Fats, in general, and saturated fats in particular, have been gaining a bad reputation over the past few decades, ever since people have started to consider them unhealthy.
But both of these fats are available naturally in lots of foods (especially fresh, uncooked ones), and moderate amounts of both can provide us and our pets with several benefits. Are saturated fats bad for dogs? Do they risk putting their health in danger? Read on to find out the answers!
Types of saturated fats
First of all, saturated fats are not all created equal. Without going into any complex chemistry, the length of the chain of fats makes the difference between one category and the next.
For example, there are long-chain triglycerides, but there are also medium and short-chain fats. The length of the chain, as well as the specific characteristics of each type of fat, is what influences the effects they have on pet health.
To give you a few examples, butter, beef, and most animal fats are long-chain fatty acids. By comparison, coconut oil and other natural sources (including the very controversial palm oil) are medium-chain fats.
Long-chain fats take a while to digest, and they also have less positive effects on a pet’s health. They have a higher likelihood of turning into that fat that leads to deposits on arteries or organs, which increases the risk of obesity, cardiovascular health conditions, as well as diabetes.
Medium-chain fats are much easier to digest and are quickly processed by the liver, which means that they are effectively turned into energy.
Finally, short-chain saturated fats are generally produced by your dog’s body when they eat fiber-rich foods such as some types of vegetables, pumpkin, sweet potatoes, and even lentils. This type of fat makes it possible for natural probiotics to reproduce inside your pet’s gut, which positively influences their entire immune system activity.
Bad saturated fats vs. good saturated fats for dogs
A conclusion that we can draw from the first section of this article is that most animal saturated fat is bad.
And while that might be true to some extent, it’s also true that your dog needs other nutrients from animal-based products, particularly protein and several vitamins and minerals that they might otherwise not get from other types of food.
Another aspect that we have to note in this case is that while chemically, there are better and worse fats for your dog, they also change their composition and effects on your pet’s body when they are cooked.
For example, if your dog tends to get constipated now and then and they are otherwise completely healthy, it may be helpful for you to give them a teaspoon or even a tablespoon of yogurt or even a teaspoon of coconut oil.
However, if you tend to eat deep-fried chicken or pork or veal schnitzels, and your dog is a huge aficionado of these foods, that does not mean that they are healthy for them.
Not all animal-based fatty acids are bad, either. For example, CLA, conjugated linoleic acid, is found only in dairy and grass-fed beef, and it has been found to lower the risk of cancer and diabetes.
Most nuts and seeds are low in saturated fats and rich in unsaturated fats, the second of which are mostly healthy. Nuts and seeds are also rich in vitamin E, some minerals like selenium and magnesium, and omega-3 fatty acids, which are great for your dog’s brain and cardiovascular system.
Your dog needs saturated fats
Regardless of the length of the chain, your canine friend actually needs some saturated fats in order for their body to function properly. These nutrients are involved in many processes, from keeping your pet’s joints well-lubed to ensuring that they have enough energy and calories every day.
A dog’s brain cannot function without fats, so if you’re thinking of putting your pooch on a low or worse, zero-fat diet in order to get them to lose weight, think again.
Chances are that your pet’s diet already supplies them with the right amount of fat that they should get. On the other hand, not all of them are healthy.
As you probably know if you have been a dog parent for several years, pet food manufacturers these days use a lot of meat by-products, including fatty tissue, hoofs, heads, and lots of other such sources in making their recipes.
They also add things like flaxseed or soybean oil to their kibble in order to get to the right percentage of fat that it should contain – but these are not the healthiest sources.
Dogs and cats are actually known for being unable to convert ALA, an omega-3 fatty acid that is indeed found in both soybean and flaxseed oil, into actual usable forms of the fatty acid, meaning DHA and EPA. So, besides increasing the number of calories and supplying your dog with enough energy, these fats don’t do anything in particular for them health-wise.
Although it might not seem so, small amounts of healthy saturated and unsaturated fats do exist in the unlikeliest of foods, such as fruit and veggies. Moreover, some fruits, especially berries and pomegranate, for example, also contain powerful antioxidants, which can effectively prevent your dog from getting sick down the line.
Arterial disease, saturated fats, and cholesterol in dogs
A high-fat diet is definitely not healthy for dogs primarily because it increases the risk of obesity and it also increases their cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
But medium levels of cholesterol aren’t as dangerous to dogs as they are for people. In fact, dogs are more likely to experience bad health consequences when their triglyceride levels go through the roof – not cholesterol.
There are also not enough studies that can support the theory according to which saturated fats can increase the risk of arterial disease in this species. Dogs’ bodies just don’t function the way human bodies do.
Of course, too much fat can undoubtedly put a pet’s health and sometimes even life at risk, but not all saturated fats are bad, and low and moderate amounts can, in fact, be healthy.
Differences in Metabolic Profiles of Healthy Dogs Fed a High-Fat vs. a High-Starch Diet, Yang Lyu et al, 2022: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8891928/
Influence of dietary antioxidants and fatty acids on neutrophil mediated bacterial killing and gene expression in healthy Beagles, Jean A. Hall et al, 2011: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21112644/