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Unleashing the Power of Omega-3 Fatty Acids: A Guide to Boosting Your Pet’s Health

close up photo of cute sleeping cat

Author: Dr Katy Miller DVM, CVFT, CVNAN, CPFFCP, CPCQI, PAS

Our beloved pets deserve the best when it comes to their health and happiness. One key ingredient that can make a significant difference in their well-being is omega-3 fatty acids. These essential nutrients, particularly eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), contribute to a myriad of benefits. Unfortunately they cannot be made by the animal’s body and must be supplemented or contained in the pet’s diet. The great news is that EPA and DHA are found in abundance in marine life like tuna, salmon, and algae. They have long been said to be vital for humans, and also play a crucial role in enhancing the health of our furry companions.

The Omega-3 Advantage

  • Healthy Skin and Coat

Omega-3 fatty acids play a pivotal role in enhancing the skin and coat health of dogs and cats. They aid in maintaining a robust skin barrier, reducing dryness and preventing skin irritations. This is particularly beneficial for pets prone to allergies or dermatological issues.1 Moreover, these fatty acids promote a shiny and lustrous coat by nourishing hair follicles and reducing shedding.2 Omega-3s also exhibit anti-inflammatory properties helping to support, and may reduce skin conditions like itching and redness.3-5 As a result pets supplemented with omega-3 fatty acids often showcase not only a visibly shinier coat, but also an overall improvement in skin condition. This can make them more comfortable and content in their furry coats. Whether derived from fish oil supplements or incorporated through omega-3-rich foods, these fatty acids contribute to radiant and resilient skin and coats, for our cherished canine and feline companions.

  • Joint Support and Mobility

Osteoarthritis is estimated to affect up to 20% of dogs over 1 year of age.6 In cats, up to 40% have outward signs of osteoarthritis, and over 90% of cats older than 12 show signs on radiographs.7-8 Joint health is a prominent area where omega-3s shine because they possess anti-inflammatory properties that can alleviate joint pain and stiffness in pets.9 These fatty acids contribute to the maintenance of healthy cartilage and can be particularly beneficial for older animals or those prone to joint issues. This can be especially helpful for cats who typically hide joint pain and discomfort.

  • Cognitive Function

Omega-3 fatty acids, especially DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), play a crucial role in supporting cognitive function. These essential fatty acids are essential components of cell membranes in the brain and contribute to the development and maintenance of neural tissues. They contribute to brain development in puppies and kittens, and were recently added to the nutritional standards for pet food fed to growing animals.10 In older animals they play a significant role in supporting cognitive function. As pets age they may experience cognitive decline which can manifest as memory loss, confusion, and reduced learning ability. Omega-3s have been shown to have neuroprotective effects, aiding in the preservation of cognitive function and potentially slowing down the progression of cognitive dysfunction in aging pets. They also exhibit anti-inflammatory properties, which can be beneficial in reducing oxidative stress and inflammation in the brain, both are factors associated with cognitive decline.

  • Heart Health

Maintaining a healthy heart is as important for pets as it is for humans. Cardiac disease affects approximately 11% of dogs and 20% of cats.12 Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to support cardiovascular health by reducing the risk of heart disease. Research in dogs has demonstrated that Omega 3’s from fish oils can contribute to cardiovascular well-being by supporting healthy heart function and reducing the risk of various heart-related issues. These fatty acids have been linked to the prevention of arrhythmias, which are irregular heartbeats and can help maintain optimal blood circulation.13 Omega-3s also exhibit anti-inflammatory properties, which can be beneficial in reducing inflammation in the blood vessels and support overall cardiovascular health.14 Including omega-3 supplements or incorporating sources like fish oil into the diet of dogs and cats can contribute to a healthier heart potentially lowering the risk of heart diseases and promoting longevity in our beloved pets.

  • Anti-Inflammatory Properties

Inflammation is the body’s response to injury or illness. Chronic inflammation can lead to various health issues including joint problems, skin conditions, and other inflammatory diseases. Omega-3s help modulate the inflammatory response, promoting a balanced and controlled reaction in the body.11 These fatty acids also play a role in reducing oxidative stress, further contributing to their anti-inflammatory effects.15

Incorporating Omega-3s into Your Pet’s Diet

Now that you’re aware of the incredible benefits of omega-3 fatty acids, you might be wondering how to introduce them into your pet’s diet. Here are some practical tips:

Fish Oil Supplements: Omega-3 supplements, specifically designed for pets, are readily available. These often come in liquid or capsule form, making it easy to mix them with your pet’s food. Check with a veterinarian on the appropriate level to supplement.

