Do you wonder if you should be adding omega 3 or fish oil to your dog’s or cat’s diet?
A hot topic in the nutrition world (both human and pet) right now is the use of omega 3 fatty acids, and omegas in general. You’ve probably heard this term thrown around before or seen it printed on a pet food label. But what are omega 3 fatty acids? What do they do? Why do we want them in our pets’ diets and how do we get them? Does your dog or cat need fish oil in their diet? Here we answer some of these burning questions for you!
What are Omega 3 Fatty Acids?
We can’t talk about omega 3 fatty acids without also discussing omega 6 fatty acids. The omega 6 and 3 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fats, meaning they contain multiple double bonds. The position of the first double bond is what differentiates the omega 6 fatty acids from the omega 3’s.
Linoleic acid and arachidonic acid are important omega 6 fatty acids. There are three omega 3 fatty acids of particular importance: alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Though it is important to remember that these are not the only available omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids.
Why do Dogs and Cats Need Omega 3 and 6 Fatty Acids?
Both cats and dogs require linoleic acid and cats also require arachidonic acid as they are unable to make these fatty acids on their own - therefore, they must rely on getting these fats through their diet.
Photo by Anna Dudkova
Both cats and dogs have a poor ability to convert ALA to EPA and DHA. Therefore, cats and dogs require these omega 3 fatty acids in their diet as well! These are especially important for growing kittens and pups.
The National Research Council and AAFCO have published amounts for each fatty acid in the diet for cats and dogs depending on lifestage. However, the ratio of omega 6 to 3 fatty acids is crucial. According to the NRC, the omega 6 to 3 ratio should be between 2.6:1 to 26:1, and AAFCO sets a maximum ratio of 30:1.
Omega 6 fatty acids are often referred to as pro-inflammatory fats. However, that is not to say that they are bad for our pets. Quite the contrary! They are critical for body processes, the immune system, skin and coat health, and metabolism.
Omega 3 fatty acids are considered anti-inflammatory and are beneficial for skin and coat health, brain function and cognition, metabolism, and body processes.
The ratios between the two are important for maintaining a healthy balance. Too many omega 6 fatty acids can lead to too much inflammation; too many omega-3 fatty acids in comparison to omega 6’s can lead to not enough inflammation.
Photo by Daria Shatova
What are the Benefits of Omega 3 Fatty Acids for Dogs and Cats?
An optimal omega 6 to omega 3 fatty acid profile can provide many benefits for your pup!
1. Improves brain health and function (especially during growth)
Growing puppies require DHA for healthy development and proper function of the brain. Additional studies show that there may be a benefit of omega 3 fatty acids for cognition as well!
2. Skin and coat health
Certain fatty acids are involved in skin permeability which can impact the health of your pups skin and coat. In addition, multiple studies have consistently shown improved skin conditions from omega 3 supplementation for dogs with a variety of conditions (i.e. allergies, dermatitis, and other skin diseases).
Photo by Adam Griffith
3. Supports a healthy digestive tract
While high levels of pro-inflammatory fatty acids can result in dysbiosis of the gut, balancing the ratio with omega 3’s may support healthy digestion.
4. Heart Health
Cardiac diseases are far too common for our pups. While there are many factors that contribute to heart disease, nutrition can often be a crucial component. Specifically, omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids may be beneficial for the prevention of heart disease - just like we see in humans!
5. Provides Energy!
Often an overlooked benefit of fatty acids are there contribution to your pup’s overall energy intake. Fats are energy dense, contributing almost twice as much energy as proteins or carbohydrates. However, it is important not to overfeed energy dense sources as they could contribute to obesity.
Sources of Omega 6 and Omega 3 Fatty Acids for Dogs and Cats
The great news for our dogs is that omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids can be quite easy to obtain through their diet.
Sources of Omega-6 Fatty Acids:
- Canola Oil
- Sunflower Oil
- Soybeans/Soybean Oil
- Hemp Seeds/Hemp Seed Oil
- Nuts and Seeds
Sources of Omega 3 Fatty Acids:
- Fish Oils
- Fish (ie. whitefish, salmon)
At Tom&Sawyer, we focus on achieving optimal omega 6 to omega 3 ratios to support happier, healthier, longer lives! This means your pup is getting a diet rich in both omega 6 and omega 3 fatty acids. Which also means there is no need to supplement with additional oils!
Our gently cooked dog and cat meals incorporate hemp seed oil or organic canola oil with anchovy oil for a healthy balance of the omega fatty acids!
BSc.H. | MSc. Animal Nutrition
- Bauer JE. Responses of dogs to dietary omega-3 fatty acids. Timely Topics in Nutrition. 2007.
- Kaur H. Role of omega-3 fatty acids in canine health: a review. International Journal of Current Microbiology and Applied Sciences. 2020.
- Case LP et al. Canine and Feline Nutrition: A Resource for Companion Animal Professionals 3rd Ed. 2010.
- National Research Council. (2006). Nutrient requirements of dogs and cats. Washington, DC. The National Academies Press.
- Freeman LM. Beneficial effects of omega-3 fatty acids in cardiovascular disease. Journal of Small Animal Practice. 2010.