INGREDIENT SPOTLIGHT: EDIBLE OILS AND YOUR PET, PART 1 — ESSENTIAL OMEGAS
If you’ve been paying attention to recent health trends you’ve probably read about how everyone and their dog (literally) is into oils. Fish oils, plant oils, nut oils — you may even have spied certain oils in your pet’s food. You may be wondering, “Is it really good for my pets to have added oils in their diet? Oils are fat right? Should I really be adding fat into my pet’s diet?”
Though we ALWAYS recommend consulting a vet first before adding anything to your pet’s diet (especially if your pet has pre-existing conditions), supplementing with “good fats” and oils can be beneficial.
When most of us humans think of fat, we think of it as something to avoid. We consider fat to be something that can well, make us fat, and contribute to a lot of other health problems. Cats and dogs use fats very differently in their bodies. Fats offer cats and dogs a highly digestible form of energy. Fat is actually used for energy in a cat or dog’s body ahead of proteins and carbohydrates. In addition, fat is important in cell membrane health, eye health, and nerve signal transmission.
Not to mention fats taste good! Fats play an important role in making your pet’s food taste and smell tempting. As many of us know, a meal with a good amount of at in it is satisfying and makes you feel nice and full. This goes for your pets too.
But what are “good fats”?
Fats are composed of fatty acids, which are building blocks to your dog or cat’s body. Certain fatty acids are called essential fatty acids because they are vital to your pet’s health. Dogs and cats cannot produce these fatty acids on their own, and must get them from foods or supplementation. Without a proper balance of essential fatty acids your pet may suffer from lack of energy, dull coat, flakey skin, and poor muscle and tissue development, among other issues. In fact, essential fatty acids help to combat obesity because they aid in keeping your pets energetic and able to burn excess fat.
Essential fatty acids are divided into two categories, omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. There are long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), and a short-chain omega-3 fatty acids called ALA (alpha-linolenic acid). Basically, EPA, DHA, and ALA are all essential, but EPA and DHA — found in fish in shellfish — are more efficiently used by your pet’s body than plant-based ALA. While ALA is still beneficial, more of it must be consumed to gain the same benefits as fish-based EPA and DHA.
Many pets are lacking in a proper balance of omega-3 fatty acids in their diet. Omega-3s possess important anti-inflammatory properties, and can greatly aid in the health of your pet’s joints, nerves, skin, and heart. Omega-3s also are beneficial and combatting ulcerative colitis and inflammatory bowel disease.
Omega-6 fatty acids also long-chain and short-chain. Long-chain omega-6 fatty acids are LA (linoleic acid), short-chain omega-6 fatty acids are AA (arachidonic acid). Most pets get omega-6 fatty acids in their pet food through grains, plant sources, and eggs. Very often, the balance of omega-6 fatty acids is off due to a pet having a diet with too much grain or plant oil in it.
Make no mistake, omega-6s are indeed essential to a dog or cat’s diet, as they are necessary in hormone regulation, skin health, immune system function, reproduction, and liver and kidney health. However, just like many nutrients, it is possible to have too much of a good thing. Too much omega-6 can actually result in inflammatory issues, as well as a weakened immune system. Omega-3s are vital in balancing omega-6s in a pet’s diet, and are sometimes lacking.
So how can a pet get the right essential fatty acids into their diet?
Essential fatty acids can readily be found in many oils that are beneficial when part of a healthy, balanced diet. Of course, not just any oil will do. The source, purity, and quality of the oil is very important. When deciding which oil to use in your pet’s diet, there are a few that are reliable choices in the proper dosage.
So if you and your vet decide that adding omega oils to your dog or cat’s food is a good idea, here are a few oils that can help maintain or improve your furry family member’s health.
If your pet can benefit from increased omega-3 fatty acids in their diet (and many dogs and cats can), fish oils are generally accepted as the most biologically viable option. Meat eaters like dogs and cats best absorb EPA and DHA from animal-based sources.
Oily, cold water fish like salmon, herring, mackerel, anchovy, and sardine are solid choices when selecting a fish oil for your pet. The above fish have a naturally high concentration of omega-3 fatty acids.
