Is Your Dog Getting the Benefit of His/Her Omega-3 Supplement?
So many people have learned about the benefits of Omega-3 supplements and are now adding this to their dog’s diet. This is great! As many of you know, these oils provide benefits for skin, hair, mental health, prevention of heart disease, and numerous other areas in both human, and pet health.
BUT is there a difference in fish oil supplements? Yes there is. And I’m not referring to cost alone. How can you know whether you are using a supplement which is beneficial to your dog? I thought in this article I would help you understand some details about omega-3 oils.
Omega-3 fatty acids are found in fatty layers of cold-water fish and shellfish, plant and nut oils, English walnuts, flaxseed, algae oils, and fortified foods. You can also get omega-3s as supplements. Food and supplement sources of these fatty acids differ in the forms and amounts they contain.
There are the two main types of omega-3 fatty acids:
• Long-chain omega-3 fatty acids are EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). These are plentiful in fish and shellfish. Algae often provides only DHA. EPA is a powerful anti-inflammatory, helps decrease triglycerides, and helps the body break down fats in the liver; DHA is wonderful for brain health, cognitive function, helps prevent atherosclerosis (fatty accumulation in arteries) and also anti-inflammatory – both work well together with slightly different functions – their combined effects have positive benefits for the whole body
• Short-chain omega-3 fatty acids are ALA (alpha-linolenic acid). These are found in plants, such as flax, hemp, pumpkin seed and walnuts. Although beneficial, ALA omega-3 fatty acids have less potent health benefits than EPA and DHA. You’d have to eat a lot to gain the same benefits as you do from fish. ALA can be converted into EPA and DHA in the body, but it is estimated that only about 5% of ALA is converted to EPA and about 0.5% (one-half of one percent) is converted to DHA.
Choosing the Best Omega-3 Supplement:
With so many omega-3 and fish oil supplements and fortified foods, making the right choice can be tricky. These guidelines can help.
• Avoid products that don’t list the source of their omega-3s. Does the package list the source of omega-3 fatty acids? If not, chances are it’s ALA (sometimes from plain old canola or soybean oil).
• Don’t fall for fortified foods. Many dog foods and treats claim to be high in omega-3 fatty acids, but often, the real amount of omega-3 is miniscule.
• Make sure you read the label carefully: You need to see how many capsules/teaspoons of your Omega-3 supplement give the total amount listed (in fine print you might see: 500mg per serving size and one serving size might be 3 capsules or 2 tablespoons!) – so read carefully!
• Try to choose supplements that are mercury-free, pharmaceutical (human) grade and molecularly distilled. Make sure the supplement contains both DHA and EPA. They may be hard to find, but supplements with higher concentrations of EPA are better. I have found these to be the best choices for the health of humans or their pets.
• MOST IMPORTANT: Look for the total amount of EPA and DHA on the label. The bottle may say 1,000 milligrams of fish oil, but it’s the amount of omega-3 that matters. Read the small print. It may show only 300 mg of EPA and DHA (sometimes listed as “omega-3 fatty acids”), which means the average schnauzer would need about 2 capsules for good benefit. But this might be too much overall fatty acids going into your schnauzer as we know they do have challenges with breaking down fats!! The rest of the capsule may have other sources of omega-3 but if it’s a higher ALA content, the liver will be working hard to convert to EPA and DHA further taxing digestion, or… could be another filler altogether. Either way, the benefits of the EPA and DHA may be drastically reduced for your dog with such supplements. Remember that although the products that have higher EPA and DHA may be more expensive, you will be using a fraction of the amount you would have needed from other companies for therapeutic dosing in your dog. Your supplements will last longer, your dog will be healthier, and you will know that you are helping, rather than taxing his/her digestive system.
• Remember that liquids are always better digested: They are easier to break down than capsules but if you’re using capsules, you can squeeze out the oil onto your dog’s food for easier digestion.
Any fish oil supplements can cause stomach upset and cause belching, especially when your dog first starts having them. To reduce these side effects, make sure they are given with food. You may also want to start with a low dose and gradually increase it, or divide the dose among your fur-baby’s meals through the day. If digestion is already a concern (noticed through labwork or changes in bowel movements, be sure to add this supplement slowly). Eating fish regularly will often be handled well by most dogs even with some digestive health concerns, so some dogs will do better to start with this regular addition rather than supplements. Also remember that if your dog is on any blood-thinning medications, you should consult your Vet for recommendations on dosing as fish oils can also thin blood which can increase bleeding risks.
What About Coconut Oil?
Coconut Oil is predominantly composed of saturated fatty acids (about 94%), with a good percentage (above 62%) of Medium Chain Fatty Acids among them.
These saturated fats are the best things that coconut oil has to offer. These saturated fats in coconut oil are actually medium-chain fatty acids like capric acid, caprylic acid, caproic acid, and lauric acid, which can do wonders for your dog(s). They increase the rate of metabolism in the body, thereby aiding in weight loss, they increase the level of good cholesterol (high density lipoproteins) and lower the level of bad cholesterol (low density lipoproteins). They are also great sources of energy. Also contained in coconut oil is a good amount of Vitamin E which can keep your dog’s hair & skin healthy, along with several other benefits in the body. I love to cook Caesar’s treats in coconut oil, but I also believe that the fish oils (omega-3’s) have the most long-lasting research behind them for health benefits, so those are my chosen “therapeutic” oils for Caesar (of course he is getting the benefit of both).
What About Cod Liver Oil?
If you haven’t heard, you probably will come across this soon. Cod Liver Oil has recently received a lot of renewed-excitement in health journals, and even local magazines. For Schnauzer fur-babies, I do not believe this is the wisest addition even though it is a “fish oil.”
The reason for this is that cod liver oil is relatively high in Vitamin A content. Too much Vitamin A (especially delivered through supplementation rather than natural food choices) can be very hard on the liver – and any dogs who have liver challenges already or simply high cholesterol, elevated liver enzymes noted from blood work or a hereditary difficulty in digesting fats (like schnauzers) should avoid things that will add any strain on the liver. Interesting to know is that supplement companies can add or decrease the vitamin content in cod liver oil supplements and may not even need to label this… I do feel safer avoiding these for Caesar.
And there you have it. A little bit of information about good oils for our fur-babies.
I hope this information is useful to you and I wish you and your fur babies good health and happiness always!