Why Raw Dog Foods Typically Contain More Fat Than What’s on the Label

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The Dog Food Advisor uses a practical method for estimating the carbohydrate content of dry foods. I use the same formulas in my books.
Fat Gauge

Yet this technique doesn’t work as well for raw dog foods because some manufacturers significantly understate the fat content of their products.

I’ve sent many raw products to testing laboratories — and have found some egregious examples of mislabeling the fat content.

For example, one of the more popular brands lists 8% fat — as a minimum. Yet it actually contains 18% fat (as fed basis). That’s because pet food regulators require fat content to be listed as a minimum — not the actual amount found in the food.

Most people feeding raw are trying to mimic the ancestral diet of dogs, which was a high protein, moderate fat, low carbohydrate diet. Yet not all raw diets properly duplicate this design.

Some raw dog foods contain much higher fat — 75% of calories from fat compared to just 44% for the ancestral diet. And these same recipes can include much lower protein content — just 25% of calories versus 50% for the ancestral diet.

To mimic an ancestral diet, the actual dry matter fat content of a raw dog food should be less than ¾ the protein content — and preferably closer to ½.

How to Estimate the Fat and Carbohydrate
Content of a Raw Dog Food

Here’s an easy way to estimate the probable fat and carbohydrate content of those raw diets that include meat, bone, vegetables and a nutrient mix.

First, visit the Dog Food Advisor’s review of the product and note the estimated carbohydrate content shown in the gauge at the top of the yellow dashboard.

If the carb content is notably greater than the values listed below, you should suspect significantly more fat than what’s reported on the label. And you’ll need to do some basic math to estimate the more likely fat content.

For a more realistic nutrient profile, simply subtract the difference between the figures in the chart below (+3%) and the carbohydrate amount listed on the carb gauge.

I suggest adding 3% because numbers are often rounded — and most manufacturers typically understate protein and overstate moisture and fiber on their labels.

For typical (meat, bone and vegetable) raw dog foods, here’s an estimate of the dry matter carbohydrate content. Use the higher values if yams or sweet potatoes are included.

  • 95% meat: 1 to 2%
  • 90% meat: 1.5 to 4%
  • 80% meat: 4 to 8%
  • 70% meat: 8 to 14%

Some Typical Examples

Let’s look at two raw dog foods…

With Darwin’s Natural Selection (please note I’m a consultant for Darwin’s and helped in the formulation of this food) the dashboard estimates carb content at 18%.

This figure overstates my projection by just 4%, close to the 14% actual carb content (as the food contains yams).

However, for Nature’s Variety 95% meat product, the dashboard overestimates carbs significantly — at about 26% — compared to my estimate of 2%.

Something is being understated on the label — and it’s probably the fat.

To more accurately assess the fat content, subtract my carb estimate (plus 3%) from the dashboard and add that to the fat.

For Darwin’s subtract 17% (14% from the chart plus 3%) from 18%, and add the 1% difference to the fat content. For Nature’s Variety, subtract 5% (2% +3%) from 26% and add the difference (21%) to the fat content.

The Arithmetic of Major Nutrients

For those who’d like more details…

Vegetables contain about 90% water and 5% carbohydrate. And meat has zero carbohydrate. So, a food that’s 95% meat (as fed) is only 5% vegetable — which consists of 5% carbohydrate.

And that makes the same food about 0.25% carb — or about 1% on a dry matter basis.

So, with water completely removed, all foods consist primarily of…

  • Protein
  • Fat
  • Carbohydrate
  • Ash (minerals)

According to USDA definition, carbohydrates are calculated from the amount of protein, moisture, fat and ash. And fiber is the non-digestible component of carbohydrate.

Carbohydrates come from plant sources only. Meats contain no carbs — and no fiber.

Calorie Content
Another Important Clue

For those products that appear to be missing fat data, I suggest visiting the appropriate company’s website for more information.

Then, look for the energy content of the food — expressed as kcal (kilocalories) per ounce.

For fresh diets (those containing natural amounts of water of about 67–77%), there should be 50 kcal per ounce or less.

For fresh foods, any product containing more than 45 kcal per ounce can be considered a high fat diet

In my opinion, a fresh (with moisture) food with more than 60 kcal per ounce has too much fat — and not enough protein for puppies, pregnant or lactating females.

The dog’s ancestral diet contained about 35 kcal per ounce — fat has 9 kcal per gram and protein 4 kcal.

Learn More About
Raw and Fresh Feeding

For more information, see the pet food math section of my book, “Unlocking the Canine Ancestral Diet”.

Or to learn more about the dog’s natural ancestral diet, please visit www.SeeSpotLiveLonger.com

Steve Brown is a nationally renowned dog food formulator and author of three popular books on canine nutrition.

Steve Brown and FriendsHe is the creator of Charlee Bear® Dog Treats, one of the world’s first training products.

Brown also founded Steve’s Real Food for Pets®, the first AAFCO-compliant, frozen, raw meat-based diet. He later left the company to focus on research and education.

In 2004, he co-authored a book on canine nutrition, See Spot Live Longer — now in its seventh printing,

Brown has published numerous articles on canine feeding in pet related magazines, veterinary journals and leading natural health web sites.

