Dogs diagnosed with inflammatory diseases, including allergies, arthritis, kidney disease, heart disease, and many types of cancer can benefit from the EPA and DHA in fish oil. These two fatty acids can reduce the tendency for inflammation.
One of the reasons high-quality, personalized dog food formulas boost the omega-3 level in their recipes is to balance out the omega-6 fatty acids because omega-6 can promote inflammation. Your dog needs polyunsaturated fats (PUFA), omega-3 and omega-6, in their diet for a variety of reasons. Unfortunately, many commercial dog foods tend to be low in omega-3 fatty acids. So for dogs with inflammatory health issues, their need for a proper balance of omega-3 and omega-6 oil is even greater.
Benefits of Omega-3 in Your Dog’s Diet
Recent research has shown omega-3 to be beneficial in treating and supporting a range of canine health issues.
Its anti-inflammatory properties are especially helpful for our senior and arthritic pups who have damage to the cartilage lining of their joints. It becomes more painful as they move throughout their day, causing inflammation by using compromised joints. The existing damage can’t be repaired, but this fatty acid’s anti-inflammatory properties can help support those arthritic joints and minimize the pain by reducing the swelling. These fatty acids can also help to improve memory and mental health for our senior pups.
Though more research is needed for conclusive results, some veterinarians recommend omega-3 fish oils as additional support for health issues, including:
- Shrinking tumors and inhibit tumor growth by promoting cell differentiation resulting in the potential to slow some types of cancers
- Preventing diabetic neuropathy
- Controlling idiopathic epilepsy (along with anticonvulsant drugs and herbs)
- Prevention and treatment of cardiac arrhythmias
- Prevention and treatment of autoimmune disorders
- Prevention and treatment of renal disease and heart disease
And research has shown that supplementing omega-3’s can be beneficial for the health of joints, coat, brain development, and skin. Plus, it’s been effective in reducing itchy skin and hot spots, promoting a shiny, healthy coat, and reducing shedding.
How Omega Fish Oils Help Dogs
The unique fatty acids, EPA and DHA, act as signals in cells to decrease inflammation and are major building blocks for cell membranes and function, making them significant components of the cell membrane in both humans and animals.
These fatty acid messengers tell the body when to reduce inflammation (and help in the maturation of particular cell types). By reducing inflammation, you reduce pain, redness, and swelling in the skin, joints, and other organs. It’s not unlike our use of aspirin for reducing swelling, pain, and pressure. These omega oils address the same pathways of inflammation.
Omega-3 fatty acids (in particular DHA) are known to promote neuron development. This fatty acid affects cell permeability and the growth of nerve cells. During the puppies’ first few months of life (and in utero), while their nervous system is developing, delivering healthy amounts of DHA is important for optimal growth.
As dog’s age, the ratio requirements of EPA to DHA changes. High levels of DHA is particularly important during early development, while higher levels of EPA is essential for our aging pups. Providing the right dosage of the proper fatty acid is essential for promoting health at all ages.
Downside to Adding Omega Oils to Your Dog’s Diet
Adding fish oil supplements to your dog’s diet may help with inflammatory disorders, but some pups will respond better than others. Your dog may not appear to improve at all. And while fish oils aren’t toxic, they could produce some side effects.
Seborrhea Oleosa: In some cases, dogs develop oily coats and large flakes of dander following omega-3 fatty acid supplementation. This condition is known as seborrhea oleosa. If this develops, you’ll need to stop adding omega-3 to your dog’s diet in order for the condition to resolve itself. It usually takes one or two weeks for the symptoms to clear up.
Fishy Odor: The most common side effect of adding omega-3 to your dog’s diet is a fishy odor to the breath and or the skin. But be sure that the smell isn’t a result of tooth decay or built up of plaque; the odor could be a sign that their teeth need to be checked.
Tummy Upset: As with any change to your dog’s diet, you’ll want to introduce it slowly. This is doubly-true for pups with a history of gastrointestinal issues.
If you are adding omega fish oil to your dog’s diet as a supplement, either as a capsule or mixing it in with their food, you’ll want to first consult with your veterinarian about the proper dosage.
When you’re ready to add it to their diet, begin with a fraction of the recommended dosage and work your way up. If your dog starts to have diarrhea, contact your vet to confirm you are giving your pup the proper amount. Too much or introducing it too quickly can result in tummy issues.
Slow Blood Clotting: Omega-3’s have been shown to slow blood clotting by decreasing the ability of blood platelets to stick together. While your pup may not be prone to scrap and fight (an issue more common among our felines), it’s good to keep in mind that wounds may not clot as quickly.
