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If you are a kibble or a raw feeder, this post is for you! Omega-3 fatty acids are the missing link in your dog’s diet. Here’s everything you need to know!
While sardines, according to my kids and Flint Lockwood, are super gross, they pack an enormous nutritional punch in that “gray and flavorless” body. And that punch is in the form of omega-3 fatty acids.
Omega-3 fatty acids for dogs are the “hope” Flint Lockwood spoke of.
Whether you feed them in the form of sardines or other whole fish, or through a fish oil or plant-based supplement, the important thing is your dog is getting them in his diet.
Why, you ask?
Because omega-3 fatty acids just might be the missing link for optimal health in your dog’s diet. Here are the facts you need to know….
“My dream was to help my hometown, a small island hidden under the A in Atlantic, called Swallow Falls. We were one of the leading exporters of sardines, until the day Baby Brent Sardine cannery closed when everyone realized that sardines… are super gross. So everyone was stuck eating all the sardines that nobody wanted. Frozen, boiled, dried, fried, candied and juiced. Life was gray and flavorless, but when things seem hopeless, I stared down at my feet, and found hope.”
What are Omega-3 Fatty Acids for Dogs?
Omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids make up what are called polyunsaturated fats, or fats that remain liquid at room temperature. Omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids are considered essential fatty acids (EFA’s) because our body cannot produce them on its own so they must come from our diet.
Omega-6 fats include linoleic acid and arachidonic acid. Omega-3 fats come in two forms including alpha-linolenic acid, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).
The form made by plants (seeds and nuts), called alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) is a little different from EPA and DHA. Although our body converts ALA to DHA or EPA as needed, fish or krill (shrimp-like crustacean) is probably still the best source of omega-3s because they are a direct source of DHA and EPA.
But not all fish are created equal and some have more omega-3s than others. The following eight fish are all rich in omega-3 fatty acids:
- Salmon (wild, not farmed)
- Rainbow Trout
Health Benefits of Omega-3 Fatty Acids for Dogs
All fats, including saturated fatty acids, have important roles in the body. However, the most important fats are those that the body cannot make and thus must come from the food we eat.
Both omega-6 and omega-3 fats have important health functions. Omega-6 fatty acids produce hormones that increase inflammation, which is an important part of the immune response. They also help with blood clotting and cell growth.
Omega-3 fatty acids produce hormones that reduce inflammation. They function antagonistically to omega-6 fatty acids making the balance between the two fats a critical factor in a healthy immune system for your dog.
Benefits of Omega-3 Fatty Acids for Dogs
The following are the primary benefits of omega-3 fatty acids for your dog:
- Reduced inflammation generally
- Reduced effects of inflammatory skin conditions such as atopic dermatitis and allergies.
- Support neurological and cognitive function; eye health; neurocognitive development in puppies
- Reduced joint inflammation from conditions like osteoarthritis; increased mobility
- Cardiac health benefits; improved kidney function
- Increase the health of skin and coat; improvement in dry skin, shedding, and overall coat health
**For additional information about how omega-3 fatty acids can reduce pain and inflammation, read:
Why the Ratio of Omega-3 to Omega-6 Fatty Acids Matters
Foundational to understanding the importance of the ratio of these two essential fatty acids is how they both affect inflammation. As I stated earlier, these fats work antagonistically; as omega-6 fatty acids increase inflammation, omega-3 reduces it.
While both of these fatty acids are important for your dog, the ideal ratio between omega-3 to omega-6 is 1:1 or as close to that as you can achieve (no higher than 5:1). Unfortunately, most canine commercial kibble and home-prepared raw diets today are far too high in omega-6.
Let’s start with kibble.
Essential Fatty Acids for Dogs and AAFCO
The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) sets nutritional standards that commercial pet food manufacturers must follow in order to stamp their bags with “complete and balanced.”
In 2015, AAFCO approved specific fatty acids ratios for commercial pet foods. AAFCO recommends the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids be at or lower than 30:1. In addition, the source of those fats is irrelevant as long as that target of 30:1 or lower is met.
“But I thought our goal was an omega-6 to omega-3 ratio of 1:1 for optimal canine health?”
If you asked that question, you get a virtual gold star for paying attention!
The sad reality of these incredibly pathetic AAFCO standards is that you could effectively feed your dog nothing but chicken skin (24:1) and still come under this omega-6 to omega-3 30:1 ratio. The only people I know who think that is an acceptable diet for a dog work at AAFCO.
In light of the recent AAFCO standards, more commercial pet foods are fortifying their foods with essential fatty acids (primarily omega-6). However, while this marketing may sound good on the bag, these foods are not a reliable source of omega-3 fatty acids.
