Fish oils can provide health benefits to our dogs including, but not limited to, healthier skin and coat, better immune system, reduced inflammatory process, better cardiovascular health, and improved nervous system functioning. Because these can truly help improve the overall health and wellness of our mutts, it is essential that we know how to provide them with the best fish oils. However, with so many competing brands in the market it’s so easy to pick one that doesn’t contain the right amounts of polyunsaturated fatty acids that our pets need or, worse, a product that is tainted with harmful ingredients. That’s why we embarked on this project to bring to you only the safest, most effective, and consumer-trusted fish oil for canines.
Buyer’s Guide to Fish Oils for Dogs
Fish oils are just one of the many food supplements that have been shown to provide a variety of health benefits. It is very important to understand that supplements should never be considered as therapeutic agents or substances that can treat or cure diseases, whether human or canine. Supplements are called as such for the simple fact that the ingredients contained in these products are actually found in natural food. The only problem is that we are not giving our pets the right kinds of food that contain these essential substances. That’s why we need to supplement them. But, if you’re going to think that fish oils will cure your pet’s arthritis, it will not. It may only relieve the symptoms such as pain and swelling but it will never really address the root of the problem. Palliative treatment is not a permanent cure. It only relieves the symptoms so your pet can go about its usual business. It is important to understand this before you give your pet any type of supplement, fish oils included.
With that out of the way, we can now go to the more important reason why you’re here – how to determine the right fish oil supplement for your dog. The answer to this question is not very straightforward, unfortunately. It is best to understand some of the basics first so you will have an idea of the things you need to look for in the right fish oil for dogs.
What are Fish Oils?
As the term implies, fish oil is a type of fat that is derived from fish. In common usage, it almost always refers to eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) that have been extensively studied in many clinical trials for their supposed benefits in reducing the signs and symptoms of inflammation as well as improving blood lipid problems, especially hypertriglyceridemia. It is worth noting that EPA and DHA are not the only essential fatty acids contained in fish oil. It also contains arachidonic acid and other types of oils.
Fish oil is found in all types of fish, although marine life that are considered to be fatty fish have exceptionally high levels of EPA and DHA. These fatty acids are not produced by these fishes, however. These substances are manufactured by smaller marine life such as phytoplanktons and algae. When these tiny creatures are eaten up by other fishes, their stored EPA and DHA essentially become part of the fish. As such, marine life that depend on algae and phytoplanktons have high levels of omega-3 fatty acids. Also, marine creatures that are located high up in the food chain like sharks, albacore tuna, tilefish, and swordfish have high levels of EPA and DHA. Regrettably, consuming these predatory creatures solely for their oils is not recommended since they contain high levels of mercury, chlordane, PCBs, and dioxin which are all toxic substances. As such, only the oils from marine life in the middle of the food chain are deemed safer to consume for their oils.
Here are the 10 best sources of fish oil.
- Spanish mackerel
As we have already said earlier, shark, tilefish, and swordfish have high levels of omega-3 acids, too. However, because they are essentially at the top of the food chain, it is possible that they may contain harmful and toxic substances and not only beneficial fish oils so we have purposively left them out in this list.
Given that fish oils are excellent sources of EPA and DHA, it is also important to understand what these fatty acids can do for your pet.
- Eicosapentaenoic acid
This fatty acid is generally important in the promotion and maintenance of overall health. However, it is best regarded for its anti-inflammatory properties as well as the ability to improve cardiovascular functioning. What this means for your pooch is that EPA essentially helps reduce the incidence and severity of inflammatory conditions such as arthritis and even muscle spasms. It should also help provide for a healthier heart, facilitating the enhanced delivery of oxygen and nutrients to the rest of your pet’s body. Sadly, EPA cannot be stored in significant quantities and, as such, should be replenished.
- Docosahexaenoic acid
Better known as the brain fatty acid, docosahexaenoic acid or DHA is particularly useful in the promotion of optimum eye and brain development and is important for supporting optimum heart health. You can say that DHA helps EPA in promoting a healthier cardiovascular system. Additionally, DHA can also help in regulating inflammatory processes, although not that significant compared to EPA. The good thing about DHA is that it is efficiently stored in the retina of the eyes and the different structures of the brain. It is perhaps for this reason that DHA in most supplements is relatively lesser than EPA in amount.
Does My Dog Really Need Fish Oil?
With all that talk about how EPA and DHA can be helpful in maintaining a normally functioning canine body, the question remains. “Does my dog really need fish oil?”
The answer is yes and no. Actually, the answer is quite complicated. And, it all depends on what you’re feeding your pet.
Can you remember what we said about supplements being not medicines at all but rather substances that are supposed to support normal functioning of the body which should have been the function of food? Well, most of the food that we feed our dogs today contains a lot of omega-6 fatty acids. Don’t get us wrong but omega-6 fatty acids are beneficial, too. Unfortunately, they’re a very complicated bunch since some of the molecules that are classified as omega-6 have anti-inflammatory properties while others have pro-inflammatory activities, meaning they promote inflammation.
