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Omega-3 for Dogs: How Fish Oil Benefits Your Four-Legged Friend

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Everyone knows that a healthy diet is important for your dog's overall health and wellness. What many dog owners are less familiar with are the specifics of canine nutrition. 

Energy is supplied by the carbohydrates, proteins, and fats that your dog consumes. And fats, in particular, offer a more concentrated and potent energy source than carbs or proteins. It turns out that fats and fatty acids, especially omega-3 fatty acids, offer a whole host of health benefits for your pup and are absolutely essential for all sorts of body functions. 

Unfortunately, a lot of modern dog food doesn't cut it when it comes to supplying the proper amount of omega-3 fatty acids and other types of fatty acids. That's why it's a good idea to have a conversation with your veterinarian and find out if you should bolster your dog's diet with a fatty acid supplement. 

Let's take a closer look at what omega-3 fatty acids are, what they do for your dog, and how you can make sure your canine companion is getting enough.

What Are Omega-3 Fatty Acids? 

Fatty acids are a type of polyunsaturated fat, meaning that they have double bonds within their carbon chain. Because of the double bonds, your dog's body is unable to make its own omega-3 fatty acid, so they must receive it through their diet. That's why omega-3 is considered an essential fatty acid (EFA). 

You'll often hear omega-3 referred to as "good fat." It helps with immune functionality and helps decrease inflammation. We'll learn more about the specific benefits for your dog in a moment.

There is another kind of fatty acid that works in tandem with omega-3 fatty acids: Omega-6 fatty acids. Omega-6 is similar to omega-3 but performs different functions within your dog's body. 

Omega-6 helps with cell growth and blood clotting. It also promotes normal inflammatory response to stimuli, like an injury or infection. Omega-6 fatty acids are still essential to your dog's healthy lifestyle, but they're more commonly found in standard pet food ingredients.

This means that your dog could probably use a little help in the omega-3 department but is likely getting enough omega-6 fatty acids already. Of course, every pet's situation is different and you'll want to check with your veterinarian to be sure. 

What Are the Benefits of Omega-3 and Omega-6 Fatty Acids? 

Omega 3 for Dogs: Gorgeous black furry dog

We've already learned that omega-3 and 6 fatty acids are an important component of your dog's nutrition. But what exactly do these nutrients do for your dog's health? The benefits are numerous and include the following:

Support Normal Inflammatory Response

Omega-3 and 6 fatty acids work together to balance your dog's inflammatory response. Omega-6 fatty acids increase inflammation, while omega-3 fatty acids lower it. This balance is a necessary part of your dog's healing process when the body is dealing with a physical injury, infection, disease, or other health problems that cause inflammation.

Remember: Inflammation is the immune system’s way of bringing extra blood cells to the site of an injury or problem area. Those cells promote healing by attacking invading elements like toxins or bacteria and regrowing blood vessels and tissues. It’s only when too much inflammation occurs, or it occurs too often, that it becomes a problem. 

A dog suffering from something that causes more inflammation than usual — seasonal allergies or a skin problems, for example — may improve if they get more omega-3 fatty acids in their diet to help support inflammatory response.

Support Joint Health

Joint discomfort and more serious joint problems are rather common in dogs, especially seniors. And omega-3 fatty acids may help support joint inflammation in the same way that they help with other types of inflammation. 

Joint and bone problems cause discomfort because the cartilage surrounding your dog's joints wears away, allowing bones to rub together and causing inflammation in response. Omega-3 fatty acids may help with  that inflammation, easing discomfort. 

Veterinarians may recommend an omega-3 supplement for dogs who are already suffering from these conditions, or they may recommend it for healthy dogs as a preventative measure. It's especially helpful for those dogs at a higher risk of joint problems later in life based on their breed, weight, or pre-existing conditions.

