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Written by and used with permission from Nordic Naturals.

What are the health benefits of fish-derived omega-3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA, in dogs and cats? 

One of the key functions of the omega-3 fatty acid EPA is supporting the body’s natural anti-inflammatory response. 

Dogs and cats can suffer from numerous inflammatory conditions that can affect their health and well-being. Studies have shown supplementation of omega-3 fatty acids from fish supports dogs and cats with inflammatory conditions associated with the skin, joints, kidneys, and heart. 

In puppies and kittens, the omega-3 fatty acid DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) plays a key role in neurological (brain) and retinal (eye) development. Studies have shown that feeding pregnant dogs omega-3 fatty acid-enriched foods during gestation and lactation provides needed DHA to their puppies. Puppies that are weaned onto foods with DHA have improved electroretinographic responses (a measurement of the electrical response of the retina in the eye to light stimulation), and improved responses to training tests. Human studies have shown that omega-3 fatty acids may be beneficial in maintaining normal cognitive function later in life. 

Finally, essential fatty acid supplementation is known to maintain general skin and coat quality in dogs and cats. 

Do omega-3 fatty acid requirements vary with the age of dogs and cats? 

Omega-3 fatty acids are important throughout the life of dogs and cats. DHA is very important for normal neurological (brain) development in both puppies and kittens. In addition to the role of DHA in brain development, studies in humans have shown that omega-3 fatty acids may be beneficial in maintaining normal cognitive function later in life. 

As your pet ages, omega-3 fatty acid supplementation can support dogs and cats with inflammatory conditions related to the joints, kidneys, and heart. 

Do different breeds of dogs and cats have certain health conditions that would benefit from omega-3 fatty acid supplementation? 

All dog and cat breeds can benefit from omega-3 fatty acid supplementation. Certain health conditions known to benefit from omega-3 fatty acid supplementation are related to skin allergies, joints, kidneys, and the heart. Breeds that may be prone to these conditions may benefit from omega-3 fatty acid supplementation. For example, many larger breed dogs, such as Labrador Retrievers and German Shepherd Dogs, are prone to developing joint issues. 

Skin allergies can occur in any dog breed, but has been reported in Boxers, Cocker Spaniels, Springer Spaniels, Collies, Dalmatians, German Shepherd Dogs, Lhasa Apsos, Miniature Schnauzers, Retrievers, Chinese Shar-Peis, Soft Coated Wheaten Terriers, Dachshunds, and West Highland White Terriers. 

Heart conditions can also occur in many breeds. Studies evaluating omega-3 fatty acids in dogs with heart conditions have included the following breeds: Boxer, Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Shetland Sheepdog, Airedale Terrier, Golden Retriever, Jack Russell Terrier, Miniature Schnauzer, Portuguese Water Dog, and Toy Poodle. 

Do omega-3 fatty acids affect behavior and mood in dogs and cats? 

The effects of omega-3 fatty acids on behavior in dogs and cats have not been well researched. However, one recent study did show that dogs with aggression problems had lower blood levels of DHA and higher omega-6 to omega-3 ratios than dogs without aggression. Although this study does not prove cause and effect, it does suggest that omega-3 fatty acid supplementation may be beneficial for pets with aggressive conditions. 

Omega-3 fatty acid supplementation has also been researched in humans with cognitive dysfunction. Results of these studies have suggested that omega-3 fatty acids may be beneficial in maintaining cognitive function. Therefore, improved behavior may be appreciated in older pets, especially those suffering from cognitive dysfunction. 

What is a good source of omega-3 fatty acids? 

Fish oils are an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids because they provide long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids, EPA and DHA. 

What are the differences between omega-3 fatty acids derived from fish oil verses flax seed oil? 

Flax seed oil is rich in ALA, which requires conversion within the body to form EPA and DHA. It has been shown that fish oils, with EPA and DHA, are more effective and efficient in producing health benefits in animals than supplementing with ALA alone. As mentioned earlier, cats have even less ability to convert ALA to EPA and DHA. Therefore, cats must receive a direct source of EPA and DHA through diet or supplementation.

Selecting a Quality Fish Oil Supplement 

Fish oil structure, purity, and freshness dictate quality, function, and efficacy. 

Select a company whose fish oil quality (purity and freshness) surpasses the Norwegian Medicinal, European Pharmacopoeia, Council for Responsible Nutrition, and World Health Organization standards. Request third-party laboratory test results on the fish oil from the manufacturer to verify fish oil purity and freshness. 

Fish oil should be distilled for purity, without use of chemicals, to effectively remove heavy metals, PCBs, dioxins, and furans while preserving the natural constituents of the oil. 

In addition, fish oil should be processed in an oxygen-free environment, which maintains oil freshness and avoids oxidative rancidity. Freshness in fish oils directly correlates to the taste, biological efficacy, and results of the fish oil. 

In nature, fish oil occurs in the natural triglyceride form. However, some fish oil products on the market contain omega-3 fatty acids that are produced in the synthetic ethyl ester form. Confirm the fish oil (omega-3 fatty acid) is in the natural triglyceride form. The natural triglyceride form is a more stable form, which ensures optimal freshness and utilization of the oil by the body, delivering maximum benefits for your pet. 

Finally, protect our oceans by using fish oil obtained only from sustainably sourced wild fish.

What are omega-3 fatty acids? 

Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of fat. At room temperature fats can be solid (saturated fats) or liquid (unsaturated fats: monounsaturated or polyunsaturated) depending on their chemical structure. Omega-3 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fats, which provide numerous health benefits for both humans and their dog and cat companions. 

The omega-3 fatty acids EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) are considered Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs) for humans, as well as for dogs and cats, because they cannot be made in the body. In order to maintain optimal health and wellness, these fatty acids must be obtained through diet or supplementation. 

EPA and DHA are necessary structural components of cell membranes. These functional, health-promoting fatty acids maintain the cell membrane fluidity and permeability needed for healthy functioning cells. 

The two health-promoting omega-3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA, are long chain omega-3 fatty acids and are found abundantly in fish. Flax seed oil contains alpha-linolenic acid, or ALA, a shorter chain omega-3 fatty acid that requires the enzyme delta-6 desaturase to convert it into EPA and DHA in the body. 

Humans and dogs have limited ability to convert ALA to EPA and DHA1. Cats have even less ability to convert ALA to EPA and DHA2. Therefore, supplementation with a high quality omega-3 fish oil is recommended for humans, dogs, and cats.