We see it everywhere, we hear it every day and, knowingly or unknowingly, we ingest it as well. Fish oil, fish oil, fish oil - there certainly is a massive hype around it. With the campaigning of it for human consumption being prominently displayed in most things healthy and natural, the praise for it can't even escape the packaging that contains the delicious food our pets love. However, as the talk of Omega-3 fish oils continues to reign the waves of "being health conscious", what benefit does it truly have to our pets? Why should we put our cats and dogs on diets that are rich in Omega-3 fish oils?
Well, we’re here to tell you everything you need to know about Omega-3, from what it means for your dog or cat to the popular and effective products out there for them.
What is Omega-3?
First and foremost, there are two main forms of omega-3 fish oil fatty acids that you want your pets to be ingesting, DHA and EPA, which are long-chain omega-3 fatty acids. They are essential to the livelihood and lubrication of nerve cells and as a result, are beneficial to the brain, heart, and joints.
As the name suggests, they are abundantly found in fish (primarily coldwater fish), however, they can also be found in nature amongst various seeds and nuts including walnuts. Although it is present in nature outside of just fish, these non-fish sources have long-chain omega-3 present in low quantities and are also incredibly difficult for the body to synthesise.
How does it help?
Omega-3 works along nerves and acts as a signal to aid in the reduction of inflammation and therefore reducing pain, swelling and redness of injured or weakened areas. This is how they inhibit pain receptors (similar to Aspirin) and thus improve the development of neurons. By playing a role along these neural pathways that signal pain and inflammation, they work within their cell membranes and affect the cell's permeability (the control of letting materials in and out of the cell) along with the growth and developments of nerve cells. Which is why by feeding omega-3 fish oils to growing puppies and kittens, it provides them with optimal amounts of DHA for prime development.
There are two types of long chain omega-3 fatty acids, DHA and EPA, each of them has a different role in helping your pet:
DHA (Docosahexaenoic Acid)
- Acts as an anti-inflammatory for conditions that cause the heart, kidneys, skin and/or joints to inflame
- Reduces inflammation related to allergies
- Reduces itchy skin and dandruff
- Helps decrease hotspot incidents
- Promotes a healthier and shinier coat
- Reduces shedding (which means fewer hairballs in cats)
EPA (Eicosapentaenoic Acid)
- Develops brain and eye function in kittens and puppies.
- Beneficial to pregnant cats and dogs as well as their offspring.
You should be able to see an effect of the increased intake of omega-3 within 2 weeks.
Have there been any scientific studies conducted?
A number of scientific studies regarding the effects of omega-3 fish oil on cats and dogs have been conducted and published in credible peer-reviewed journals. They have concluded with very promising results that suggest some short-term relief in dogs suffering from osteoarthritis. Additionally, by being a promoter of neural development, omega-3 has shown positive results on pets suffering from the following conditions:
- Inflamed Bowel Disease
- Cognitive issues
- Dry and/or flaky skin
- Old age
- Stiff joints
- Dry coats
- Poor health of nails
Other studies have gone so far as to say that fish oil has potential in reducing the growth of cancers, however, this is still a theory being tested and has not been confirmed.
Can it ever be detrimental?
Just like everything, even water, it's all about proportions. Over-supplementing your pet with fish oils will cause damage to the functions of their platelets. It disrupts its ability to form blood clots by decreasing the degree and speed to which it can stick together.
Even though there have been less than a handful of reports where some dogs have had near-fatal symptoms after taking fish oil tablets for a couple of weeks, most were linked to over-supplementation which caused a severe vitamin E deficiency because fish oil needs vitamin E for it to be processed properly by the body.
Taking additional supplements
Before deciding whether your pet needs additional supplements of omega-3, be sure they are receiving a balanced diet that includes a natural source of omega-3 (e.g. Fish) because they still need proper levels of nutrition in order to survive. Otherwise it would be like watering a plant in a dark room and wondering why it won't look alive.
Taking omega-3 supplements really isn't required if your pet is getting their dose of it through the food they eat unless your vet recommends you to do so. Pet foods that have omega-3 fish oil in them (you'll know whether or not they do, it's always displayed on the packaging) are generally made to cater for the different sizes and breeds. You simply have to buy the most appropriate one for your pet and/or follow the instructions on the packaging to ensure you are providing your pet with ample, but not too much, amounts of omega-3 fish oil for their size.
The most important thing to bear in mind is that whilst omega-3 is beneficial, it is so only in moderation and should be accompanied with and be part of a balanced diet. As well as this, be sure to only provide your pet with their pet-specific omega-3 supplements.
REMEMBER: Before starting your pet on supplements of any kind, check with your veterinarian first for the dosage appropriate for your pet's size, breed, age, and health conditions.
Is there a difference between the Omega-3 of humans, dogs and cats?
The molecule of EPA and DHA would be the same, the only difference is that it's metabolised by the body differently in humans, dogs and cats. The biggest difference is the fact that when taken through non-fish sources of omega-3, short chain fatty acids have to be converted to long-chain acids, something that humans and dogs can do quite well but is something that cats struggle. Having said that, whilst dogs can perform this conversion, they aren't very good at it and as a result it can be ineffective and inefficient.
Too long, didn't read? No worries, here's a brief summary...
The most important long-chain omega-3 fatty acids are DHA and EPA. They work along the neural pathways where they lubricated the cells. As a result they help with inflammation, pain and swelling. Primarily found in coldwater fish, omega-3 fish oil helps with the development of nerves, even in unborn babies where it helps their development in the womb. Many peer-reviewed scientific studies have concluded that there are promising signs that use of omega-3 oils improves the conditions of those pets with arthritis amongst a number of other conditions. Be careful not to give too much when using fish oil supplements as this may cause new problems that can prove fatal. Check with your vet on the dosage required before starting your pet on fish oil supplements.
Whilst omega-3 fish oil can play a positive role in your pet’s life, it can only do so with the help of other vitamins and minerals so make sure your pet is getting a balanced nutritional diet.