If you've landed on this page, you're likely passionate about providing the best possible nutrition for your dog. When it comes to pet nutrition, one of the most frequently asked questions is whether to supplement with fish oil as a source of omega-3 fatty acids.
Many pet owners are curious about the potential benefits of omega-3 fatty acids for their dogs. Fish oil supplements for dogs are widely available, but are they helpful?
In this article, I'll provide a veterinarian's guide on omega-3 fatty acids for dogs. Read on to learn all about omega-3s, their potential benefits, how to identify good sources of omega-3 fatty acids, and more.
What Is Omega-3 for Dogs?
Fat is one of the three primary macronutrients, along with protein and carbohydrates. Macronutrients provide calories that your dog's body burns for energy.
Within the dietary fat category of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), there are omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Your dog's body does not produce this type of fat, so they must be obtained through the diet.
Animals require a blend of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids to stay healthy. It is a myth that omega-6s are "bad fats" — linoleic acid, an omega-6, is a required nutrient for all animals.
However, the best ratio of omega-6s and omega-3s for dogs remains unclear. As a result, many dog foods are high in omega-6 but low in omega-3 (1).
The Essentials Of Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3s are essential for many processes in your dog's body, including vision and brain development, brain health, immune system function, skin and joint health, and more.
There are three types of omega-3 fatty acids:
- Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA)
- Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)
- Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)
EPA and DHA are found in cold-water ocean fish, fish oil, krill oil, and products made from algae. In contrast, ALA comes from plants. Flaxseeds and chia seeds are particularly rich in ALA.
Benefits Of Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Beyond providing energy as a source of calories, omega-3s are a popular supplement for dogs. Many dog owners are interested in omega-3s due to their potential benefits for joint pain, heart health, skin conditions, and other conditions.
Small clinical trials suggest that omega-3s can help manage or reduce inflammation in dogs with joint conditions like osteoarthritis (2). Similarly, dogs with inflammatory skin conditions like atopic dermatitis may also benefit.
However, like any supplement, omega-3 fatty acids come with a risk of side effects (3). Remember, "natural" does not necessarily mean "safe" when it comes to supplements.
Potential risks associated with fish oil supplements for dogs include:
- Stomach upset (vomiting and diarrhea)
- Weight gain
- Altered wound healing
- Overdose of Vitamin A or Vitamin D
- Exposure to heavy metals
Follow the manufacturer's dosing instructions carefully to provide an appropriate dose of omega-3 fatty acids for your dog's weight. Side effects are generally less likely with a lower amount, so start small. You can gradually increase the dose if needed.
If you're concerned that your dog may be experiencing side effects from omega-3s, stop giving the supplement and contact your veterinarian.
What Are Some Good Sources of Omega-3 Fatty Acids?
You can increase your dog's omega-3 fatty acid content by changing their dog food or using supplements.
Check the ingredient list to determine the omega-3 content of your dog's food. Because omega-3s are required for normal brain and eye development, "puppy formula" dog foods generally have higher omega-3 fatty acid content. The same is true for diets formulated for pregnant and lactating females.
For adult dogs that are not pregnant or lactating, prescription dog foods for joint, skin, or heart health usually contain more omega-3s. To learn more about how a joint diet or other prescription food could help your dog, consult your veterinarian.
Fish oil is generally recommended if you'd rather use an omega-3 supplement for your dog. Other options include krill oil and phytoplankton.
Of the three omega-3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA are considered more helpful for animals than ALA. For this reason, plant-based omega-3 sources like flaxseed are not recommended.
Omegas for Dogs: Dosage Information
The appropriate dosage of omega-6 and omega-3 for dogs should be determined with the help of your veterinarian.
Your vet will consider your dog's weight, breed, age, and diet to decide on an appropriate dose. The proper amount of omega-3s to give your dog differs for each health condition. If your dog has gastrointestinal problems or a bleeding disorder, omega-3 supplements may not be safe for them.
When administering omega-3 supplements to dogs, it's also important to follow the dosing instructions on the label. Similarly, it's best to use omega-3 supplements specifically formulated for dogs, as the concentration of DHA and EPA in human supplements may be too high for your pup.
High-quality fish oil supplements and dog foods generally list the amount of EPA, DHA, and "total omega-3s." Solid brands should also provide third-party batch testing to confirm that their product is free of heavy metals, mercury, and other contaminants found in fish.
Best Omega-3 Supplements for Dogs
Ultimately, a balance of essential omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids is required to keep your pup happy and healthy.
Your veterinarian can assist you in determining whether you should supplement omega-3 fatty acids in your pet's diet. Many pet foods already contain some omega-3s, so you'll need to keep that information in mind. Take a photo of the ingredient list for your dog's food to help your vet decide on an appropriate supplement dose.
Remember, omega-3s are not a cure-all. Fish oil and other dog supplements work best as part of a comprehensive treatment plan that addresses your dog's unique wellness needs.