The subject of supplements for dogs and cats is a frequently discussed but confusing issue. And not many subjects are much more confusing than that of canine and feline fatty acid supplements.
What are Fatty Acids
Fatty acids are classified as a type of fat. Essential fatty acids are those that are required in the diet of a dog or cat because the animal is unable to synthesize the fatty acid. Linoleic acid is essential for both dogs and cats. Cats also require arachidonic acid in their diet as well. Both linoleic acid and arachidonic acid are omega-6 fatty acids.
The other type of fatty acids that are frequently recommended in the diet is omega-3 fatty acids. The most well-known of these fatty acids are eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).
Fatty Acid Supplements for Dogs and Cats
While neither EPA or DHA are considered essential fatty acids, it is widely accepted that they may be beneficial when supplemented in the diet of most pets.
While it seems like supplementing these fatty acids should be fairly straightforward, the truth is the subject is anything but simple. The issue of how much is beneficial and how much is too much or too little has not been satisfactorily answered. There have been no studies that have provided an optimum dosage at this point in time.
Further adding to the confusion is the fact that many experts feel that the ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 fatty acids may be even more important than the overall dosage. However, again, no studies have been completed that have provided us with optimum levels. Sources provide many different guidelines, including 1:1, 5:1, 10:1 and even 15:1. Of course, if the ratio is the important factor, then the optimal dosage of DHA and/or EPA would depend heavily on the amount of omega 6 acids already found in the food. (Most commercial foods provide adequate levels of omega 6 fatty acids and supplementation of these fatty acids is generally not recommended with commercial diets. This may not be true with home-made diets.)
To further complicate the situation, the dosage or even the ratio that is most beneficial for one pet may not be the same for all pets. Healthy dogs and cats may very well require different levels of these fatty acids than pets with diseases such as allergies, arthritis, heart disease and cognitive dysfunction.
Another consideration that needs to be considered when supplementing fatty acids to the canine and feline diet is the calorie content of the supplement. Because fatty acids are fats, excess levels may provide excess calories, leading to weight gain and obesity.
What is the Source of Fatty Acids Best for Dogs and Cat Supplements?
Even this question is difficult to answer.
- Common sources include fish oil, flaxseed oil, cod liver oil, olive oil, primrose oil, and kelp.
- Cod liver oil usually also contains high levels of vitamin A and vitamin D which may not be desirable.
- Fish oil is generally considered to be a good source of both DHA and EPA.
- Flaxseed oil may not provide fatty acids that are as easily metabolized as those in fish oil. However, some pets may not be able to consume fish products and flaxseed oil may be a good alternative source.
- Olive oil contains only omega 6 fatty acids and virtually no omega 3 fatty acids.
- Primrose oil may contain gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) which may have some anti-inflammatory properties, but as an omega 6 fatty acid, it may also compete with the omega 3 fatty acids for the enzymes necessary to metabolize the fatty acids.
- In a lecture I recently attended featuring Dr. Greg Ogilvie, Dr. Ogilvie recommended DHA from kelp sources. He believes that the concentration is much higher than in other sources allowing a smaller quantity of medication to accomplish the same result.
Are All Dog and Cat Fatty Acid Supplements Created Equal?
Frankly, no. Fatty acid supplements are not created equally. If you are going to use a supplement, it is important to purchase the product from a company that is trustworthy. The label should include a list of ingredients with the quantities of each. There should also be contact information for the manufacturer and the manufacturer should be readily available to answer questions.
Some of the concerns with supplements include the possibility of contamination with mercury, PCBs, and other potential contaminants.
As you can see, the subject of fatty acid supplementation for dogs and cats is a complex issue. When in doubt, a consultation with your veterinarian is advised.