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The Importance of Additional Omega-3 for Dogs

Today I wanted to break down the importance of a diet addition I recommend to every single client I work with! This one ingredient (or supplement) can make huge improvements in your dog's health and wellness in multiple ways. This post is regarding the benefits of adding proper Omega-3 Fatty Acids which are known as Eicosapentaenoic Acid (EPA) and Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).

Both Omega-3 and Omega-6 are essential fatty acids that a dog’s body cannot naturally create on its own and must be added to their diet. They are polyunsaturated fats that serve different and very crucial roles in the body.

The Omega-6 fatty acids are needed for growth, reproduction, and precursors for prostaglandin synthesis. Prostaglandins are needed at injury and infection sites to aid in the body's healing. Omega-6s ⬆️promote inflammation⬆️ that signals all of the necessary cells to infiltrate the injured tissue to begin the healing process.

Omega-3 fatty acids are needed for brain and retinal function, cell membrane integrity, and skin health. Omega-3s ⬇️reduce inflammation⬇️ and supplementation is recommended daily but especially before and after surgical procedures, after a traumatic injury, for dogs with cancer, skin issues, and gastrointestinal issues.

Many diets *especially kibble* are lacking in Omega 3 fatty acids. Diets that are higher in Omega 6 can contribute to excessive inflammation which can worsen things like allergies, joint pain and poor skin and coat quality (slow healing, hot spots, yeast overgrowth, itchy skin, excessive shedding) and Omega 3's combat that and bring inflammation down within the body.

Ensuring your dog is getting optimal levels and a proper balance of fatty acids can make major improvements in your dogs mobility, skin, coat and nail condition, brain and organ function and so much more!

⚠️ Even if your kibble has added fish oil already (as the majority do), that means it unfortunately has been heated, exposed to oxidation and is more than likely rancid and NOT doing the intended job. Adding fresh fish or a quality fish oil can make a huge difference in your dogs health and wellness at ANY and ALL ages and life stages!

Proven Benefits of Omega-3 Fatty Acids

❤️ Helping Arthritis Pain by Reducing Inflammation

  • Extensive research has shown that omega-3 fatty acids rich in EPA and DHA can form a crucial element in the treatment of arthritis. Dog owners involved in studies confirmed that supplementing the diet of their pets with additional omega-3 fats resulted in significantly reduced discomfort, lameness and joint pain severity.

💚 Improving the Ability to Fight Cancer

  • Omega-3 fatty acids have shown that they are able to slow or even inhibit the development and metastasis of certain cancers. This effect has also been confirmed in a study involving 32 dogs with lymphoma. The supplementation of their diet with omega-3 fatty acids high in EPA and DHA, significantly increased their disease-free intervals and survival times.

🩵 Benefitting the Immune System of Dogs

  • Research has shown that the supplementation of omega-3 fatty acids in a canine’s diet positively effects their immune system. Effects described a range from alleviating the harmful effects of allergies caused by an over-reactive immune systems response, to substantially higher antibody titers after vaccinations.

🧡 Boosting the Heart Health of Dogs

  • Several studies involving dogs of different sexes, age, breed, size and weight, have shown considerable positive effects of omega-3 on canines suffering from different heart conditions. The positive effects include improved heart function and appetite, lower blood pressure, inflammation and reduced muscle loss. As a result, those dogs reported longer survival times in comparison to those dogs that did not receive omega-3 fatty acids.

💛 Improving the Health of Dogs Suffering From Chronic Kidney Disease

  • Omega-3 fatty acids have significant positive effects on the health of dogs suffering from chronic kidney disease. The same study has also shown that feeding omega-6 rich vegetable oils significantly worsens the condition of the dogs.

💚 Contributing to the Skin and Coat Health of Dogs

  • The positive effect of omega-3 fatty acids on dogs suffering from the harmful effects of allergies, fur loss and itching have also been extensively researched during the last several decades. These studies have shown that adding omega-3 fatty acids to a dog’s diet has an alleviating effect on their over-reactive immune systems. This leads to reduced itchiness and substantial improvements of their skin health and coat quality.

🩷 Improves Cognitive Function for Seniors and Increases Trainability in Puppies

  • Studies show young pups whose diet contained higher levels of DHA were more trainable during tasks, brain games and obstacle courses.

