The health benefits of omega-3 fatty acids for humans have made headlines, but did you know these powerful fatty acids can also provide our pets with a health boost?
What are Omega-3 Fatty Acids?
Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of fat. They are considered essential fatty acids (EFAs) for humans, as well as for dogs and cats, because they cannot be made in the body. To maintain optimal health and wellness for your pet, omega-3 fatty acids must be obtained through diet or daily supplementation. Omega-3 fatty acids are found in the cell membrane, providing a fluid, flexible membrane, which is required for a healthy functioning cell.
The two important health-promoting omega-3 fatty acids are EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). EPA and DHA are long chain omega-3 fatty acids derived directly from fish. Flax seed oil is a source of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which is a shorter chain omega-3 fatty acid, requiring an enzyme, delta-6 desaturase, to convert to EPA and DHA in the body. Humans and dogs have limited ability to convert ALA to EPA and DHA, while cats have very little to no ability to convert ALA to EPA and DHA. Therefore, supplementation with high-quality omega-3 fish oil is recommended for humans, dogs and cats.
Important Health Benefits for Dogs and Cats
Omega-3 fatty acids from fish provide dogs and cats with many health benefits, including the regulation of inflammation in the body. Dogs and cats can suffer from numerous inflammatory conditions which affect their health and well-being. Supplementing with omega-3 fatty acids from fish can support dogs and cats with several inflammatory conditions, including allergic dermatitis (skin allergies), osteoarthritis (joint disease such as hip and elbow dysplasia) and kidney and heart disease (such as cardiomyopathy and valvular disease).
In addition, fatty acids support general skin and coat quality, and omega-3 fatty acids promote healthy triglyceride (fat) levels within the blood of dogs with hyperlipidemia (high blood fat levels). In puppies and kittens, the omega-3 fatty acid, DHA, plays a key role in neurological (brain) and retinal (eye) development, while studies in humans have shown that omega-3 fatty acids may be beneficial in maintaining normal cognitive function later in life.
Results to Anticipate
Noticeable results will vary based on any underlying clinical conditions. In dogs and cats with inflammatory conditions such as allergies, you may notice improvements in clinical signs such as scratching and redness of the skin. In healthy dogs, outwardly noticeable effects may not be readily apparent, as omega-3 fatty acid supplementation will help maintain health versus improving a clinical condition.
When Will Results Appear?
If your dog or cat is suffering from an inflammatory condition such as allergies, you may see improvements in clinical signs within two weeks of supplementation. Studies published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association have shown that fatty acid levels reach a steady state within about one month of starting supplementation.
Benefits Based on Breed
All dog and cat breeds can benefit from omega-3 fatty acid supplementation. Larger breed dogs, such as Labrador retrievers and German shepherds, are prone to osteoarthritis (joint disease such as hip or elbow dysplasia). Allergic dermatitis (skin allergies) can occur in any dog breed, but has been most commonly reported in boxers, cocker spaniels, springer spaniels, collies, Dalmatians, German shepherds, Lhasa apsos, miniature schnauzers, retrievers, shar-peis, soft-coated wheaten terriers, dachshunds and West Highland white terriers.
Heart disease can also occur in many breeds. Studies evaluating omega-3 fatty acids in dogs with heart disease have included the following breeds: boxer, Cavalier King Charles spaniel, Shetland sheepdog, Airedale terrier, golden retriever, Jack Russell terrier, miniature schnauzer, Portuguese water dog and toy poodle.
Dogs prone to developing hyperlipidemia (high fat in the blood), such as miniature schnauzers, may also benefit from omega-3 fatty acid supplementation.
Does Age Matter?
Omega-3 fatty acids are important throughout the life of dogs and cats. DHA is very important for normal neurological development in both puppies and kittens.
What to Look For in Terms of Quality
Says Nordic Naturals, a company specializing in omega-3 fatty acids, quality in a fish oil supplement is determined by evaluating the purity and freshness levels in the oil, which ensures the oil’s integrity and biological efficacy. Choose a fish oil supplement that is exceptionally pure (free from environmental contaminants) and fresh, with a great taste (no fishy taste or fishy burps). In addition, fish oil should be derived from wild fish that are low on the food chain, not endangered and harvested from clean and abundant waters. Before purchasing a fish oil supplement, verify product quality by requesting third-party test results on the fish oil, documenting purity and freshness levels.
For more information on omega-3 fatty acids for pets, contact Bonnie Johnson at Nordic Naturals at 800.662.2544, ext. 103 or email email@example.com. You can also visit their website, www.nordicnaturals.com.
Sally Perea, DVM, MS, DACVN, holds a bachelor’s degree in animal science, a master’s degree in nutrition, and a doctorate degree in veterinary medicine from the University of California, Davis. She is the primary veterinary nutrition consultant for Davis Veterinary Medical Consulting and serves as an adjunct assistant clinical professor at the University of California, Davis, School of Veterinary Medicine.