Not only are most commercial pet foods prepared with heat (which can destroy naturally occurring fatty acids), but they are also subject to oxidation. Even vacuum-packaged dry foods contain oxygen within each kibble, and there is no way of telling how much EFA remains in the food at the time of purchase, much less after the substance sits in an opened bag for several days.
In my opinion, if you are feeding kibble, it is best to assume your dog needs an omega-3 fatty acid supplement.
Raw Diets are also Deficient in Omega-3 Fatty Acids
The trend toward raw, natural whole food diets for dogs is increasing and for good reason. Not only are these diets more species-appropriate for dogs, but they also provide a wealth of health benefits for dogs when fed in balance.
Balance is the operative word here.
A diet that is high in omega-6 fatty acids and low in omega-3 fatty acids is out of balance and thus is the primary cause of chronic inflammation in dogs.
Let’s take a look at the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids in some commonly fed sources of protein in a modern raw diet.
Conventionally raised, grain-fed beef has an omega-6 to omega-3 ratio of 12:1. While grass-fed beef has a much lower profile of 2.5:1. Corn-fed chicken is notoriously high in omega-6 fatty acids with a ratio of 21:1. And traditionally raised pork is slightly worse at 24:1.
The old “you are what you eat” is at play when it comes to omega-3 fatty acids. If you aren’t feeding 100% pasture-raised meat, your dog’s diet is likely out of balance when it comes to essential fatty acids.
Fortunately, there are solutions to this imbalance!
Omega-3 Fatty Acid Supplementation for Dogs
With so many options as it relates to omega-3 fatty acid supplements for dogs, here are a few things to keep in mind as you are shopping:
Look for fish that are wild-caught from freshwaters from smaller fish that are low on the food chain. Sardines, anchovies, and mackerel are great examples of this. Levels of mercury and other toxins will be lowest in these fish making them safest for your dog to eat.
2. Distillation Process
There are two primary methods by which most fish oils are distilled; triple-phase molecular distillation (preferred) and synthetic ethyl ester process according to Dog’s Naturally Magazine:
“A quick home test will show what kind of fish oil you have. Pour some of your fish oil into a styrofoam cup. If the fish oil eats through the cup in 30 minutes or less, you may have fish oil with ethanol content. Also, if the container does not say natural triglyceride or TG from the fish oil, it is likely the ethyl ester form.”
Nutri-Vet sent me a bottle of their Wild Alaskan Salmon Oil to trial with Sulley and Junior in exchange for my honest review. In this post are affiliate links from which I may receive a small compensation. There is NO ADDED COST to you should you use these links.
3. Smell and Taste
Fresh, high-quality fish oil should have a pleasant smell and taste.
4. Wild versus Farmed Salmon
- One of the most commonly used forms of fish oil is derived from salmon, but it is critical you understand what you are buying when it comes to salmon oil.
- Farm-raised salmon are fed pellets made of other fish (fish meal) mixed with fish oil to encourage rapid growth but causing a build-up of toxins. In addition, these farms release large quantities of antibiotics and other chemicals into the water. Be aware that “Norwegian salmon” are not wild, but rather farm-raised. Lastly, farm-raised salmon can also be high in omega-6 and low in omega-3 fatty acids.
- Only buy Wild-Caught Alaskan Salmon Oil which has a favorable omega-3 fatty acid to omega-6 ratio and fewer toxins and contaminants.
In the following video, I review Nutri-Vet Wild Alaskan Salmon Oil which I believe is a fantastic option for any dog owner looking for an omega-3 fatty acid supplement. It is a great multi-purpose supplement rich in EPA and DHA that help maximize skin and coat health, promote a strong immune system and support joint function. It contains only pure oil from wild, non-farmed Alaskan salmon. It does NOT contain PCB contaminants, mercury, or other heavy metals.
5. Plant-Based Omega-3 Fatty Acid Alternatives
Phytoplankton is basically the food that is rich in omega-3 fatty acids that the fish eat, whereby making them high in omega-3. This is akin to going directly to the source, not through the middle man (or fish).
If you are going to use a plant-based omega-3 supplement, this is the one you want because it is the most effective at converting omega-3 into DHA and EPA, unlike other plant-based forms of omega 3.
Two tablespoons of Chia Seeds provide a 3 to 1 ratio of Omega-3 to Omega-6. fatty acids. In addition to being a great plant-based source of omega-3 fatty acids, chia is a great source for dietary fiber as well.
While flaxseed oil is a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, not all of the fat gets converted to DHA and EPA which lessens its value in this context.