In 2006, Steve began to suspect the major weakness of most dog foods was in their fat content. So, after three years of research, Brown wrote Unlocking the Canine Ancestral Diet.

He also offers an e-book, See Spot Live Longer the ABC Way.

Brown is currently a consultant to and food formulator for several well-known pet food companies.

  • Nalu-Rufus

    Thank you for this post, it explains a lot. I started using Nature’s Variety as a topper for The Honest Kitchen meals about a year ago. My dog was, and remained fat on this diet (80 lb pointer/lab mix). About six months ago, I cut him down from one 8 oz. patty per day to 4 oz. per day, and a month ago, switched to Stella & Chewy’s freeze dried for topper. We went for a check up yesterday and he weighed in at 62 lbs!! The vet said he is really fit and lean, and has likely been saved from a host of health problems. His exercise did not change during this time, so I can only attribute it to too much NV raw frozen topper. I calculated his caloric intake based on the package labeling, and now realizing that was probably understated, I understand why the calculation did not work.

  • Mo

    I get raw food for my dog from a local butcher who sells his scrap left overs. My dog is by no means a genetic goldmine but his physical characteristics of late would tell you a different story. Raw food is the way to go for most dogs I would say. It isn’t necessary to seek brands if you can find quality raw food in your community.

  • Shawna

    Hi Mike,

    Although Darwin’s is not a locally available product it is shipped direct to the customer and comes frozen solid. The fat to protein ratio of the foods is ideal for all diets (chicken, turkey, beef etc). Steve Brown, the author of above article, was involved in the formulation of Darwin’s products as mentioned in his article. Additionally unlike Primal poultry products, Nature’s Variety, Stella & Chewy’s and others, it is not high pressure pasteurized. Many of us long term raw feeders feel that foods subjected to HPP are not truly raw.

    Darwin’s has a fantastic introductory offer and in my opinion is definitely worth trying.

  • Mike

    I have been researching locally available commercial raw dog foods. There are not many on the market where the Fat is 1/2 the Protein, or less. Those that fit that formula are often times a novel protein and therefore very expensive. Another issue is that the ME on these foods is lower by as much as 50% than the “high” fat counterparts. As a result you wind up feeding more of the low fat varieties. In order to meet this recommendation for fat and stay somewhat in a budget I am feeding 75 % premium(5*) Canadian kibble and 25% Primal Raw T&S formula.

  • Shawna

    A few weeks ago I mentioned Steve Browns Dinner Mix premix. I can’t remember which thread it was posted under so this page seemed like a good place to post.

    Steve’s Dinner Mix is an inexpensive way to balance meats we supply.. However, the mix had “rice bran”, which with the latest info on arsenic in rice, concerned me a bit. I emailed Steve to ask. So happens Steve was in the middle of reformulating the product :)..

    Just heard back from Steve and the rice bran (and fish oil) has been removed. Steve is the guru of fats and is always concerned about freshness. So rather then adding fish oil he is stating on the product packaging to add sardines or fish oil at the time of feeding.

    Great, budget friendly, product to use in our rotations…

    http://www.seespotlivelonger.com/home/sll/smartlist_13/dinner_mixes.html

  • Shawna

    I agree..  And everyone knows my thoughts on grains :)..  Well, at least the regulars…

    Sojo’s does have a grain free mix but my dogs don’t digest it well unless I rehydrate it fully/overnight and then run it through the food processor to futher break down the chunks of veggies.  Otherwise it is “carrots in, carrots out”.  ;)

    “Ingredients:
    sweet potato, carrots, broccoli, celery, apples, whole egg, tricalcium phosphate, flax meal, parsley leaf, carob powder, dried kelp, dried alfalfa, ginger root, garlic, vitamin D3″  http://www.sojos.com/products/dog-food/sojos-grain-free-dog-food-mix

  • Hound Dog Mom

    They do have a grain-free premix.

  • BryanV21

    Even the plain Sojo’s, which doesn’t come with any protein in it, is so-so IMO. It’s all grain, with no fruits or vegetables, unlike Honest Kitchen Preference.

  • Shawna

    I agree with everything Hound Dog Mom states — TOO low in protein.  LOTS of kibbled foods have way more protien then Sojo’s or Petsana. 

    I like dehydrated foods better then kibble but not at these low protein levels..  The only way I would ever recommend either foods to anyone is if they needed low protein for medical conditions or if they were willing to add extra higher protein balanced foods to the produc — like commercial or home prepared but balanced raw or canned foods.

  • Hound Dog Mom

    Beth6230 –

    From what I understand Petsana is the same product as Sojos. I think Sojos just allows them to package their food under the Petsana name – same ingredients list and virtually the name nutrient profile. Check out the review for Sojo’s – it’s only a 3 star food, too low in fat and way too low in protein. If you want to feed a dehydrated food I’d recommend looking into The Honest Kitchen or Grandma Lucy’s – same idea, you add water, but higher quality product.

