5 min read

How Much Fat Does My Dog Need?


By Aurus Sy

Published: 03/01/2021, edited: 07/27/2023

Reviewed by a licensed veterinary professional: Dr. Linda Simon, MVB MRCVS

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Our canine companions depend on us for everything, from food and shelter to exercise and veterinary care. When it comes to food, most dogs will happily eat just about anything you put in their bowl. It’s up to us pet parents, however, to make sure that they’re eating as they should. After all, nutrition plays a huge role in our pups’ health and well-being.

Dogs require six basic nutrients as part of their regular diet. These are water, protein, carbohydrates, fat, vitamins, and minerals. Of these six, fat is probably the most misunderstood. The word “fat” tends to have a negative connotation, but it’s important to remember that fat is a macronutrient that’s vital to your dog’s health. 

In this guide, we’ll take a look at why your furry friend needs fat, how much of it they need, and more. Let’s dive in!

brown Labrador Retreiver dog looking at a plate of fruits and veggies and a plate of chicken

Do dogs need fat in their diet?

As you likely already know, the answer is yes. But why does your dog need dietary fat? Fat is an essential nutrient that plays several important roles in the body, including:

  • Providing energy
  • Supporting the growth of cells, muscles, tissues, and nerves
  • Aiding in the absorption of other nutrients
  • Maintaining healthy skin and coat
  • Transporting fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, and K)
  • Supporting the nervous system, liver, and hormone function
  • Protecting vital organs from trauma
  • Helping regulate body temperature 
  • Hormone production

In other words, fat helps keep your dog’s body functioning properly and gives them the energy they need to do their favorite things, such as going on walks and playing fetch!

collection of raw meats, eggs, cheeses and milk

How much fat do dogs need?

Answer: It depends, but the NRC recommends a minimum of 5.5% of the diet. Low fat diets (diets containing 5-10% fat) are advised for those who need to restrict their fat intake due to medical issues such as pancreatitis. Most adult dogs will eat a diet containing about 10-15% fat.

How much fat your dog needs will depend on several factors, including their life stage, activity level, size, breed, and any existing health conditions. Growing puppies, adult working dogs, canine athletes, pregnant or nursing dogs, and underweight dogs will generally need more dietary fat than sedentary house dogs, overweight dogs, and dogs with certain health conditions such as pancreatitis.

According to the National Research Council (NRC), a minimum of 5.5% of an adult dog’s diet should come from fats. The daily recommended allowances for total fat are: 

  • 21 grams for puppies (weighing 12 pounds, 33 pounds at maturity)
  • 14 grams for adult dogs (weighing 33 pounds)
  • 29 grams and 67 grams for pregnant and nursing dogs, respectively (weighing 33 pounds with 6 puppies)

Dog food labels generally do not list amounts of essential nutrients in grams but list the minimum percentages of crude fat. The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) recommends the fat content of dry dog food to be at least 5.5% for adults and 8.5% for puppies and pregnant or nursing dogs. 

To convert the crude fat percentage to grams, simply multiply it by the weight of your dog’s daily portion. For example, if your dog eats 200 grams of dry food per day and the food contains 10% crude fat, then that works out to 20 grams of fat per day.

If you have specific questions about your dog’s fat requirements, it’s always a good idea to talk to your veterinarian.

coconut halves next to coconut oil

Healthy sources of fat for dogs

Now that you know why fat is essential to your dog’s health, what are healthy fats that you’ll want to include in your four-legged friend’s diet? Healthy sources of fat for dogs include:

  • Beef
  • Pork
  • Lamb 
  • Poultry
  • Eggs
  • Fish and fish oils (salmon, herring, cod liver)
  • Krill oil
  • Plant oils (coconut, safflower, sunflower, flaxseed, hemp seed)
  • Algae oil 

Note that not all fats are created equal; low-quality fats such as lard should be avoided.

small white and brown puppy being examined by veterinarian

Health risks associated with excess fat intake in dogs

While fat has many important roles in the body, too much of anything is bad, and too much dietary fat can cause health issues in dogs. What are some of the health risks associated with too much fat in the diet?


Pancreatitis is the inflammation of the pancreas. While its exact cause is unknown, it can be triggered by a fatty meal in some cases. Signs include vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, and decreased appetite. During an attack, a dog may take a “praying position” with their head and front legs on the floor and their rear end in the air. A low-fat, highly digestible diet is usually given during recovery. 

Weight gain

Fats have more than twice as many calories as protein and carbohydrates. Fats contain 9 calories per gram, while proteins and carbohydrates have 4 calories per gram. Because fat is so dense in calories, a dog doesn’t have to eat too much fat to consume too many calories, which can lead to weight gain. Obesity not only reduces a dog’s life expectancy but also increases the risk of several diseases and decreases a dog's quality of life.

Mammary tumors

A mammary tumor is a tumor of the mammary tissue. Mammary tumors can be benign or malignant and are more common in intact female dogs than spayed female dogs. Male dogs are rarely affected by this disease. The exact causes are not fully understood; however, dogs who are fed a high-fat diet or are overweight have an increased risk of developing mammary tumors. 


Hyperlipidemia refers to increased levels of lipids (fats) in the bloodstream. It can be primary or secondary to other diseases, and there are several possible causes, including consuming a high-fat diet. In cases with no underlying cause, switching to a low-fat, high-fiber diet may be the only treatment needed.

woman researching on laptop with puppy

Tips for monitoring your dog’s fat intake

Here are some tips for ensuring your dog is getting adequate amounts of fat in their diet.

Research your dog’s breed

Aside from their lifestyle, it’s a good idea to consider your dog’s breed when determining their ideal fat intake. Nutritionists and veterinary researchers have found that different breeds have different metabolic and nutritional requirements. 

Read dog food labels

Taking the time to read dog food labels will greatly benefit your dog. By looking at the guaranteed analysis and ingredients list, you can determine how much fat a food contains and if it comes from high-quality sources. 

Keep a food journal

It’s easy to overfeed or underfeed your dog if you’re not paying attention—treats add up, or your pup skips meals. By keeping a food journal, you can track the portions and frequency of their meals, plus any treats or table scraps that may otherwise slip under the radar. 

Consult your vet 

When in doubt, speak to your veterinarian. They can help you determine how many calories your dog should eat daily and how much of it should come from fats based on their lifestyle, body condition score, and other factors.

Yorkshire Terrier dog eating kibble

Fat intake for dogs: Recap

  • Fat is an essential nutrient that plays many important roles in your dog’s body, including providing energy and transporting fat-soluble vitamins.
  • Fat should make up at least 5.5% of an adult dog’s daily diet. The exact amount will depend on various factors such as age and activity level. 
  • Healthy sources of fat for dogs include animal fats and plant oils. 
  • Too little or too much fat is unhealthy. Excess fat intake can lead to health issues like pancreatitis.
  • Consult your vet and monitor your dog’s fat intake to make sure they’re getting the right amounts.

Got more questions about your dog's diet? Chat with a veterinary professional today to get the lowdown on their fat intake, nutrition and more!

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