When considering fish oils, it’s important to consider where the fish is sourced from, as well as how the oil is distilled. Fish can contain an excess of impurities and heavy metals from their environment, so a good fish oil distributor should have a way to purify their product. Even if a fish oil contains more than one kind of fish, always be sure that the product itself is 100% fish oil — no preservatives or additives.
Looking for a fish oil that is “cold-pressed” is also a must. Cold-pressed refers to the way that the fish oil is harvested. A cold-pressed fish oil ensures that the oil has not been extracted through the use of additives or heat, which can destroy antioxidants in the oil, as well as damage potency and purity.
Also consider whether the fish your pet’s fish oil is sourced from is farmed or wild-caught. If a label does not specifically say “wild-caught” it is most likely from a farmed fish, this is especially important when considering salmon, which is widely farmed. Farmed fish are often fed a diet that includes antibiotics, as well as byproducts from animals that may have GMOs in them. If antibiotics and GMOs are present in the fish that the oil is sourced from, then it is present in the oil.
It should be noted that many commercial pet foods will advertise that they have fish oil or omega-3s in their food. While this is a positive thing, fish oils are rather unstable and need to be stored and administered properly to retain their potency. Many pet foods due to shelf life or heat applied in cooking do not maintain the full potency of the fish oils they put in their food. Because of this, administering fish oil as a supplement — properly stored away from heat and light — is likely the best mode of giving omega-3s to your pet.
Most fish oils can be fed in gel capsule form (for medium to large sized dogs) or in liquid form for cats and small dogs. We are a big fan of Nordic Naturals Omega-3 Pet supplements. (Link https://www.nordicnaturals.com/petVet/nnpet_prodO3.php) Carefully formulated from wild anchovy and sardine oils, it is a pure, sustainable, high quality fish oil.
Flaxseed oil is often touted as a vegetarian source for omega-3 fatty acids. However, while it can be a good supplement, flaxseed oil contains ALA or short-chain omega-3 fatty acids, which are not as efficiently converted to EPA and DHA (long-chain fatty acids) in a dog or cat’s biology. Therefore, the omega-3s are not as readily absorbable as the omega-3s in fish oils.
Algae oil is another plant-based source of omegas, but they are really only a source of DHA and omega-6. The amount EPA in algae oil is negligible, thus making it an incomplete source. Supplementing with algae oil may not be appropriate for pets who already have enough omega-6 in their diet.
It should be noted that while dogs can convert some ALA into EPA and DHA, cats can convert much less. As obligate carnivores, animal-based omega-3s are really the only completely bioavailable choice for cats.
Generally speaking, plant-based oils cannot replace fish oil, but they do have their benefits.
If for some reason your pet is lacking in omega-6s, flaxseed oil or even sunflower oil may be a good choice. If your pet needs omega-6s (consult your vet if you suspect this), supplementing with flaxseed, sunflower, or another omega-6 rich oil could improve your pet’s allergies, nails, and defense against itchiness and skin infections.
When selecting a plant-based oil for your pet, similar rules apply as when selecting a fish oil. Pure, cold-pressed, sustainably sourced oils, with as few additives as possible (be sure that any stabilizing ingredients are safe for your pet), are your safest choices.
Vitamin E and Finding the Balance of Omega-3s in a Pet’s Diet
Throughout this post we’ve tried to emphasize balance in feeding your dog or cat essential fatty acids. Just as omega-6s can be overfed, omega-3s can also be over supplemented. In the case of over-supplementation of omega-3s, a pet can suffer from a vitamin E deficiency. Many fish oil supplements contain vitamin E to counteract this, or a vet can recommend an appropriate amount of vitamin E supplementation.
For this reason, we strongly recommend consulting your vet before adding omega-3s, or really any oils, into your pet’s diet.
While essential fatty acids are a vital part of your pet’s health, they are not the only “good oils”. Oils like olive oil, coconut oil, hempseed oil, and avocado oil, could also benefit your pet’s health and well-being.
Join us for the next “Ingredient Spotlight” when we explore more nutritious edible oils for your pet!
~ Your Loyal Calvin & Susie Blogger
Note: Always check with your vet before making any changes to your pet’s diet. The Calvin & Susie Blogger always researches to the best of her ability, but she is not a vet. This blog is not in any way meant to replace veterinary advice or care. When in doubt, always ask a vet.
Photo source: Wikimedia Commons/Creative Commons