There are 2 essential fatty acids that cannot be made by pets and must be given to them in their food. These are omega-3 and omega-6. Omega-6 contains linoleic acid and is required for cats and dogs. Omega-3 contains ALA, DHA and EPA and again they are essential for both dogs and cats. Omega-6 has always been the fatty acid that has been promoted as essential for dogs and cats. However, more recent studies have shown that both types of pets can derive many health benefits by eating diets that contain omega-3 too. Here we will see these benefits with special emphasis on omega-3 for dogs.
Benefits of Omega-3 for dogs
Omega-3 helps with neural development in the puppy and kitten stage. It also benefits the skin, coats of both dogs and cats, helps to strengthen the immune system and aids pregnant and lactating females. DHA is the fatty acid that is needed for neural development in kittens and puppies since their ability to synthesize DHA is low.
The health benefits of fish oil, flaxseed oil, canola oil, etc were observed to help with better vision in puppies, improved skin and less dermatological problems, lower levels of cholesterol and help to ease the symptoms of chronic valvular disease on dogs. Here are some specific benefits of omega-3 for dogs.
For a shiny coat : A major health benefit of omega-3 for dogs is that it provides a shiny coat and healthy skin. This keeps the dog happy and one of the best ways is to maintain a good diet rich in omega-3 and other foods. Although it was initially thought that linoleic acid found in omega-6 fatty acids was exclusively responsible for a healthy coat in our pets, modern science is disproving this. It has been found that omega-3 is as important and plays a supportive role in maintaining a healthy coat.
In fact, excess of omega-6 can aggravate inflammatory skin conditions and result in excessive scratching, itching and licking. Omega-3 must be introduced in the diet to counter balance the effect of excessive omega-6. You will find that most pet foods that promote a healthy coat and are meant to help manage skin inflammation will contain greater quantities of fish products such as fish oil. This will give adequate quantities of both long chain omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA.
Pet foods similar to human foods have higher concentrations of omega-6 fats. This can cause potentially harmful skin flares, pain etc. EPA and DHA in the diet act as COX-inhibitors and counter these harmful effects of omega-6 AA fatty acids.
Geriatric Dogs : Nutrition for dogs is similar to humans and depends on the life cycle of the pet. Different nutritional combinations are needed at different stages. Geriatric dogs have problems like deteriorating physiological functions, slower metabolism rates, poor vision etc. Their organs are less able to use nutrients for their benefit. Omega-3 (both EPA and DHA) help improve geriatric conditions like arthritis, kidney problems, cardiovascular diseases and even improves behavior. More studies are needed to strengthen the position that omega-3 helps to provide better quality of life in geriatric dogs.
Improved Joints : Excessive omega-6 found in most pet foods is actually pro-inflammatory. This is why more animal nutrition experts are suggesting the inclusion of food rich in omega-3 for dogs. This is anti-inflammatory and can counter the ill-effects of omega-6. At least 20% of dogs start developing osteoarthritis right from the time they are a year old. This degenerative disease affects the joints and results in wearing down of cartilage over the years. This results in pain and lameness. It is important through diet and the proper treatment to keep dogs active and ease them of the pain.
Since omega-3 acts against omega-6, they are recommended for arthritic dogs and are needed along with COX inhibitor medication to control such symptoms of arthritis. Foods rich in omega-3 fats are available through a veterinarian and help to improve the joint health of dogs.
Aggression and Omega-3 : Every year, millions of dogs all over the world are found abandoned or need to be euthanized for various reasons. The predominant reason (50%-70%) for euthanizing them is to do with aggressive behavior. While some of the causes include age, diseases and genetics, nutritional imbalance can also cause this kind of aggression. The central nervous system is the part that regulates behavior. Both omega-3 and omega-6 have a role to play in the brain’s structural constituents. Omega-3 for dogs is needed for good eye and brain development. The right balance of omega-3 and 6 can help to improve behavior and affect cognitive performance too. A test on aggressive dogs found that they had higher concentrations of omega-6 and low levels of omega-3. Researchers thought that this could contribute to increased aggression in dogs. The conclusion was that behavioral problems in dogs could be countered by increasing omega-3 fatty acids in food. It is hoped that this reduces the behavioral problems in dogs.
What is ideal ratio of omega 3 and 6 for pets?
The ideal balance of omega-3 and 6 for dogs and cats depends on their ability to produce these fatty acids in their body. The two omega-6 fatty acids are linoleic acid (LA) and arachidonic acid (AA). AA is not needed for dogs. Cats on the other hand cannot produce AA and need to take it in the diet. Both dogs and cats need LA for healthy coat and skin. Without this, their coats will be dry, dull and lifeless, greasy and prone to skin diseases.
Omega-3 fatty acids are subdivided into 4 – alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and stearidonic acid (SDA. Dogs can use ALA to make DHA and EPA but not very efficiently. This is the same for cats too. Hence both species must get enough EPA and DHA in their diet.
Most pet foods are rich in omega-6 fats. Too much of this can lead to inflammatory diseases similar to human beings like arthritis, renal problems and skin diseases. The ideal balance according to experts is 5:1 of omega-6 to omega-3. This is a generalized ratio and the actual ratio depends on the age of the pet. It is best to consult your veterinarian for the ideal diet requirements of omega-3 and 6 for your pet.
What are deficiency symptoms of omega-3 in dogs?
It is very difficult to pinpoint the exact deficiency symptoms of omega-3 in dogs. It requires a trained veterinarian to notice these nutritional deficiencies and adjust the dog’s diet if it is in need of more omega-3. It has been observed that deficiency in omega-3 can cause growth retardation, dermatitis, reproductive impairment and poor wound healing in dogs.
Special tests need to be conducted to find out if omega-3 for dogs needs to be added to their diet. One such method is to take a blood test and check the levels of omega-3 in the diet that was fed to the dog. This provides a good idea about the concentration of omega-3 in the blood. Based on this, the diet can also be changed. A deficiency results in poor neural development – especially the vision. Therefore, lactating bitches must be given omega-3 enhanced foods or by enriching the milk. Omega-3 can also be added to the food of the puppy after weaning and this provides sharp and acute vision.
The other health benefit offered by omega-3 is to provide the right biochemical balance with omega-6 and curbing the potential harm caused by high intake of the latter.
Buying Pet Foods rich in Omega 3
When you buy pet foods, you must check the labels to ensure that it carries specific details about the type of omega-3 fatty acid that has been used – e.g. fish or fish oil rich in DHA and EPA. Several pet foods mention that they carry omega-3. However, these are usually the plant-based ALA. These foods do not offer DHA benefits and do not provide sufficient nutrition since young and older pets cannot easily convert ALA to DHA in the body.
The health benefits of omega-3 for dogs are undeniable. It is therefore important for every dog owner to check the omega-3 status of their dogs and change their diet if needed. This can lead to improved health all through the life of your beloved pet. Always consult your veterinarian for a recommendation on the best diet for your dog based on age and overall health.