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By Steve Brown, Animal Nutritionist and Author

The famous saying “you are what you eat” doesn’t just apply to people; it applies to our pets, especially when it comes to the amount of fat in their diet. Fats are often the least understood aspect of canine diets and therefore few dogs are fed a proper balance of fats.

Fats are actually a broad category of nutrients, in the same way that minerals and vitamins are. To be at their best now and as they age, your dog needs to consume the proper balance and quantity of each kind of fat, just like they needs to eat the proper amounts and balance of many minerals and vitamins.

Why Balanced Fats Are Critical to a Dog’s Health

The balance of fats that a dog consumes has a profound influence on the dog’s cell membranes, those semi-permeable layers that allow cells to receive nutrients and eliminate wastes. Because every cell in the body has a cell membrane made mostly of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids, consuming the proper amounts of omega-6s and -3s has the potential to affect every organ system in the body.

A good dietary omega-6/-3 balance makes the cell membranes fluid, permeable, flexible and healthy. On the other hand, too much omega-6 (from chicken fat, corn oil, safflower oil, soy oil, canola oil, etc), makes the cell membranes, including those in the brain, brittle, sluggish and inefficient, so that the dog thinks and moves a little slower. Likewise, too much of an omega-3 fatty acid called DHA in the diet can make the cell membranes prone to oxidation, which leads to premature aging.

The fats that a dog consumes affect every cell in their body, especially the cells in their brain and eyes. The consumption of balanced fats is especially important to fetuses and puppies; for example, consumption of proper fats (and the avoidance of rancid fats) when young can reduce the incidence of eye problems when dogs are old.

Four easy steps to assure your dog gets the right balance of fats:

Fortunately, improving the balance and types of fat that your dog eats is easy, and it’s the best thing you can do to improve the chances that your dog lives a long, healthy, happy life. Here are four ways you can make sure your dog is eating correctly:

1. Feed Lean Meats

Serve those products that have less than 45 kcal/oz, otherwise the product has too much fat and the fats can’t be balanced.

2. Rotate Poultry (Chicken, Turkey, Duck) with Ruminant Meats (Beef, Bison)

Poultry is high in polyunsaturated fats, and the ruminants are often high in saturated fats. Rotating, on a daily or weekly basis, provides an excellent balance of fats.

3. Add Some Fresh Sardines Weekly

Sardines provide two important fats, EPA and DHA, but both are very fragile (go rancid quickly). Some people use fish oils, but I think sardines are superior because they provide DHA in absorbable, well-protected forms. DHA should not be exposed to air at room temperature. I recommend feeding sardines in water (not soy oil) with no salt added. For small dogs, feed one can every other week; medium-sized dogs 1 can per week; and large dogs 2 cans per week.

4. Avoid Feeding Rancid Fats

Rancid fats can be contributing factors to many diseases. Rancid fats are often found in dry foods or when some important fats, such as those from fish, are exposed to air. The best way to avoid rancid fats is to buy fresh foods: raw products that are less than three months old, and, if you must feed dry foods, choose freshly-made foods without added fish oil or DHA, the most fragile of all the fats.

Feeding your dog a proper balance of fats (including avoiding rancid fats) will help your dog live a happier, smarter, healthier and longer life.

(This is a short summary of several chapters on how to best balance fats from Steve’s book, Unlocking the Canine Ancestral Diet, Healthier Dog Food the ABC Way, Dogwise Publishing, 2009)

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