Fish oil is one of the most popular dietary supplements purchased by pet owners for their pets. It has many health benefits but only if it’s the right formulation, produced by a reputable company, and administered at the correct dose.
What is fish oil?
The two main ingredients in fish oil are eicosapentoaenoic (EPA) and docosahexaenoic (DHA) fatty acids. Both EPA and DHA are long chains of bonded carbon and hydrogen atoms with a carboxyl group on its end. These acids are also called Omega 3 fatty acids because the first double bond occurs after the third carbon atom.
In nature, EPA and DHA are bonded to a three- carbon backbone structure called glycerol. Together this molecule is called a triglyceride. Fish oil is a triglyceride.
The Six Benefits of fish oil:
- Protects the heart.
Fish oil has been found to reduce the heart’s vulnerability to developing an irregular heart rhythm, called atrial fibrillation. Additionally, it can act as an anti-coagulant and prevent blood clots from forming in cats with heart disease.
- Provides support for dry, flaky skin in allergy pets.
Giving fish oil to pets with allergies may reduce their itching by decreasing their body’s production or release of potent stimulators of inflammation, called cytokines.
- Helps slow down the progression of kidney disease.
In failing kidneys, fish oil may lower elevated blood pressure, decrease undesired protein loss in urine, and reduce the production of pro-inflammatory substances that aggravate kidneys.
In a study of 146 cats with kidney disease, cats fed diets supplemented with omega 3 fatty acids lived a median of 17 months compared to 7 months for those who were not supplemented.
- Aids arthritic joints.
Fish oil decreases the production of potent prostaglandins that stimulate inflammation in the joints. Arthritic dogs and cats given fish oil are more comfortable and agile than those not supplemented.
- Improves neurologic development and cognitive function.
A Hill’s Pet Nutrition 2012 study found supplementing puppies with DHA increased their ability to learn and retain certain skills when compared to those not receiving additional DHA.
Older pets suffering from cognitive dysfunction had improved recognition of family members and other dogs when supplemented with fish oil. Additionally, it decreased pattern-pacing behavior in these pets.
- Lowers blood triglyceride levels.
Supplementing patients with fish oil may decrease harmful triglyceride levels in some patients. This is especially critical in pets suffering from heart disease, pancreatitis and inflammatory bowel disease.
What should I buy?
- Buy the triglyceride formulation.
There are two formulations of Omega 3 fatty acids. The natural formulation is the triglyceride formulation. In this product, three fatty acids are bonded to a glycerol backbone. The triglyceride form of Omega 3 fatty acids is the formulation you should buy and this information should be visible on the product label.
The manufactured formulation is the ethyl ester formula. In this product, one fatty acid is bound to one alcohol group. When compared to the triglyceride product, the ethyl ester product is usually less expensive but its health benefits are inferior: less stable, at least 40% lower in bioavailability to pets, and is less palatable. Frequently, my clients complain that their pet may be a bit “gassy” after taking the ethyl ester formulation. I believe this may be the result of the body cleaving the fatty acid from the alcohol group creating ethanol gas.
- Buy from a reputable company
Not all fish oils are created equal. They are not FDA regulated and fall under the poorly regulated category of nutritional supplements. In fact, in June of 2013 a study by Ritter, Budge, Jovica looked at 16 top selling fish oil supplements available for humans and found over half of the supplements did not meet their label claim for EPA and DHA, and a quarter exceeded recommended limits for peroxide value (meaning it was rancid!).
At Animal Medical Center of Chicago, we recommend the following three fish oil products – Omega Benefits by Veterinary Recommended Solutions (VRS), Wellactin by Nutramax and Omega by Nordic Naturals. These products have been independently analyzed for purity, accuracy and safety.
- Cod liver is not recommended.
Cod liver oil is a good source of fat-soluble Vitamin A and D. However, I do not recommend it as a supplement for EPA and DHA. I fear that I may exceed the daily-recommended dose of Vitamin A or D when using cod liver oil to meet the pet’s EPA and DHA recommended dose.
I also do not recommend flaxseed, flax meal or flaxseed oil as a source of EPA or DHA in pets. Flaxseed products contain high concentrations of alpha linolenic acid, (ALA). Dogs have a very limited ability in converting ALA to DHA or EPA. Cats virtually have no ability in converting ALA to DHA or EPA.
We are just at the beginning of understanding the full benefits of supplementing pets’ diets with fatty acid supplements. Its anti-inflammatory properties may soon be used for other medicinal purposes, like in pets with inflammatory bowel disease or cancer.
Please ask your veterinarian if fish oil is right for your pet. If yes, it is critical that you use the triglyceride formulation of this product and give the proper amount. For most of my patients, I recommend 40 mg of EPA for every kg of body weight and 25 mg of DHA for every kg of body weight once daily. For a
10 kg (or 22 lb) dog, I would recommend a daily dose of 400mg EPA and 250 mg DHA. If it’s in the liquid form, don’t forget to keep it refrigerated and be cognizant of its expiration date to achieve its full benefit.