Omega-3 Essentials

Omega-3 fatty acids are considered essentials fatty acids (EFAs) for humans, as well as for dogs and cats, because they cannot be made in the body. In order to maintain optimal health and wellness, these fatty acids must be obtained through diet or supplementation.

EPA and DHA are necessary structural components of cell membranes. These functional, health-promoting fatty acids maintain the cell membrane fluidity and permeability needed for healthy functioning cells.

The two health-promoting omega-3 fatty acids are eicosapentaenoicacid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). EPA and DHA are long chain omega-3 fatty acids found abundantly in fish. Flax seed oil contains alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), a shorter chain omega-3 fatty acid that requires the enzyme delta-6 desaturase to convert ALA to EPA and DHA in the body.

Humans and dogs have limited ability to convert ALA to EPA and DHA2. Cats, on the other hand, have less ability to convert ALA to EPA and DHA3. Therefore, supplementation with high quality omega-3 fish oil is recommended for humans, dogs, and cats.

One of the key functions of the omega-3 fatty acid EPA is supporting the body’s natural anti-inflammatory response. Dogs and cats can suffer from numerous inflammatory conditions that can affect their health and well-being. Studies have shown supplementation of omega-3 fatty acids from fish supports dogs and cats with inflammatory conditions associated with the skin, joints, kidneys, and heart4-9. In addition, EPA is known to promote healthy triglyceride (fat) levels within the blood of dogs4.

In puppies and kittens, the omega-3 fatty acid DHA plays a key role in neurological (brain) and retinal (eye) development4,10. Studies have shown that feeding pregnant dogs omega-3 fatty acid-enriched foods during gestation and lactation provides needed DHA to their puppies10. Puppies weaned onto foods with DHA have improved electroretinographic responses (a measurement of the electrical response of the retina in the eye to light stimulation), and improved responses to training tests2, 10. Studies in humans have shown that omega-3 fatty acids may be beneficial in maintaining normal cognitive function later in life11.

Lastly, essential fatty acid supplementation is known to maintain general skin and coat quality in dogs and cats.

Consult your veterinarian to evaluate the total amount of omega-3 fatty acids your dog/puppy or cat/kitten should receive on a daily basis based on species, age, activity level, diet, life stage (growth/reproductive and adult), and health condition.

2. Dunbar BL, Bauer JE. Conversion of essential fatty acids by delta 6-desaturase in dog liver microsomes. J Nutr 2002;132:1701S–1703S.

3. Bauer JE. Fatty acid metabolism in domestic cats (Felis catus) and cheetahs (Acinoyx jubatas). Proceedings of the Nutrition Society 1997;56:1013–1024.

4. Bauer JE. Responses of dogs to dietary omega-3 fatty acids. J Amer Vet Med Assoc 2007;11:1657–1661.

5. Brown SA, Brown CA, Crowell WA, et al. Effects of dietary polyunsaturated fatty acid supplementation in early renal insufficiency in dogs. J Lab Clin Med 2000;135:275–286.
6. Hansen RA, Harris ME, Pluhar GE, et al. Fish oil decreases matrix metallopoteinases in knee synovia of dogs with inflammatory joint disease. J Nutr Biochem 2008;19(2):101–108.

7. Freeman LM, Rush JE, Kehayias JJ. Nutritional alterations and the effects of fish oil supplementation in dogs with heart failure. J Vet Intern Med 1998;12: 440–448.
8. Freeman LM, Rush JE, Markwell PJ. Effects of dietary modification in dogs with early chronic valvular disease. J Vet Intern Med 2006;20:1116–1126.
9. Smith CE, Freeman LM, Rush, JE, et al. Omega-3 fatty acids in Boxer dogs with arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy. J Vet Intern Med 2007;21:256–273.

10. Heinemann KM, Waldron MK, Bigley KE. Long-chain (n-3) polyunsaturated fatty acids are more efficient than alpha-linolenic acid in improving electroretinogram responses in puppies exposed during gestation, lactation, and weaning. J Nutr 2005;135:1960–1966.

11. Freemantle E, Vanda M, Tremblay-Mercier J, et al. Omega-3 fatty acids, energy substrates, and brain function during aging. Prostaglandins, Leukotrienes and Essential Fatty Acids 2006;75:213–220.