Healthy eating is not just for people anymore – the supplement market has stretched into the pet industry too. While many pet diets, including raw and kibble, meet your dog’s or cat’s minimum dietary requirements there is a supplement that most will benefit from – a quality omega-3 source.
It’s no longer simply adding a spoonful of cod liver oil to your pet’s kibble, however, and research has highlighted the best sources of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids (FAs) for your pet based on their unique lipid metabolism. For a better understanding of how pets (and us!) metabolize and utilize these fatty acids, please see my previous post on fats. Balancing your pet’s polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) will have a positive effect on their skin, coat, and even inflammatory responses.
Dogs and cats are able to synthesize most omega-6 FAs through their metabolism except linoleic acid, and therefore must be supplemented through diet. Linoleic acid is the precursor to many other essential fatty acids that are used in each individual cell making up tissues. Furthermore, the essential omega-3s required for mammals are alpha-linoleic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Each omega-3 can be found in plant and animal sources at different concentrations, so understanding how to balance between each 3 is necessary.
The most abundant sources of the omega-3s EPA and DHA are fish (oils) and marine algae. For raw-fed pets a variety of fish should be given rather than one type to achieve a balance of EPA and DHA. Not all fish are the same in omega-3 quantity or quality, and predatory fish like tuna should be avoided due to high mercury levels.
As Table 1. demonstrates, whole mackerel, fresh salmon, and sardines (canned or whole) are great omega-3 sources to rotate in a raw-fed diet. Likewise, a few sardines from a can added to your pet’s kibble is another method of supplementing omega-3 based on your pet’s current diet.
You can also purchase a pressed fish oil supplement that has already been balanced for ALA, EPA, and DHA content (and other present fatty acids). Be cautious about adding supplements containing fish or crustaceans if you don’t know your pet’s intolerances and/or allergies!
The best plant sources for omega-3 supplementation are seeds. Flax, chia, and hemp seeds can be fed to pets in small doses. Ground and soaked seeds are best for maximum absorption in the small intestine. Seeds are easily accessible to most pet-owners in grocery and health food stores and are great sources of the omega-3 fatty acid, ALA.
Seeds don’t contain all 3 essential omega-3 FAs required by pets as shown in Table 2. Cats can’t convert ALA to EPA or DHA, and dogs can minimally convert ALA to EPA, so seeds alone won’t meet dietary requirements for proper daily function. Therefore they must be coupled with another supplement to meet EPA and DHA requirements.
Table 2: Omega-3 content in chia, flax, and hemp seeds per g/100g.
Marine algae is an alternative source of EPA and DHA for your pet’s diet if they are intolerant to fish, but it is usually pricier than fish oils and harder to find. There are other benefits to include omega-3 plant sources in any diet such as additional vitamins and minerals.
Before you add any supplements please consult your veterinarian. They will be able to give you an in-depth evaluation of your pet’s diet and what is best for their specific needs.
An omega-3 supplement is suitable for most pets on any diet – kibble, freeze-dried, or raw. Popular brands of kibble like Purina Pro Plan usually have a higher omega-6 content than omega-3 because they’re based on animals high in omega-6. These include chicken and pork. To supplement omega-3, however, you must aim to balance it along with your pet’s diet.
What is “balanced” omega-3 supplementation? Giving your pet access to all 3 essential omega-3 fatty acids (ALA, EPA, and DHA). If you feed raw, a balanced supplementation may look like whole mackerel coupled with ground chia seeds; atlantic mackerel will contain a lot of EPA and DHA, and the ground chia seeds provide ALA. Pre-made omega-3 supplements, like Omega Alpha’s Shiny Coat, will contain a balanced blend of omega-3, 6, and 9 FAs for your pet and are excellent for kibble feeders.
The National Research Council’s Nutrient Requirements of Dogs and Cats (2006) advises against aiming for a 1:1 ratio due to the lack of evidence proving that it is required to have an even balance of omega-3 to omega-6. They do, however, recognize the benefits of adding omega-3 to a pet’s diet to counteract the heavy omega-6 content in most kibble.
With studies proving omega-3’s are able to stimulate anti-inflammatory proteins when supplemented it’s hard to argue against trying to balance your pet’s fatty acid intake.
I hope this has convinced some of you to add some omega-3 supplementation for your pet if you don’t already. This information also applies to humans too!