Essential Fatty Acids: Fish oil Supplementation for Dogs

ESSENTIAL FATTY ACID UPDATES  (Fish oil supplementation- Dogs)

 EFA’s (fish oil) cannot be synthesized in the body and their deficiency is associated with well-defined clinical abnormalities or suboptimal physiologic processes.  Fish oil supplementation in dogs is now considered  “essential” in skin health as well as other organ systems.

Overview of types of EFAs

Omega 6 fatty acids:  linoleic acid (LA) is the main dietary source

                                           gamma-linoleic (GLA)

                                           arachidonic acid (AA) …most essential for cats       

          *found in phospholipids in cell membranes (important in epidermal barrier)

          *western diets have excessive amounts of omega-6…imbalance!

           *too much omega-6 can results in pro-inflammatory eicosanoids

Omega 3 fatty acids:  alpha linoleic acid- plant dietary source

                                            Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)- marine lipids

                                            Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)- marine lipids

              *essential for nervous system, retina, inflammatory response


excellent review paper:  “Timely Topics in Nutrition” JAVMA 2011;239:1441-1451

current concept for supplementation: commercial- veterinary formula- omega 3 ---> best for absorption

current dose recommendation based on body weight:  EPA & DHA

40mg of EPA/ kg   (up to 50mg for joint health)

                                                66mg of combined EPA & DHA/ kg


disorders/ systems that may benefit with supplementation

cutaneous diseases:  atopic dermatitis, seborrhea, vitamin A responsive dermatoses, sebaceous adenitis, ear margin dermatoses, symmetric lupoid onychodystrophy

Nervous system- cognitive function

Retinal development

Joint health

Renal function

Cardiovascular function

Growth and development

Gastrointestinal (IBD in dogs)

Neoplasia- adjunct therapy for mammary carcinoma and lymphoma


Potential side effects

1.  GI upset, diarrhea

2.  fish burps/ breath….freeze capsules to eliminate this problem!


NRC safe upper limit doses in dogs for combined EPA & DHA (omega 3)

10 kg dog….2081mg

20kg dog….3499mg

30kg dog…..4743mg

40kg dog….5885mg

50kg dog…6957mg


1.  plant oils:  (omega 3=alpha linoleic)

OTC oils (safflower, flaxseed oil, sunflower, corn, etc)  are not predictably metabolized to EPA/DHA

2.  sources of fish oil (omega 3=DHA & EPA)

wild salmon: concerned with mercury content

farm raised: high PCP levels, parasites, chemicals to give fish color, diet of chicken feces pellets, antibiotics, crowding, etc

anchovies & sardines: wild & non-predatory source better option

Forms of Fish Oil Omega 3

Most OTC forms of fish oil are ethyl esters  and are not well absorbed by the GI tract. Bioavailablity is significantly higher with re-esterified triglycerides  or free fatty acids which is the form used in veterinary formulations.

Progress in regulation of veterinary supplements

FDA regulates food and drugs yet they do not regulate animal health supplements.

NASC (National Animal Supplement Council) is a non-profit trade association that works closely with FDA and AAFCO to establish fair and reasonable quality standards.  Look for the NASC quality seal!




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