You’ve no doubt heard the term “essential fatty acids” or heard something being “jam packed full of Omega 3” but what does that mean, is it beneficial and should you be giving it to your cat or dog?
What are essential fatty acids
Essential fatty acids (EFA) are nutritional fats that are required for many different biological processes in the body. They are considered essential because the body cannot produce them on their own so they must be consumed in the diet. There are two primary families of essential fatty acids, omega-3, and omega-6. Omega-6 cannot be used to create omega-3 and vice versa, so it is essential that dogs and cats get both in their diet.
- Omega 3 – there are three omega-3s that are essential for dogs and cats. Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) is the first and is found abundantly in nuts, seeds and plant-based oils. ALA can be converted in the body into two other omega-3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). This process is not very efficient in cats and dogs and therefore they generally need a direct source of EPA and DHA in their diets. EPA and DHA are high in foods such as fish, fish oils, eggs and some seafood.
- Omega 6 - Linoleic acid (LA) is the only essential omega-6 fatty acid that is required to be consumed in the diet by dogs. This is readily found in the normal diet in poultry, eggs, vegetable oils and seeds. Whilst dogs can convert LA into the other omega-6 fatty acid, arachidonic acid (AA), cats are not capable of synthesising this themselves. Therefore, for cats both AA and LA are essential fatty acids that need to be consumed in the diet. Meat, fish, liver and eggs are all good sources of AA.
What are the benefits of EFAs
EFAs are considered necessary nutrients in the diet of dogs and cats for optimal health. Fatty acids are a good source of calories, providing more than two times the energy of carbohydrates or protein. They are required by the body for normal cell membrane structure and function, playing a very important role in a large number of normal physiological processes. The omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are essential for normal growth, maintaining immune function, proper development of the brain, eyes, heart and nervous tissue as well as helping to support joint, skin and coat health. Therefore, it is little surprise that a deficiency of these EFAs in the diet of dogs and cats typically presents as chronic skin and coat disorders, digestive problems, cardiovascular disease, degenerative eye disease, and allergies.
Show dog and cat owners have long known the benefits of supplementing omega-3 and omega-6 in the diet for a shiny and lustrous coat. So, it is little wonder these EFAs have been shown to be beneficial in the management of skin conditions such as atopic dermatitis due to improvement in the function of the skin barrier. The use of EFA supplements has also proven to be beneficial in several other conditions in dogs and cats such as chronic inflammatory disease (i.e. osteoarthritis), allergies, chronic renal disease and some forms of cancer. It should be noted that these benefits are seen when supplementing at much higher doses than required in a normal diet which should only be undertaken under the supervision of a veterinarian.
Are there any side effects
Fatty acids are important nutrients that can provide health benefits to dogs and cats when used appropriately. They are generally safe for use in healthy cats and dogs, however, excessive supplementation or use in pets with underlying medical issues can have some unwanted effects.
Vets may recommend supplementation of EFAs at high doses to help with the treatment of some diseases. When supplemented at these higher doses, EFAs have the potential to cause gastrointestinal signs (i.e., vomiting or diarrhea), decreased blood clotting function, reduced immune response, decreased wound healing, and drug interactions. Although these are extremely unlikely when supplementing EFAs at a nutritional level, pets with underlying medical issues or that take specific medications, may be at higher risk of experiencing these and other effects.
In pets where dietary fat restriction has been recommended by your vet, such as those on a calorie-controlled diet (overweight or obese pets), those prone to hyperlipidemia (fatty blood) or pets that have previously had pancreatitis, supplementation with additional fatty acids may cause issues. It is always advisable to check with your vet before starting supplements in pets with any health concerns to ensure that any risk of adverse effects can be identified. You can have too much of a good thing so always use the amount recommended on the label unless advised by a vet.
Should I just give human fish oil supplements to my pet
This may seem like a logical choice; however, dogs and cats have different daily intake requirements for EFAs than humans. Giving your pet, the same dose as recommended for humans can be a waste of time and money. As most human supplements come in capsule form dosing and administration can be difficult. Some brands also contain flavourings and additives that are unpalatable or even toxic for your pet (i.e., xylitol). It is therefore generally much safer and more cost effective to use a supplement that has been designed for pets, so you can be confident that they are getting the right amount each day.
How to supplement EFAs
Before choosing a supplement, it is important to know whether your dog or cat is getting an adequate supply of fatty acids from their diet already. Some commercial pet food diets claim to contain added omega 3 and omega 6, but this is usually supplied through plant-based oils that are not easily utilised by cats and dogs. Many prescription diets, however, contain high levels of added EPA and DHA and supplementation is unlikely to be required in dogs and cats fed these diets.
If your pet would benefit from supplementation with EFAs, when choosing a supplement, don’t just get the one that’s the cheapest. Choose a quality supplement, from a reputable company, with good manufacturing and quality control practices. As dogs and cats aren’t very efficient at converting ALA to EPA and DHA, supplements containing plant-based oils only don’t have as many health benefits. Choose a supplement that also contains a high-quality fish oil and that is specifically formulated for cats and dogs.
Kinetic Fish and Omega 3 Oil for Dogs is a high-quality blend of fish and flax seed oils that has been specifically formulated for cats and dogs. It provides a much-needed balanced source of omega 3 and omega 6 essential fatty acids, including EPA and DHA, in an easy-to-use, no mess pump dispenser. Simply mix the appropriate amount required each day into wet or dry food to support your pet’s overall health and vitality.