Omega-3s for dogs are very popular nutritional supplements. Not only are fats an important part of your pooch’s regular diet, research tells us that omega-3s can help with everything from skin conditions and allergies to heart disease and arthritis.
Many vets recommend omega-3s for patients for various reasons/conditions, and that’s great. But it’s also good, as a pet owner, to know the why behind these recommendations.
And not only the why, but also which sources of omega-3s for dogs are best.
The Benefits of Omega-3s for Dogs
As we mentioned, fat plays an important role in your dog’s diet. Some fats give your dog energy, while other fats are closely associated with overall health.
All nutritional fats are composed of fatty acids. The two primary groups of fatty acids are omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.
Omega-3 fatty acids include:
- Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA)
- Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)
- Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)
Unfortunately, our dogs can’t make their own omega-3 fatty acids. This is why you need to supplement them in the diet.
Why? Inflammation is one of the biggest reasons. In the body, omega-3 and omega-6 fats work together to manage inflammation. Omega-6 fats raise inflammation and omega-3 fats lower it. And, while some inflammation is ok as a part of the healing process, long-term inflammation (or chronic inflammation) is bad.
So bad, in fact, that long-term inflammation can lead to all kinds of issues, including joint pain and arthritis, gastrointestinal issues like IBD, liver or kidney disease, even cancer. So, you want to make sure your dog is getting enough omega-3s to offset an overabundance of omega-6s.
But balancing out inflammation isn’t the only reason to include omega-3s for dogs in the daily feeding routine. Here are a few of the other benefits:
- Supports the brain development of puppies
- Strengthens the immune system
- Boosts heart and kidney health
- Improves skin and coat health
- Can help reduce anxiety, depression, and hyperactivity
Many pet parents are big fans of fish oil, both for their animals and for themselves. And that makes sense; fish oil is arguably one of the greatest sources of omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA. Unfortunately, in many cases, we’re not huge fans of fish oil.
The thing is, fish spoils more easily than other foods, and the same goes for fish oil. So, that bottle of fish oil capsules you’ve had in the cupboard for several months? Well, we hate to tell you this, but it may not be good anymore. In fact, it may not even be safe! Even newly purchased fish oil could be rancid before you bring it home.
The reason fish oil spoils so quickly, ironically, is because fish is such a rich source of polyunsaturated omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3s are characterized by their large numbers of reactive double bonds. This chemical structure makes these fatty acids really vulnerable to the effects of oxygen.
As fish oil oxidizes, new by-products begin to form in the oil called lipid peroxides, as well as harmful aldehydes and ketones. These should be avoided, for both you and your pups.
That said, there are companies out there that do their due diligence and provide high quality fish oil, harvesting using better practices and watching for rancidity. If you choose to go the fish oil route, make sure you do your research to find out where it comes from, how it was harvested, and how long that bottle has been on the shelf!
Other Sources of Omega-3s for Dogs
So, is fish oil the only answer? Nope.
Here are some other good sources of omega-3s for dogs.
Why not go straight to the source? Adding whole fish to your dog’s diet is a great idea. Not only is it full of healthy fats, it’s also a healthy source of protein and minerals.
There are a few caveats here though. Not all fish is ideal.
Small fatty fish like sardines or anchovies are great because they only eat krill or phytoplankton and have relatively short life spans. This is important because they don’t amass the toxins and pollutants in the same way that larger, carnivorous fish do. You can feed these fish raw, frozen, dehydrated or canned (packed in water, not oil!). If you’re feeding these fish raw, we recommend freezing them first for a few weeks to kill any potential bacteria.
There is also some concern about the radiation caused by the destruction of Japan’s Fukushima power plant, although reports vary on the levels of radiation found in Pacific Ocean fish. If this is worrisome to you, pick fish from the Atlantic Ocean.
Phytoplankton are tiny, microscopic whole food nutrition that feeds the entire ocean. Seriously, it’s literally considered the food of the ocean.
It actually contains the omega-3s that make fish high in omega-3s!
The other great thing about phytoplankton is that it’s a less toxic choice than fish because it can be grown outside the ocean, in filtered water, free of the heavy metals and toxic chemicals that are found in the ocean. And because of this, it’s also a much more sustainable and environmentally friendly alternative to fish.
Seaweeds are chlorophyll-containing plants that play a vital role in ocean life. They contain tons of healthy nutrients like:
- vitamins like K and B
- minerals like calcium, magnesium, potassium, and phosphorous
- amino acids
- trace minerals
It’s also rich in protein, and it may have antidiabetic, antioxidant, and antihypertensive properties.
Our favorite kind of seaweed for dogs is kelp. You can buy large bags of organic kelp for dogs and add it to your dog’s food every day. Just follow the directions on the package.
What about vegetable oils? Some vegetable oils like flaxseed or hemp oil can provide dogs with another omega 3 fatty acid, ALA, which is a precursor to EPA and DHA. The problem is, dogs aren’t great at converting ALA into EPA or DHA, so relying solely on these types of oils could mean the diet is lacking in the most important omega-3s.
Omega-3s for Dogs: Final Thoughts
Whether you’re looking for a way to make your dog’s diet as healthy as possible or to help with a condition like arthritis, you really can’t go wrong by adding these foods in on a daily basis. Whether you feed kibble or raw, a little extra love goes a long way!
The Veterinarious team is made up of pet owners, pet lovers, and pet experts from around the globe! We’ve banded together to create a community of like-minded pet people to give you the latest research and health advice for your beloved beast!