You’ve probably heard about omega-3 essential fatty acids for dogs, but do you know what they do and why they are so important for your dog’s health? Fats are made up of two main groups: monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. Omega-3 fatty acids are the good, polyunsaturated fats that feed every cell in your dog’s body. They are called essential because they are nutrients which cannot be produced by the body and must be consumed through food or a supplement. Without the proper balance of omega-3s, dogs can experience a wide variety of health problems.
The Omega Fatty Acids Family
Omega-3 essential fatty acids are primarily found in cold water fish oil. They are made from two fatty acids called eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), and together they form a hormone-like compound that supports a healthy immune system.
“The omega-3s reduce inflammation throughout the body, benefiting skin, eyes, heart, bladder, brain, and joints,” Dr. Julie Buzby explained in an article about senior dogs for The Grey Muzzle Organization. “I recommend this supplement for my arthritic patients, those suffering from age related brain dysfunction, vision issues, heart disease, and skin conditions. While omega-3s may be appropriate for dogs of any age, it’s obvious why they are such a good supplement for seniors.”
In addition to omega-3s, there is another member of the family called omega-6 fatty acids. Omega-6s come from animal fats and vegetable oils. Nature intended the omega-3s and omega-6s to work together in a specific ratio for optimal health benefits. Research indicates a ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids of 5:1 is optimal.
The Benefits of Essential Fatty Acids
When the ratio of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids is kept in check they benefit the overall cellular health of a dog’s body in these ways:
- Immune system health
- Skin and coat health
- Joint health
- Heart health
- Brain development and maintenance
Essential fatty acids also maintain blood pressure and cholesterol levels, regulate pain and promote proper nerve transmission.
The Era of Commercial Dog Food
Commercially manufactured pet food is heavily made up of omega-6 fatty acids such as animal fats and vegetable oils. This has resulted in a highly unbalanced ratio between the omega-3s and omega-6s, preventing them from working together and contributing to chronic health issues for dogs.
In addition, many commercial dog food companies opt to use a plant based fat instead of one made from fish oil. This type of fat, such as flaxseed oil, does not deliver fatty acids directly to your dog’s body. It’s a slower method that requires the body to convert the EPA and DHA into essential fatty acids. While this might be fine for a young, healthy dog, it might not work for a chronically ill or elderly dog. Supplementing with quality fish oil is the most direct method to add essential fatty acids.
When choosing a brand of omega-3 supplements for your dog, be sure to consider the source of the ingredients, the concentration, and the processing/quality control. The brand recommended by Dr. Buzby is the Nordic Naturals Omega-3 Pet line. Also, make sure to store the bottle in the refrigerator to prevent the product from becoming rancid. Omega-3s should never be exposed to temperatures over 80 degrees Fahrenheit.
Finally, there is one more point about fatty acids to consider for your dog. They can increase bleeding times, so let your veterinarian know that you are considering adding omega-3s to your dog’s diet, especially if your dog is scheduled for surgery.