Better Heart Health

Getting the proper levels of omega-3 and 6 fatty acids in the diet is also good for your dog's heart. Thanks to the anticoagulant properties of omega-3, it may help to prevent blood clots. The chances of irregular heart rhythm may also be less likely when a dog receives the right amount of omega fatty acids. 

Regular dietary supplementation with fatty acids is also a good way to help support blood cholesterol levels and blood pressure, and may help reduce the risk of serious heart problems.

Improved Cognitive Function

Studies have shown that getting the proper amount of omega-3 fatty acids helps to improve your dog's cognitive function and overall brain health. And those improvements can help your dog have better memory and even better physical performance. It's possible that omega-3 supplementation could help dogs avoid obsessive-compulsive behaviors like pacing and excessive licking. 

In the same way that fatty acid supplementation can help joint health in a preventative way, it may also help dogs maintain good brain health and cognitive function before any problems appear. Your vet may also recommend omega-3 fatty acids if your dog starts to show signs of cognitive impairment.

Good Skin Health

Omega-3 fatty acids are also good for your dog's skin and coat health. Thanks to the anti-inflammatory properties of omega-3, things like skin irritations  and seasonal skin allergies are less likely to occur or likely to be less severe in dogs who get the proper amount in their diets. Ultimately, it may help your dog avoid dry skin and maintain a healthy, shiny, and smooth coat of fur with minimal shedding.

While the above health improvements are the main advantages of fatty acids, there are other benefits to making sure your dog's diet has the right balance of omega-3 and 6 fatty acids. These nutrients are thought to prevent or improve autoimmune problems, help with hyper-excitability issues, lower stress levels, promote healthy reproduction, and even slow the development of dangerous cells. Frankly, plenty of omega-3 fatty acids (as well as the right level of omega-6 fatty acids) are a great thing for many aspects of your dog's health and well-being.

What Are Some Good Sources of Fatty Acids?

Omega 3 for Dogs: Dog running and having fun

It's plain to see that omega-3 fatty acids are a good thing for your canine companion. And the right levels of omega-6 fatty acids help balance out omega-3s for great health. The question is, how do you make sure your dog gets these important nutrients, and what are some good sources of fatty acids for dogs? 

As mentioned above, your dog is probably already receiving enough omega-6 fatty acids in their normal diet. Most pet owners focus on supplementing their dog's diet with omega-3 fatty acids, which are harder to come by in standard dog food. 

There are various types of omega-3 fatty acids that can be found in certain foods. They include:

  • DHA (docosahexaenoic acid): found in cold-water fish — and the fish oil derived from them — like salmon, sardines, anchovies, and mackerel, as well as in eggs from chickens who have been fed omega-3 fatty acids. 
  • EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid): also found in cold-water fish and their oils. 
  • ALA (alpha-linolenic acid): found in flaxseed oil, leafy green vegetables, navy, kidney, soy beans, and canola or walnut oils.

Your dog's immune system cannot convert ALA into EPA and DHA the way human bodies can. This means that plant-based oils are not the best source of omega-3 fatty acids for dogs — fish oil is a much better option. That's why you'll find most omega-3 supplements in the form of fish oil capsules or in liquid food toppers like Pet Honesty's Wild Alaskan Salmon Oil

Improve Your Pup's Diet With Fish Oil or Fatty Acid Supplements

Your dog needs fatty acids, including omega-3 and 6, in their diet for all sorts of health reasons. Omega-3 fatty acids tend to be the nutrient that dogs' diets are lacking in. Since cold-water fish are the best sources of omega-3 fatty acids for dogs, fish oil supplements are usually the best way to give your dog this essential nutrient. 

As always, consult with your veterinarian before making any changes to your dog's diet. Your pooch might not need any dietary supplements at all, or they might need something else. With the all-clear from your vet, though, adding a fish oil supplement to boost omega-3 fatty acid levels can be a great thing for your dog's health. 

Learn more about your pet's nutrition and health by visiting the Pet Honesty blog