Unless your dog is eating fish on a regular basis, chances are he's not getting enough omega 3s.
These essential fatty acids are needed to keep your dog healthy and feeling and acting young, so a lack of them can cause havoc in your pet's quality of life.
To learn more about Omega 3s and your dog, we talked to Dr. Bo Martinsen, MD, a leading omega-3 specialist and an avid proponent of eating natural foods. Martinsen is also the creator of several medical food products that combine dose-effective ingredients of omega-3 fish oil and soluble fibers.
Main Benefits of Using Omega-3 Supplements
Animals benefit from omega-3 supplements in the same ways that humans do, according to Martinsen. “The omega-3 molecules are an important part of the cell membrane and are also important for balancing the body's immune response,” Martinsen explains.
According to Mortinsen, most pets, just like people, don't get enough omega-3 because of the abundant use of refined feeds that are rich in the inflammation-promoting omega-6 molecules. “When you add omega-3 back into the diet, you help restore the necessary balance of the omega-3 and omega-6 families,” Martinsen says.
While omega-3 supplements are great for any dog, Martinsen says the beneficial changes will be most evident in older dogs that have arthritis and in dogs with coat and skin issues.
Signs and Symptoms of an Omega-3 Deficiency
Symptoms of an omega-3 deficiency are very much the same in humans and pets, according to Martinsen. “Low energy, chronic inflammation symptoms, poor coat and skin quality, aggressive or agitated behavior are all common,” Martinsen says.
In addition, dogs that don't get enough omega 3s are more likely to develop heart problems, including increased cholesterol levels, pain and inflammation related to arthritis, and immune system issues. On the other hand, pets who consume omega 3 supplements are less likely to suffer from bowel conditions—including inflammatory bowel disease and ulcerative colitis—and dermatitis.
What Should You Look For When Buying Omega-3s For Your Pet?
Most respectable omega-3 companies should be following regulations for removing contaminants in fish oil products (the most common and best form of omega 3 supplements), so that is typically not a big concern, according to Martinsen. A common problem, however, is that numerous omega-3 products geared towards pets are made from flaxseed. “Or the products mix of a little bit of fish oil in with lots of flaxseed and other filler ingredients,” Martinsen adds.
So how do you determine the quality and effectiveness of the source? “Look at the supplement facts and look for the amount of EPA and DHA omega-3 listed,” says Martinsen. “The EPA and DHA omega-3s are the main workhorses of the omega-3 family and most important for helping reduce inflammation and providing cognitive benefits.” According to Martinsen, these numbers should be specified, and there should be several hundred mg listed per serving size, particularly for larger dogs. “If there is no EPA or DHA listed on the supplement facts, then choose another product,” he adds.
Deciding How Much to Give
Because there are no official dosages recommended, deciding how much fish oil to give to your pet can be confusing. “The correct omega-3 dose depends on the size and condition of your pet,” Martinsen says. “For instance, a large 50-80 lb. dog would need between 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of a fish oil per day, while a small dog would need between 1/4 to 1/3 teaspoon of fish oil.”
As a pet owner, you can get a good idea of the correct dose by looking at your pet's stools. “If you notice the feces become very soft, you can reduce the dosage,” Martinsen says. “If you don't notice much of a benefit in terms of joint stiffness or coat improvements within 8 weeks, then you can increase the dose slightly.”
Diana Bocco is a full-time writer and avid adventurer. She's gone hiking in Siberia, snorkeling in Thailand, and canoeing in the Mekong River. She also loves caves and has been known to get lost in one or five around the world. Diana's work has been published in the Discovery Channel website, Yahoo!, Popular Mechanics, and more. You can read more of her work on her website at www.dianabocco.com