  • Beth6230

    I would like to see some review of Petsana.  It seems to-good-to-be-true. They list min 8% fat which is of course too low for an adult, medium activity bouvier. I’ve started feeding it cautiously and adding some fat via egg/salmon. 

  • Pattyvaughn

    Commercially prepared raw, such as Darwin’s, usually have ground bone, so teeth are not required. Obviously, you won’t be feeding raw meaty bones.

  • Kmw_vabch

    I would love to feed my dogs Raw and even thought about Darwin’s.  The only trouble is, my little puppy mill rescue (papillon) only has about 4 teeth – I assume teeth are required since it contains bones?

  • Toxed2loss

    Even game meat can be fatty. It depends on what forage was available. It’s important to know the target % of fat to lean your dog needs, and trim all his/her meat to that %.

  • Guest

    My understanding is that there is a higher fat content in animals raised for commercial consumption than in the animals that would have been present in the ancestral diet.  Simply put, a chicken that a dog would have eaten 100 yrs ago wouldn’t have been fattened up in a feedlot like they are today.  And even if you get the best meat – organic, grass-fed, whatever – it’s still not as lean as the ancestral diet.  However, if you use game meat (rabbit, venison, bison, etc.) you will get close to the right %’s.  You do have to remove the fat from other meat (chicken, duck, beef, etc.) to get to the proper fat profile.

  • Best_Dog_Food

    Very informative article! It sure will be helpful in purchasing commercial dog.

  • Adele

    Could this be why my Pomeranian keeps gaining weight?  I carefully calculate her caloric intake based on my vet’s recommendation to put her on a diet and she doesn’t lose.  I’m feeding her a 5 star kibble mixed with a raw product.  I think the raw must have too much fat (according to the calculations in the article).  If she is getting more fat calories than she needs to use, she must be storing the fat.  I am somewhat confused.

  • http://www.symplypetfoods.co.uk/ pet food

    Some dog owners also get wrapped up in what their dog will eat and what he won’t eat. Usually, the owner will let this be a determining factor as to what to feed their dog. 

  • dietaryfiberguide

    In fact, a diet high in fiber can be convenient and tasty – as easy a bowl of bran cereal topped with berries…or as exotic as, say, conchiglie with artichoke sauce, a simple pasta recipe that contains nearly 20 grams of fiber in one serving. There are no limitations.

  • Johnandchristo

    Hi Hagelult….

    thats a very interesting point. good post.

  • Toxed2loss

    Good observations hagelult,

    Consider that ancestral wolves predated on environmentally pressured wild herbivores as opposed to the farm raised meat sources today. Even wild deer and elk feed in farmers alfalfa pastures, and range far less than their ancestors to find food. Historical records for my area indicate that there were vey few deer and elk available… Lewis and Clark journal entries,… And that they were extremely lean & scraggly… Yet they are very abundant, and well fed, today. So, the ancestral diet is based on the food source available, then, not now, and I’m sure studies/research on optimal conditions were factored in. Steve’s a pretty smart guy! :-)

  • hagelult

    “To mimic an ancestral diet, the actual dry matter fat content of a raw dog food should be less than ¾ the protein content — and preferably closer to ½.” This makes sense to me, it seems quite obvious that you would want to feed your dog more protein than fat. However, when I made the switch to a raw diet and started reading guaranteed analyses of the various complete/incomplete foods available I was a little confused. The only foods that achieve this ratio of fat to protein that is supposedly ideal are commercial made diets. If you get a whole ground animal the fat content will be equal to or only slightly less than protein content for leaner meats (such as chicken) and for fatter meats (such as beef or duck) fat content will be higher than protein content. This is for a whole animal, isn’t a whole animal what a wolf would eat in the wild? I feed Primal mixes for my base, but I started to look into making food completely from scratch and just buying the whole animal ground (available on mypetcarnivore.com, haretoday.com) and it seems to me that the only way to achieve this fat content of 50-75% of protein content would be to add in more lean cuts of meat and less fattier cuts and to remove the skin from RMBs. But the whole point of an ancestral diet is to feed dogs what they would eat in the wild and I’m sure that dogs in the wild wouldn’t eat the chicken breast and leave the wings and thighs or remove the skin from their turkey necks. I’m not trying to say the lower fat content is not healthier, this ratio is actually what I aim for with my dog’s food (and why I decided to stick with Primal) because so much fat just doesn’t seem healthy to me, however I’m not so sure how “ancestral” this ratio is. Maybe farm raised animals are fattier than wild animals (although the whole ground animals I was looking at were grass fed/free range)?

  • Threenorns

    …. what’s wrong with just feeding the dog (or cat) raw food?  steak, chicken, turkey, goat, pork – cut off an appropriate sized chunk, toss, and end of subject.

    same with bananas, sweet potato, blueberries, etc – for the dog, though, not the cats – no nonsense with blending and pureeing – just toss and let him have at it.  i don’t know why ppl say it passes through undigested – i examine each and every poop for signs of worms (even though there never is any) and it’s all very homogeneous even if he ate half a sweet pototo.  even grass gets digested (turning the poop green) unless it’s a certain type in which case it comes right through (i’m sure there’s a healthful reason for it).