Part 4 Immunity series: Omegas in pets
In today’s society, the word “fat” has a negative connotation on multiple levels. However, contrary to popular belief, not all dietary fats are bad, nor are they the root of obesity. In fact, there are many good fats that enhance and support your dog’s immune system, even enhancing energy production and promoting weight loss. Fats are also important for maintenance and growth of tissues. Although many fats are naturally produced in the body, some fats can only be obtained by eating certain foods. For example, your dog’s body cannot naturally produce linoleum acid (omega-6) or alpha-linolenic acid (omega-3).
If your dog is not receiving adequate amounts of omega-6 essential fatty acids, your dog may experience significant skin problems, loss of hair, slow healing from wounds, liver and kidney issues, weak immune system, circulatory problems, weakness, sterility, and much more. Most dogs suffer from mild deficiencies with minimal symptoms. Common minor symptoms of an omega-6 deficiency include dull, flaky coat, loss of hair, abnormally greasy skin, and excess itching.
Omega-3 fats, or alpha-linolenic acid, are also tremendously important to your dog’s health. Dogs that do not receive enough omega-3’s may experience stunted growth, eye problems, and weakness. Omega-3’s help with the production of compounds that regulate inflammation and blood clotting, as well as arthritis and bowel conditions such as colitis and inflammatory bowel disease. Omega-3’s also have an impact on the heart and circulatory system, helping with arrhythmia, high blood pressure, strengthening then immune system and decreasing blood cholesterol levels. The absence of essential fats in dogs is one of the most common nutritional deficiencies and clearly a large issue. So what can you do to help this?
Luckily, the answer is simple. Omega-6 fats are found naturally in sunflower, safflower, corn, borage, evening primrose, and black current oils. Omega-3 fats are found in fish oils, such as salmon, halibut, herring, and mackerel. They are also found in sea buckthorn, flax seeds, walnuts, soybeans, and wheat germ. Dried beans, such as kidney, northern, and navy, are sources of both omega essential fatty acids. It seems that fish oils are better absorbed then flax seeds in pets. Although you can supplement home-made diets with grounded flax seeds or flax seed oil, I prefer using fish based products in cases where I want to help a dog with arthritis, immunity issues, anxiety, cognitive dysfunction, cancer or a pet with skin problems.
It is extremely important to ensure that your dog is receiving enough of both essential fatty acids. Commercial dog foods may contain proportionately incorrect ratios, and can result in high levels of omega-6’s and low levels of omega-3’s. All sources of essential fatty acids oxidize and break down quickly, becoming destroyed by light, heat, and oxygen. High processing temperatures, transport and long shelf-life of commercial dog foods can all affect the actual amount of omegas being consumed by your dog.
If you fortify your dog’s diet with omega fatty acids, you are helping to ensure that he/she is receiving enough. Essential fatty acids are a crucial necessity to your dog’s overall wellbeing. Choosing a quality product to support your dog’s need for these fats is very important and one that will benefit your dog for the rest of his/her life.There are a variety of quality products available on the market and we recommend you check with your veterinarian about which he/she recommends since not all omega 3 products are created equal. The quality of fish oils is important since they can be contaminated with heavy metals and pesticides and some can be high in vitamin A and D. If you would prefer a vegan product, there are others on the market containing flax seed or sea buckthorn oil. When selecting an omega 3 supplement, make sure to look for the inclusion of Vitamin E. Vitamin E is necessary to insure that the omega-3s are completely metabolized.
If a pet is allergic to Linum family of plants, flax seed would be contra-indicated and if your pet is allergic to shellfish avoid krill oil. In some cases pets may also be allergic to fish and in particular instances flax seed oil may be recommended instead. Fish oils can cause diarrhea in some pets and sometimes it is best to start them at 1/4 of the recommended daily dose and slowly increase to the full dose over 1-2 weeks. This would be the same recommendation as when introducing your pet to a new food. Omega-3 fatty acids can interfere with blood thinners, beta blockers and diuretics therefore always consult your veterinarian. Because fish oil supplements can reduce blood coagulation and increase bleeding, we always recommend to discontinue omega-3 fatty acids supplements at least 7 days prior to any surgery and they can be restarted about 48 hours after.
Long term supplementation of omega 3 can lead to deficiency in omega 6 so this is why we recommend to always consult with your veterinarian about using supplements in your pet. Omega-6 oils can be pro-inflammatory and usually Omega-3 supplements are preferred. If you are looking into using a combined product that contains both these types of omegas, make sure that a ratio 2:1 is respected (Omega-3:Omega-6). Cod liver oil contains vitamin A, so it is not the exact same product as a capsule of Fish oil. High amounts of vitamin A and in some cases low amounts of vitamin D can increase the risk of vitamin A toxicity. This is why some vets will suggest fish oils instead of cod liver oil. If you do want to use cod liver oil, then make sure the ratio is 1 part vitamin A to 4-5 parts vitamin D. Fish Oil should be kept refrigerated. The dose recommend by veterinarians may vary, but the dose I recommend for arthritis, cancer and skin issues is 30 mg/kg of DHA. Usually Omega-3 supplements will show their benefits within 6-8 weeks but in some cases skin and coat can improve in as little as two weeks. I personally prefer the Ascenta Dog and Cat fish oil supplement as they contain higher amounts of DHA versus other products. This allows pet parents to give less of this supplement versus others to get the correct amount of DHA required.
Written by Dr Cindy Lizotte, DVM, MBA, CVFT (CHI institute), CVA (IVAS), Grad Dip Vet Western Herb Med (CIVT) Cert CVHM (IVAS). Elmwood Veterinary Hospital
• Dodds, Jean. Alternative Therapies for Pain Management. Holistic Veterinary Medicine Club Symposium, 2013.
• Larsen, Jennifer. Evidence-Based Benefits of Omega-3 Fatty Acids for Dogs & Cats. ACVIM Forum Proceedings, 2011.
• Schenck, Patricia. Anti-Inflammatory Effects of Omega-3 Fatty Acids in Dogs and Cats. ACVIM Forum Proceedings, 2011.