Nutritional deficiencies in pets are rare in the United States. In fact, the top nutritional disorder diagnosed in dogs and cats today is obesity. However, there is one vital nutrient missing from most pets' diets, and it happens to be one of the most important-omega-3 fatty acids from fish oils.
Dogs and cats originally consumed the omega-3 fatty acids docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) when they ate fish, rodents, eggs, birds, elk, and other wild game. Their bodies evolved to utilize these healthy fats-DHA and EPA therefore became essential nutrients, required for life by dogs and cats.
Omega-3 fatty acids help maintain brain and eye health, balance immunity, protect the kidneys, and maintain skin, coat, and joint health. Emerging research also supports the use of these healing fats for reducing inflammation and the risk of chronic diseases such as cancer. So, how can domesticated pets get enough of this fundamental nutrient? This is where supplements come in handy.
Pet Food vs. Supplements
Like all fats, DHA and EPA become rancid or spoil relatively quickly when exposed to air. Unfortunately, this makes adding them to dry pet foods, particularly in high doses, extremely challenging. Canned foods fare better, but come at a high cost. So omega-3 supplements designed for pets are the way to go.
Paying attention to the ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids in your pet's diet is important. In large quantities, omega-6s become "pro-inflammatory," causing potentially harmful chemical changes throughout the body. Omega-3s help re-establish a healthy ratio of fats within the body. One other way to provide optimal health benefits to your furry friend: feed him or her a high-quality, premium, and corn-free pet food.
Choosing the Best Omega-3
A few questions to consider when shopping for a pet omega-3 supplement:
- Is it a recognized and respected brand? Products associated with human manufacturers often have better resources, research facilities, and quality control measures than smaller, unknown companies. Review the supplement's website. Can you find published research to back any health claims? The better products steer clear of showboating and explain how they ensure purity and safety; where and how they produce their supplements; and veterinary-conducted research.
- Is the product specifically formulated for dogs and cats? Human fish oil supplements typically have different concentrations and manufacturing guidelines than pet preparations.
- How much does it cost? Typically, superior brands of supplements and foods cost more. This doesn't mean they have to be the most expensive, but they also shouldn't come from the clearance bin. Base your purchase on safety, efficacy, and your vet's recommendation.
Pet Food + Fish Oils = Yum!
Omega-3 products for pets come in capsules and liquid. Follow manufacturer's guidelines for dosage. Most capsules can be either cut open or pricked with a pin and emptied on pets' food. Both dogs and cats love the taste. Try on either kibble or canned food.
Ernie Ward, DVM ("Dr. Ernie") is a practicing veterinarian in Calabash, North Carolina, and author of Chow Hounds: Why Our Dogs are Getting Fatter-A Vet's Plan to Save Their Lives.