270 calories (30 x 9), while 30 grams of protein, will provide 120 calories (30 x 4).
If the number of grams of fat in the food is close to the number of grams of protein, then many more calories in the food will come from fat.
One of the exercises in my Canine Diet Formulation course was to formulate diets and practice raising and lowering the fat content using different types of meat, and then analyze the difference in nutrients levels.
Have a look at the differences between 70/30 ground beef and 90/10 ground beef. I've selected only a few nutrients for comparison. Source: nutritiondata.com
Notice that the higher fat meat (70/30) contains more calories, less grams of protein and fewer nutrients (iron, zinc, potassium, niacin) than the lower fat meat (90/10).
If a dog gets the bulk of her calories from fat she could possibly end up with a diet that supplies enough calories, but is deficient in nutrients.
We must not underestimate the impact that chronic low levels of nutrients can have on a dog's entire body, including his immune system.
If you find commercial raw dog food that does not come a guarantee of nutritional adequacy, or if the nutritional analysis is incomplete or difficult to interpret, the protein to fat ratio is one guideline you can fall back on. Also keep in mind that different products within the same brand will have different levels of fat, protein, calories, nutrients, etc.
It's a bit of a tricky concept, but one I hope will be helpful as you make food and nutrition choices for your dog.
* Important! These tips are intended to help pet parents choose commercial raw food for their dogs where there is limited or absent nutritional information, or information that has not been provided based on1000 kcal. These are general guidelines and not an assurance that the food will be nutritionally complete.
If your dog's diet is formulated by a canine nutrition professional, dietary fat may be higher or lower depending on your dog's health, tolerance for fat, and nutrient goals.
This article is for information and education purposes. Every dog is unique and may have specific dietary requirements. Please consult your veterinarian if you have a health concern about your dog.