Other Medications: If your pup is on a blood-thinning medication, your veterinarian may advise against the addition omega-3 in their diet due to its tendency to slow blood clotting, as mentioned above.
Additionally, if your dog is taking anti-inflammatory medications, consult your vet. Omega-3’s natural anti-inflammatory properties may cause an issue if combined with their medication.
Slow Healing: Too much omega fatty acids in the diet can actually slow the natural healing processes that rely on inflammation.
Weight Gain: The condensed fish oils are higher in calories and can potentially lead to weight gain if given in excess.
Toxicity: Inferior quality control during the manufacturing process can lead to toxin exposure. The best way to avoid this is to ask your veterinarian about brands they recommend. Some even offer recommended brands through their clinic.
How Much Omega-3 is Healthy for my Dog?
As with any supplement, the dosage of omega-3 fish oil for dogs is usually based on their weight. You should consult your veterinarian before deciding on the correct dosage for your pup, and be sure to read product labels carefully.
Below is the general daily dosage based on weight.
Small Dog: If your dog weighs between 5 – 9 lbs, their daily dosage will be approx 83 mg of DHA and 138 mg of EPA
Medium Dog: If your dog weighs between 10 – 19 lbs, their daily dosage of will be approx 166 mg of DHA and 276 mg of EPA
Large Dog: If your dog weighs 20 lbs or over, the general daily dosage of EPA is 150 mg (per 20 lbs), and their daily dosage of DHA will be 90 mg (per 20 lbs)
Choosing the Best Omega Fish Oil for Your Dog
Here are four common types of fish oil supplements on the market:
- Natural Triglyceride: This oil is natural and easy to absorb, but it isn’t purified. So it may contain contaminants, like PCBs
- Ethyl Ester: This oil is concentrated and distilled, which removes impurities with high levels of the omega-3 fatty acids: DHA and EPA
- Synthetic Triglyceride: This oil is synthetic and is the least easy to absorb
- Anchovy-based Supplements: Anchovy is rich in EPA/DHA. It’s a great source for omega fatty acids. When reduced to oil, it can be added to your pup’s diet in capsule or tasty liquid form.
Ways to Add Omega-3 Fish Oil to Your Dog’s Diet
A prescription is not needed for fish oil, but you should consult your veterinarian or pet nutritionist before adding it to your dog’s diet. There are a couple of ways to increase your pup’s intake.
Supplement: If you are purchasing capsules to provide the additional omega-3 oils, make certain to research manufacturers thoroughly. Supplements vary widely in their content and quality, and if not stored correctly, they’re very susceptible to rancidity. Your veterinarian may carry preferred brands of supplements they can recommend.
And always check the label of the product you are considering to look for the EPA/DHA levels. Some mass-produced supplements labeled “Fish Oil” may include vegetable and seed oils, neither of which can be processed to produce omega-3’s. Flaxseed is a common alternative omega oil source (in human supplements). But dogs only utilize 10% of flaxseed to produce omega-3’s, reducing the effectiveness of those plant-based products.
Additionally, it’s important to follow manufacturer instructions for both storage and use. When not properly stored, these fatty acids are at risk of turning rancid and may breakdown in nutrients. The supplement will not only become useless but potentially harmful. And never use them past the expiration date.
High-Quality Dog Food: Another way to add omega-3 to your dog’s diet is by selecting a healthy dog food formulated with the proper balance of fatty acids. Some dog food manufacturers use refined oils, like soybean oil, which are high in omega-6. Your can ends up with too much omega-6 and not nearly enough omega-3 fatty acids. But many therapeutic and senior diets have added omega-3 to support the aging process. Another option is to order customized dog food through a dog food delivery service. Their pet nutritionists will formulate a recipe to include the proper amount of omega-3’s in addition to the other supplements and nutrients that your dog requires. It’s one of the best ways to take the guesswork out.
Omega fish oils can be an extremely beneficial supplement to your dog’s diet. But, as with any change in medication, supplements, and diet, it’s important to discuss them with your veterinarian or a pet nutritionist. They will be able to take into consideration any potential risks based on your pup’s health, weight, diet, age, breed, and activity levels, as well as any medications they are currently taking. With the proper guidance, you can make changes to your dog’s diet and ensure the healthiest life.
Dr. Laura Duclos leads the Research and Development team at Puppo. She has over 16 years of experience in developing nutritional pet food that supports animal health and wellbeing. Her clinical research has been featured in prominent publications and scientific journals. She has been an invited speaker at numerous international veterinary conferences on pet nutrition and innovation.