Omega-3 Rich Foods: Certain fish, such as salmon, tuna and mackerel, are rich sources of omega-3s. Including these in your pet’s diet as part of a balanced pet food is easy, fun, and can contribute to their omega-3 intake. Luckily, Birdie and Louie have a variety of fun tuna-packed canned food options that are loaded with omega-3 fatty acids.

Ensuring your pet receives an adequate amount of omega-3 fatty acids can be a game-changer for their overall health. From a gleaming coat to a happy heart, these essential nutrients offer a myriad of benefits. So, why wait? Start incorporating omega-3s into your pet’s diet today and witness the positive transformations in their well-being.

Remember, a healthy pet is a happy pet!

Before making any significant changes to your pet’s diet or introducing supplements, it’s advisable to consult with your veterinarian. Too much of a good thing can be unhealthy. They can provide guidance based on your pet’s specific needs and health conditions. Regular monitoring and consultation with a veterinarian are recommended to ensure appropriate dosage and overall well-being.

About the Author: Dr. Katy Miller works as the Director of Veterinary Services at BSM Partners. She brings her extensive background in companion animal nutrition (12 years) and her experience as a practicing veterinarian (7 years) together to help provide useful information to pet food manufacturers and pet parents. She shares a home with 2 cats, 9 dogs, and 5 horses.

References

  1. Horrobin, David F. “Essential fatty acids in clinical dermatology.” Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology 20.6 (1989): 1045-1053.
  2. Richards, Taylor L., et al. “Effects of dietary camelina, flaxseed, and canola oil supplementation on inflammatory and oxidative markers, transepidermal water loss, and coat quality in healthy adult dogs.” Frontiers in Veterinary Science 10 (2023): 1085890.
  3. Logas, Dawn, and Gail A. Kunkle. “Double‐blinded crossover study with marine oil supplementation containing high‐dose icosapentaenoic acid for the treatment of canine pruritic skin disease.” Veterinary Dermatology 5.3 (1994): 99-104.
  4. Mueller, R. S., et al. “Effect of omega‐3 fatty acids on canine atopic dermatitis.” Journal of small animal practice 45.6 (2004): 293-297.
  5. Palmeiro BS, Shanley KJ, Mehler SJ et al. “A prospective, randomized, double-blinded, placebo-controlled trial evaluating the effects of a natural triglyceride omega-3 supplement on atopic dermatitis and erythrocyte membrane fatty acid concentrations in dogs.” In: 29th Proceedings of the North American Veterinary Dermatology Forum. Nashville, TN, USA; 2015: 37.
  6. Johnston, S.A. “Osteoarthritis.” Vet. Clin. North Am. Small Anim. Pract. (1997) 27: 699– 723.
  7. Brown, D. Cimino. “What can we learn from osteoarthritis pain in companion animals.” Clin. Exp. Rheumatol 35.Suppl 107 (2017): 53-58.
  8. KG MarketSense 2018 Global Veterinarian Market Research
  9. Roush JK, Cross AR, Rengerg WC et al. Evaluation of the effects of dietary supplementation with fish oil omega-3 fatty acids on weight bearing in dogs with osteoarthritis. J Am Vet Med Assoc 2010; 236: 67-73
  10. Waldron MK, et al. Role of long-chain polyunsaturated n-3 fatty acids in the development of the nervous system of dogs and cats. J Am Vet Med Assoc 1998;213:619-22.
  11. Kaur, Haneet, et al. “Role of omega-3 fatty acids in canine health: a review.” International Journal of Current Microbiology and Applied Sciences 9.3 (2020): 2283-2293.
  12. Hundal, J.S. (2020). Role of omega-3 FA in canine health. Lead paper in ISACPCON=2020, 17th National Congress on Canine Practice and Nation Symposium on “Maximizing Diagnosis, Therapy and Welfare in Canine Practice in Current Scenarios” on 21-23 Jan 2020 Pp107-109.
  13. Sakabe M, Shiroshita-Takeshita A, Maguy A et al. Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids prevent atrial fibrillation associated with heart failure but not atrial tachycardia remodeling. Circulation 2007; 116: 2101-2109.