Looking for Lower-Fat Dog Food for Overweight Dogs

If you're looking for the best dog food for overweight dogs, use the WDJ Approved Dry Dog Food Database to find food with lower fat content.

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I’ve written a few times lately about how excited I am to be able to search for dog foods with certain attributes using WDJ’s new searchable database of dry dog foods. Here’s a great and timely application for this tool, given the high rate of canine obesity these days: looking for lower-fat diets.

Before I talk about how to use the search tool for this purpose, though, let’s talk about terms. I find that most dog owners not only don’t know what level of fat dog foods generally contain; they don’t even know how much fat is in the foods they are feeding to their own dogs. This is especially true of people feeding grain-free dog foods, which are often higher in fat than grain-containing foods.

The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) Dog Food Nutrient Profiles define the standards of what passes for “complete and balanced” nutrition for dogs. The legal minimum amount of fat for “adult maintenance” is 5.5% on a dry matter (DM) basis and 8.5% DM for “growth and reproduction” (puppies, but also “all life stages,” which includes puppies).

SUBSCRIBERS ONLY: Whole Dog Journal’s 2022 Approved Dry Dog Foods

The Profiles use “dry matter” so that foods of varying moisture levels can be compared head to head. It’s not such a big deal when you are comparing a food with 10% moisture to one with 8% moisture, but’s it’s a very big deal when you are comparing a 10%-moisture dry kibble to an 80%-moisture canned food. For those of you who are really dog-food nuts, I’ll put a little discussion of how to convert “as fed” percentages to “dry matter” at the bottom, so you can appreciate the difference for yourself! But for the purposes of a relatively math-free conversation, understand that when a dry food containing 10% moisture is 10% fat as fed, it has 11% fat on a dry matter basis – the number isn’t that different in a low-moisture food.

A rule of thumb for most pet dogs is that food should contain protein levels that are about twice the levels of fat. Foods that contain more fat than protein should be avoided – especially for individuals and breeds that are subject to pancreatitis.

Again, 8.5% fat DM is the legal minimum amount of fat for dogs of all life stages, and 5.5% DM is the legal minimum amount of fat for adult maintenance.

Looking at the searchable database of WDJ’s “Approved Dry Dog Foods,” I can see the range of fat values by clicking on the top of the “% fat content” column. The foods on our list range from 6% to 33%. That’s QUITE a range. If you weren’t paying attention to the fat content on the label when you switched foods, and you fed the same amount of food, your dog could either balloon or drop a ton of weight, and you’d be wondering what the heck?! You have to pay attention to the amount of fat in your dog’s food! You should know what amount is in the food you are feeding right now, by heart!

And if you are having trouble keeping weight off your dog, by all means, look for a dog food that contains less fat. One way you can do this is to search for foods that contain less fat than you are feeding now. You don’t have to go crazy and look at the very lowest-fat foods; try just doing a simple search for foods with less fat than you are feeding now! Currently, I am feeding my dogs a dry dog food that contains 10% fat. I could go to WDJ’s searchable database and do this search:

low fat dog food search

That search returned 84 foods. Now I’m going to refine it a bit. I’m not a fan of grain-free dog foods or those that contain peas; both of my dogs do fine with grain and I would prefer a food with only minor contributions of plant-based proteins. So I am going to refine my search like so:

search for low fat dog food

That’s better! Just 25 foods to choose from. And then I can click on the top of the “minimum fat content” column and sort the results, so they appear in either ascending or descending order of fat, so if I make a switch to one of these foods, I can look for one that’s just a little bit lower in fat to start.

If you haven’t been playing with the food database, you should! It’s a super helpful tool.

SUBSCRIBERS ONLY: Whole Dog Journal’s 2022 Approved Dry Dog Foods

To convert “as fed” to “dry matter”

The numbers that you see on food labels in the “guaranteed analysis” are expressed “as fed” – meaning, just as the food is in the bag or can. To convert to dry matter is not as hard as it might sound.

To calculate dry matter (DM) percentages, first determine the amount of dry matter by subtracting the percentage of moisture from 100. Then divide the “as fed” percentage by the amount of dry matter to get the dry matter percentage.

As an example, the dry food I’m feeding right now has 10% moisture and 10% fat. So the “dry matter content” is 90% of the food.

100 (of food) – 10 (% moisture) = 90 (% dry matter)

10 (as fed % fat) ÷ 90 (% dry matter) = 0.11

After moving the decimal, we can see that the food is 11% fat on a dry matter basis.

The process is the same when you want to see how much fat is in a canned food on a dry matter basis. Say I have canned dog food that is 78% moisture (which is average for a loaf-style canned food) and 3% fat. Is that a low-fat food? Not particularly.

100 (of food) – 78 (% moisture) = 22 (% dry matter)

3 (as fed % fat) ÷ 22 (% dry matter) = 0.13

After moving the decimal, we can see that the food is 13% fat on a dry matter basis.

Both of the sample foods I did the math on are ordinary, middle-of-the-road, all life stages diets.

9 COMMENTS

  1. This is very good info. I’ve been interested in dog nutrition since 1995, when I first had contact with a positive reinforcement trainer who said the first thing I needed to do with misbehaving adolescent dog was check/ change is food.
    Now, 25+ years later, I’ve continued to try and learn. Subscribed to WDJ in 1998 and often give subscriptions as Christmas gifts. Currently I have 2 17-18 lb Pom mixes and they eat frozen raw. It is difficult to find in depth info on frozen foods. I know you have recently done a few articles ( one I need to find now on fat in raw food) and I realize most dog families feed dry kibble ( as I did when my dogs were bigger), so they need more info. But I hope to see future reference articles concerning raw/ frozen products.
    Keep up the excellent work!

    • Good for you! Raw is best. I do raw, too. For my big dog, feeding her raw is more expensive than kibble but after doing some price comparing I realized I’d be spending the same amount on food if I fed my dog exclusively canned as I do feeding raw. So feeding raw isn’t really more expensive and my dog doesn’t never gets sick so we don’t have to go to the (dreaded) vet. Spending more on food = way less at the vet = ❤️🐶🐾😁

  2. Why not just feed your dog less food??? The amounts on a bag of food are just the starting point. If your dog gains weight feed less, if your dog is too thin feed more. It’s not rocket science.

    • If you feed less of a high-fat food, then you risk not providing your dog with all the nutrients it needs, especially for dogs who eat less than would be expected for their size. Better to feed a more appropriate diet so your dog gets more food and more nutrients.

    • I tried that and my GSD started trying to eat my other dogs poop! This was something I wasn’t expecting. I will be checking the fat content now. I didn’t realize grain free has more fat and that’s what she’s eating.

  3. Since 1990 my dogs have done very well on higher fat dry foods, like 14-18%. But then we are active. Never has a weight issue except some very elderly dogs, like 13 or 14 or 15 years old, needed more food to keep weight on.

  4. The REALLY overweight dog in the photo needs MORE excercise and LESS total calories per day, not just a “low fat” diet! That involves learning about dog food, measuring his/her food and monitoring weight loss,too! WE (humans) determine pretty much everything that our dogs eat. Don’t you owe a long and HEALTHY life to them?

    • Agree. He prob needs a change of food too. I bet his current food is high in carbs and fillers which will cause weight gain as much as a lack of physical activity will.

  5. I would consult with a nutritionist. They are hard to find but there are certified vet nutritionists. My understanding is that most dogs need a moderate amount of fat in their diet. Hard working dogs (ie, cattle or sheep workers) need even more. Again, a certified vet nutritionist should be consulted. I imagine they do virtual consults for a fee.

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