  • Additionally, omega-3s may be helpful for cases of canine cognitive dysfunction. This can effect our senior dogs and similar to dementia or Alzheimer’s disease in humans. Dogs with CCD may experience behavior changes, loss of housebreaking, decreased interactions with family members, changes in activity level, and/or disruptions in sleep-wake cycles (A study of 142 dogs fed additional DHA supplemented food for 60 days demonstrated improvement in all these areas!)

How to Add to your Dog's Diet

As a general guideline, smaller fish are better for your dog than larger fish due to the lower levels of toxins in small, oily fish.

🐟 Fish that are safe to feed include:

  • Sardines

  • Salmon

  • Smelt

  • Anchovies

  • Herring

  • Mackerel

  • Cod or Pollock

If you cannot offer whole fish it is best and ideal to rotate through different Omega 3 oils to get broad spectrum benefits.

❗Hemp oil is not the same as fish oil as it is not EPA/DHA which is the form of omega 3 dogs require. However, there are studies to show that dogs may effectively convert ALA (hemp's form) into EPA/DHA they can utilize. Not all research on this agrees which is why I only recommend it in a rotation with fish oil unless needed for seafood allergy concerns.

Along with fish oil, you can also use Green Lipped Mussel Powder (GLMP) and it has an added benefit!

  • Green lipped mussel powder is an especially great choice for senior dogs as not only does it contain the additional fatty acids but also provides fabulous joint support with natural pain relief.

  • While fish oil contains the EPA & DHA, the green-lipped mussel also contains a third called Eicosatetraenoic Acid (ETA). While all omega-3 fatty acids have the ability to reduce inflammation by blocking the enzymes (lipoxygenase and cyclooxygenase) that contribute to it, ETA is a rare form that goes one step further: it actually works at the gene level to lower the production of cyclooxygenase. This means less inflammation, less pain, and more mobility for your our dogs.

  • ETA found in the green-lipped mussel is hundreds of times more potent than the EPA found in fish oil, so you can also give your dog a comparatively lower dosage.

  • Studies have shown that extract of the green-lipped mussels are an extremely powerful natural anti-inflammatory even when compared to pharmaceutical drugs like aspirin, ibuprofen, and Metacam without any of the potential side-effects.

  • In addition to its anti-inflammatory properties, the green-lipped mussel is considered a superfood because it contains a wide variety of vitamins, minerals, omega-3 fats, amino acids, antioxidants, enzymes, and many more nutrients.

Trouble Shooting Tips

  • Some dogs can definitely be weirded out by fresh fish and/or the strong scent of the oil or GLMP. For either option start small and work your way up as your dog gets used to it. For fresh, try offering it in different forms (thawed, frozen, fresh, lightly cooked) as some dogs can be picky with textures.

Some people have parasite concerns regarding feeding fresh fish but proper freezing can help with this issue. The FDA’s recommendations offer these options which they state “are sufficient to kill parasites”

  • Freeze and store at an ambient temperature of -4°F (-20°C) or below for 7 days (total time)

  • Freeze at an ambient temperature of -31°F (-35°C) or below until solid and store at an ambient temperature of -31°F (-35°C) or below for 15 hours

  • Freeze at an ambient temperature of -31°F (-35°C) or below until solid and store at an ambient temperature of -4°F (-20°C) or below for 24 hours

  • Some owners have questions regarding the dog eating the bones within the fish. Raw fish bones are very small and soft and most dogs have no issue consuming and digesting them. As with anything you feed your dog, there is always a risk of choking or a small fish bone getting caught in their teeth, throat, etc which can cause irritation. Use your discretion and safety protocols as you would when offering your dog something with a risk, like a bully stick or bone to chew and always monitor which you should be doing anyways 😊

  • Canned fish like salmon, sardines, mackerel or anchovies can be a good choice and are typically more budget friendly as well. It's not ideal as these typically have high levels of sodium but canned fish on occasion can still have the benefits! Ensure you choose canned fish packed in water without added salt, rather than in oil or any sauces and is not smoked. Rinse the pieces well before feeding to help wash out excessive sodium.

There are many great options on the market for fish oils but please do your research on quality sourcing etc when choosing your brand as quality very much matters!

Hopefully by this point you have a better understanding of what these essential fatty acids do for our dogs and (if not already giving) left you feeling excited about the results you will see when adding this to your dog's routine! 😊

If you find yourself looking for more personalized guidance, I will be offering consults out of Roving K9 Kare in Kamloops BC in the very near future. Please email to be added to my wait list for opening!

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Mike Leonard
Mike Leonard
Nov 10, 2023

Great article Chayse and very informative!

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