Why Your Best Friend Needs Omega-3s, Too

All About Science

I’m a big dog lover. In fact, my friends may wonder if I ever talk about anything other than my three-year-old golden retriever, Birmingham. I’m hardly the only person I know who loves their pet obsessively. Roughly 80 million U.S. households have cats and dogs (most have two or more pets), and more than 63% of pet owners view their pets as family members.

What makes us so crazy about our pets? They add joy to our lives, lift our spirits, and even contribute to our own physical well-being. Pet ownership is associated with a reduced risk of heart disease, according to The American Heart Association. And pets can be legally recognized as service or support animals for people with certain health issues.

Of course, we all want our pets to live long, happy lives. And that’s why what we feed our pets is so important. Unless you live on a farm and your dog or cat is “living off the land,” so to speak, your pet is dependent on you for 100% of its nutritional needs. Many of us (myself included) spend the extra money to buy premium pet food brands that say they use the highest quality ingredients. But the reality is that cooked or processed pet foods don’t always contain the full spectrum of nutrients your pet needs. Omega-3 fatty acids, for example, are essential nutrients that play an important role in maintaining overall cellular health.* But these essential fats are easily compromised when exposed to high heat (used commonly in cooked dog food) and oxygen, which can diminish their nutritional value.*

Your Pet is What He Eats

If you know any one thing about me, you know I’m concerned about my diet. In fact, I often get accused of having too many “rules” about what I eat, and that tends to hold true for what I feed my dog as well. Birmingham is a happy, loyal dog with a loving disposition. But I’m convinced his disposition has more to do with his healthy diet than with his particular breed—especially when I compare him to other dogs whose diets may not be as complete as his.

Birmingham the dog on the beach
Birmingham showing off his sunny disposition. Photo credit: Debbie Drecksel

Cats and dogs each require different levels and sources of the nutrients they need to maintain optimal health. So it’s important that your pet is eating food designed to meet its specific nutritional needs.

Just like humans, dogs and cats both have a fundamental dietary need for omega-3 fatty acids. Dogs have a limited ability to convert plant-based omega-3s, known as alpha-linolenic acids (ALA), to the much-needed, long-chain omega-3s EPA and DHA found abundantly in fatty fish. And cats have even less ability to convert ALA to omega-3 EPA and DHA.*

Dietary fats provide a concentrated source of energy for pets, although the need for fatty acids varies. For example, arachidonic acid (AA) is an omega-6 fat that helps support the body’s inflammatory response and is necessary for proper blood-clotting, skin health, and reproductive and gastrointestinal function.* But while dogs can make AA, cats cannot. So it’s much more important for cats to get this nutrient from their food.

Most pet owners probably think their pets are consuming enough essential fats in their diet, but the truth is they’re probably consuming way too many omega-6 fats and not enough omega-3s. Both of these fats are necessary, but because they each help regulate immune system functions, they need to be in healthy balance.*

Commercial pet foods are often overloaded with grains, vegetable oils, and meat products, and as a result, contain an overabundance of omega-6 fats. Those commercial pet foods that do contain fish (usually a good source of omega-3 fats) often contain farmed fish. And unfortunately, farmed fish—because of the grains, antibiotics, and animal byproducts these fish are typically fed—do not have the same nutritional value as wild-caught fish.

Give a Dog a Fish

Research consistently shows omega-3 EPA and DHA positively affect our pets’ overall health at the cellular level, supporting*:

  • Immune system health
  • Skin and coat
  • Joints
  • Heart and kidneys
  • Gastrointestinal health
  • Brain and eye function

When selecting an omega-3 fish oil for your pet, look for a reputable company that maintains the highest quality standards, including using human-grade ingredients and manufacturing processes; one that uses third-party testing to guarantee purity, potency, and freshness for all its products. As a pet lover, you’ll probably also want to look for a company that values sustainability and uses sourcing methods that protect the environment. And, you’ll want to avoid products that include added ingredients that could be harmful to your pet. For this reason, it’s best to look for omega-3 fish oil that is made specifically for cats or dogs.

Birmingham’s nutritional needs would not be fully met if I didn’t provide him with the essential omega-3 fatty acids that help give him complete, balanced nutrition. I’m thankful his superior golden retriever’s nose is adept at detecting high quality, fresh fish oil that meets his daily dietary needs. “Bone” appetit to you and your pet!

References:
American Pet Products Association, 2015-2016 report.
Pet Ownership & Cardiovascular Risk, A Scientific Statement from the American Heart Association, June 2013.
Dunbar BL, Bauer JE., Conversion of essential fatty acids by Delta-6 desaturase in dog liver microsomes. J. Nutr 2002 Jun; 132(6 Suppl 2):1701s-3S;
Bauer JE. Fatty acid metabolism in domestic cats (Felis catus) and cheetahs (Acinonyx jubatas). Proc Nutr Soc 1997 Nov; 56(3):1013-24.)
Vaughn D, Reinhart G, Swain S, et al., Evaluation of dietary n-6 to n-3 fatty acid ratios on leukotriene B Synthesis in dog skin and neutrophils, Vet Dermatol 1994, 5 (4): 163-173.
Bauer JE. Responses of dogs to dietary omega-3 fatty acids; J. Amer. Vet Med Association 2007; 11: 1657-1661.
Stephen J. Mehler, et al., A prospective, randomized, double blind, placebo-controlled evaluation of the effects of eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid on the clinical signs and erythrocyte membrane polyunsaturated fatty acid concentrations in dogs with osteoarthritis; Elsevier ltd., Journ Prostaglandins, Leukotrienes and Essential Fatty Acids.
Rivers JP, Sinclair AJ, CCrawford MA; Inability of the Cat to desaturate essential fatty acids. Nature 1975; 258: 171-173.
Corbee RJ, et al., The effect of dietary long-chain omega-3 fatty acid supplementation on owner’s perception of behavior and locomotion in cats with naturally occurring osteoarthritis, J Anim Physio Anim Nutr (Berl), 2013 Oct.

*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

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