Sunday, February 25, 2024

Numbercrunching: Kibble with the Lowest Fat, Lowest Calories, and Best Value

 What is the lowest fat, lowest calorie dog food currently on the market?

Sisci Godzilla has pancreatitis. Not the acute hospitalization kind, and not even the kind where she needs to be on prescription food. It's more like a chronic tummy sensitivity. This started a few years ago with very occasional but severe episodes of vomiting. She would puke and puke until the only thing coming up was bloody foam. I would rush her to the vet and they would give her a shot or a pill of Cerenia, an anti-nausea medication. Maybe a short course of famotidine or sucralfate to help her feel better. She would be fine for a long time, six months or a year, before it happened again. It didn't seem to be correlated with feeding her anything in particular.

A couple of months ago, Sis had three vomiting episodes in one week. When I took her to the vet, I asked for bloodwork. I was worried about her kidneys and liver, but it turns out her pancreas levels were high. Not super high, just elevated. Not bad enough for acute treatment or a prescription diet. She was put on omeprazole and given more Cerenia for the nausea, and a diagnosis of irritable bowel syndrome as well. 

Prescription diets for pancreatitis have very low fat, around 5% for products like Purina's EN. Sis had been eating Diamond Adult Maintenance kibble with 12%, and I decided to look at food options with lower fat to help keep her body comfortable and hopefully settle her stomach. Calorie count was also a consideration here, as she gets fat on air like many cattledogs. With these factors in mind, I started collecting data on dog foods. I stuck with formulas marketed for weight management to help narrow the search. I started with the values for Diamond Maintenance and excluded any foods with a higher fat percentage.

Diamond Maintenance36012%$0.94
Victor Purpose36011.50%$1.68
Wellness Healthy Weight40510%$2.70
Eukanuba Fit2679%$3.22
Royal Canin Weight Care2569%$3.67
ProPlan Weight Management3309%$2.12
Blue Buffalo Healthy Weight3249%$2.03
Science Diet Perfect Weight2999%$3.44
Iams Healthy Weight3049%$1.61
American Journey Healthy Weight2999%$1.77
Merrick Healthy Weight3559%$2.92
Purina One Healthy Weight3208%$1.37
Beneful Healthy Weight3418%$1.13
True Acre Foods Healthy Weight2698%$1.43
Natural Balance Fat Dogs3157.50%$2.47
Pedigree Healthy Weight2807%$1.21
Nutro Healthy Weight2317%$2.50
Solid Gold Fit3306.50%$3.05
Diamond Care Grain-Free3046%$2.12
Diamond Naturals Weight3106%$1.39
Kirkland Signature Healthy Weight Formula2756%$0.83
Science Diet Light2715.50%$2.64

Here is what I came up with. First, there is a huge range of different calorie content for different "weight management" dog foods. Wellness Healthy Weight offers 405 calories per cup, while Nutro Healthy Weight only has 231 calories per cup. That's a difference of 174 calories and means a dog can eat significantly more of the Nutro food while consuming the same amount of calories. That's something to remember when putting a dog on a diet. I could add a cup of green beans, or I could just feed more of a lower calorie food.

Next, there is a wide range of fat values in food marketed for weight management, with 9% the most common. There isn't an official feed definition of "weight management" food the way there is for puppy food, or adult food, or all life stages food, or large breed puppy food. Dogs use fat for energy, so for my active working dogs I look for higher fat. Most dogs don't need an incredibly low fat diet, and too little fat in their diet can leave them tired with a poor coat. Anecdotally have known people feeding vegan dog food that struggled with energy level and poor muscle tone in their dogs. While many people would be quick to blame the vegan food, I would more readily cite the 8-10% fat levels in commercially available vegan dog foods. But some dogs can benefit tremendously from a low fat diet, particularly for things like pancreatitis.

So what food gives me the most bang for my buck in terms of low fat and low calories? A number of pancreatitis prone dogs eat Science Diet Light (not Science Diet Perfect Weight) as it has the lowest fat content and calories per cup on the lower end of the range. I was about to order a bag, but needed to make a Costco run and decided to check out their house brand Kirkland Signature food just to grab another data point. I was pleasantly surprised to find a similar nutrition profile, at a much lower cost. So that is what Sis is now eating, and so far it seems to be helping. At least, she hasn't had any more uncontrollable vomiting episodes since the food switch.

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