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Lindsay SchenckerNutrition / Supplements

Omegas for Dogs: What They Are, Benefits and Dosage

Omega fatty acids and other healthy fats are an important part of your dog’s balanced diet. They provide energy, modulate inflammation, help absorb vitamins, process hormones, and promote brain and heart health.

Omega-3, omega-6, and omega-9 fatty acids can all be considered healthy fats under the right conditions. By understanding the benefits these good fats provide and how you can integrate them into a dog’s diet, you can help your pets receive the proper nutrition they need.

What Are Omegas for Dogs?

“Omegas” is short for “omega fatty acids” and refers to certain types of fat. There are different types of omega fatty acids for dogs: omega-3, omega-6 and omega-9. Our bodies and the bodies of our pets can turn other fats into omega-9s, but some omega 3s and omega 6s cannot be synthesized by the body. Those types of omegas have to come from the diet and are therefore called “essential” fatty acids. 

Omega-3 Fatty Acids for Dogs

There are three important types of omega-3s for dogs: ALA, EPA and DHA.

Alpha-linolenic acid, or ALA, comes from plant sources, like seeds, nuts and vegetables. This type of omega is actually a precursor to the other types of omega-3s, meaning the body turns ALA into EPA and DHA. Dog bodies aren’t very efficient at converting ALA to the other two types, so ALA isn’t the best omega-3 fatty acid for dogs.

Eicosapentaenoic acid, or EPA, and docosahexaenoic acid, or DHA, are much better options for dogs. These types of omega-3s come mainly from aquatic creatures such as fish and algae.

Omega-6 Fatty Acids for Dogs

Omega-6 fatty acids are a little easier to come by in the average dog’s diet. In most cases, it’s not necessary to supplement omega-6 for dogs because they get plenty (sometimes too much!) from dog food.

Omega-6 fatty acids are found in animal and plant sources, even in common sources that are often included in commercial dog foods. They’re an important component in cellular structure, and they are necessary for dogs to stay healthy.

Balancing Intake of Omega-3 and Omega-6

In order for omegas to have maximum health benefits, intake of omega-3 and omega-6 needs to be balanced appropriately. Most dog foods don’t contain enough omega-3 to balance out their omega-6 content. In order to achieve the right balance, talk to your veterinarian who can provide a recommendation on adding omega-3 fatty acids your dog’s diet.

Benefits of Omegas for Dogs            

There are numerous potential benefits of omegas even if there isn’t as much evidence as veterinarians like to see with regards to treating or preventing actual health problems. However, omegas appear beneficial for a variety of conditions and certainly don’t hurt dogs when given in appropriate doses.

One of the main reasons omega-3 fatty acids are often recommended by veterinarians is their anti-inflammatory properties. Many kinds of health issues can be either caused or exacerbated by excessive inflammation.

Skin and Coat Health

One of the most commonly cited benefits of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids for dogs is an improvement in skin and coat health. Getting enough of these fats can help dogs with dry, itchy skin and dull coats. Omega-3 fatty acids also may be beneficial in dogs suffering from allergic skin disease.

Brain Health

Fats are brain food, and DHA and EPA have a particularly beneficial effect. We often think of supplements as being for older dogs, but senior pets aren’t the only ones who can benefit from these omega supplements. Particularly in puppies, whose brains are still developing, omega-3 supplements may be very valuable. Omega-3 supplementation may also help older dogs with brain disorders, like canine cognitive dysfunction.

Heart Health

An appropriate balance of omegas is often lauded as a therapy to improve heart health. Supplements have been shown to help dogs with arrhythmias and those with heart failure. Inflammation reduction brought on by omega-3s may also lead to better overall cardiac health.

Joint Health

Once again, the inflammation fighting powers of omega-3 fatty acids is a good thing for dog’s joints. Less inflammation means more mobility and less pain for dogs with arthritis. It can help dogs who are already dealing with joint issues, but it may also be beneficial for controlling the damage that inflammation does to joints, potentially reducing the severity of future joint problems. For this reason, many dog foods aimed at joint health have higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids than the average dog food.

Omegas for Dogs Dosage Information

The amount of omegas your dog should be taking in is dependent on several factors. The best way to get a concrete idea of the appropriate omega-6 and omega-3 dosage for dogs is to speak with your vet. They’ll be able to take into account your dog’s current health and any issues you may be able to address with omegas, your dog’s size, and their current dietary intake.

When purchasing an omega-3 food, treat or supplement made specifically for dogs, follow the dosing instructions on the label unless otherwise directed by your veterinarian. Because DHA and EPA concentrations can vary widely, consult with your vet before give a supplement designed for people to your dog.

How to Incorporate Omegas into Your Dog’s Diet

There are several ways to safely include omegas into your pet’s diet. Before changing your pet’s diet, always check with your veterinarian.

Human Foods With Omegas

This isn’t the ideal way to provide fatty acids for dogs because it’s difficult to gauge the actual amount of fats your dog is getting from these foods, plus too much human food can make your dog sick. However, your dog might enjoy some omega-3 rich cold-water fish from time to time. Other dog safe foods containing omegas include flax or chia seed, both of which can be incorporated into homemade dog treats.

Dog Food With Omegas

One of the best ways to make sure your dog is getting enough of each type of omega fatty acid is to feed a dog food with omega-3 fatty acids. Since it’s harder to keep omega-3s fresh, dog foods tend to be heavy on omega-6s, but there are still options for pet owners concerned about getting the right balance. Purina Pro Plan Focus Adult Sensitive Skin and Stomach Salmon and Rice Formula is naturally high in omega-3 fatty acids since salmon appears first on its ingredient list. Merrick Texas Beef & Sweet Potato Recipe contains a minimum of 0.8 percent omega-3 fatty acids. Both salmon oil and flaxseed are included in recipe to provide optimal nutrition for a healthy skin and coat.

Dog Treats With Omegas

Treats are another way you can make sure your dog is taking in a measurable amount of omega fatty acids. Pet Botanics Healthy Omega Salmon Flavor Dog Treats contain a minimum of 0.15 percent omega-3 and 0.4% omega-6 fatty acids. Zesty Paws Omega 3 with Hemp, Bone Broth + Salmon & Krill Oil is made from several omega-rich ingredients and supports dental health as well.

Omega Supplements for Dogs

There are a few things you should look for in fatty acid supplements for dogs. First, they should be made by a reputable manufacturer that provides plenty of information about what is in the supplement, how much is in it and how the supplement is processed. Second, veterinarians typically recommend fish oil for dogs over other types of fatty acid supplements. Dr. Lyons Skin and Coat Support Soft Chews contains omega-3, -6 and -9 fatty acids from salmon oil. Nutramax Welactin Canine Omega-3 Liquid Dog Supplement is a good choice if you are just looking to supplement omega-3 fatty acids.

Talk with your veterinarian about how best to incorporate the right amount of the right types of omega fatty acids into your dog’s diet. With veterinary guidance, you can pick an appropriate diet, treat, and/or supplement that will maximize the health benefits these important nutrients can provide.

By: Dr. Jennifer Coates, DVM

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