Now, don’t ever think that inflammation is necessarily bad. Inflammation is actually the body’s own way of managing tissue injury. Without inflammation, the tissue injury will not be properly addressed. The thing, however, is that inflammation typically has its lifespan. When it extends well beyond what is considered to be physiologically beneficial, then problems can arise.
The issue is that most of the dog food that we give to our pets, especially commercially prepared diets, are filled with a lot of omega-6 fatty acids. Just to give you a reference point, humans today have an omega-6/omega-3 ratio of 15-17:1 which means we are way over the recommended ratio of 3-4:1. That is why we have a lot of inflammatory conditions from heart ailments to arthritis to cancer and a whole lot more. Likewise, current formulations of dog food are filled with a lot of omega-6 fatty acids in that these have been show to produce a ratio of 8-10:1.
Considering that majority of omega-6 fatty acids promote inflammation, particularly arachidonic acid, which has been shown to mediate inflammatory reactions, the type of food that we give to our pets can seriously negate the anti-inflammatory properties of omega-3 fatty acids.
So, does your pooch really need fish oil? If you’re feeding your pet with food that is sufficiently high in omega-6 fatty acids or your pet is showing a lot of inflammatory conditions, giving it fish oil should be a sound move. However, if you’re feeding your pooch biologically appropriate raw food that is naturally rich in omega-3s, there clearly is no need for fish oil supplementation.
What are the Benefits of Fish Oil for Dogs?
By now it should already be clear that fish oil can provide a variety of benefits for your pooch. If these are not yet that clear to you, here are the benefits of fish oil for dogs.
- Promotes greater mobility
Because the EPA in fish oil has excellent anti-inflammatory properties, aided by the modest anti-inflammatory action of DHA, giving your pooch fish oil can help improve its overall mobility by preventing inflammation in the joints. Arthritis in dogs, especially large breeds and senior mutts, is a very common occurrence. While it doesn’t actually treat arthritis and other joint problems, fish oil can nevertheless, minimize the severity of such inflammatory conditions, if not downright prevent it from occurring. With uninflammed joints, your pooch will be able to move a lot better, allowing it to run, jump, and play with you and the rest of your family.
- Aids in obedience training
The DHA contained in fish oil is primarily responsible for optimum brain development. What this simply means is that the different connections in the brain function at a more optimized levels. This helps in canine cognition, enabling them to process more information at the same time. And if you’re in the process of training your pooch to obey your commands, it would really be a great help if you could provide them foods that are rich in DHA or even give them fish oil supplements as this can help improve their memory.
- Promotes optimum skin and coat health
The anti-inflammatory properties in the essential fatty acids contained in fish oil are what are responsible for the promotion of healthier skin and coat in canines. These substances are important components of the membrane of skin cells, maintaining its integrity. Without these fatty acids the skin can get easily irritated leading to intense itching and a variety of other symptoms such as redness or even blotching. Giving fish oil replenishes these fatty acids found in cell membranes making your pooch’s skin more resistant against insults which can trigger the inflammatory response. This minimizes scratching and prevents cuts through the skin which can become entry points for microorganisms leading to infection. The same is true with canine hair. Each hair shaft, while composed of keratinized tissues, is dependent on fatty acids to give it a shinier appearance and a smoother feel. It also helps minimize shedding.
- Promotes optimum immune system functioning
There’s a growing body of evidence supporting the role of DHA in enhancing the activity of B-lymphocytes which are primarily responsible for the production of antibodies. B-lymphocytes are also known to release cytokines which are very important in the management of infection, inflammation, and even cancer. Some of the more popular examples of cytokines are interferons, tumor necrosis factors (TNF), and interleukins. These can have wide-ranging effects on your pet, but the bottom line is that these greatly improve the overall functioning of its immune system. This helps your pooch fight infections a lot more effectively because of the combination of antibodies and cytokines regulated by the B-lymphocytes. Do take note that fish oil only enhances the activity of B-lymphocytes and not necessarily produce them.
- Boosts cardiovascular health
Studies have shown that supplementing with fish oil doesn’t necessarily lead to a reduction in the incidence of heart attacks and strokes. However, it does provide some protective mechanism through the anti-inflammatory and antioxidant action of EPA and DHA. More importantly, however, is the effects of omega-3 fatty acids on low-density lipoproteins which can help minimize the risk of developing atherosclerotic conditions. The good news is that dogs are not really that susceptible to cardiovascular conditions compared to humans. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that they don’t.
How Do I Choose the Best Fish Oil for Dogs?
You now have an idea what fish oil is all about and why your dog may need it or not as well as the benefits it may provide for your pet. The next question, and perhaps the most important one, is how to choose the right fish oil for dogs. Regrettably, there are no simple answers to this as everything depends on how well you understand the health needs of your pet. Regardless, here are some tips to choosing the right fish oil for your pet.
- Consider the EPA and DHA concentrations of your product
Some products put emphasis on the DHA component of their fish oils. However, going back to what we already said about DHA, increasing this component is not necessarily beneficial unless your ultimate goal is to improve the brain and eye functioning of your pooch. Even then, we also know that DHA can be easily stored by your pet’s body in its brain and eyes so giving it more DHA may not really serve its intended purpose.
Experts all agree that EPA is a more important consideration when it comes to fish oil supplementation for the simple fact that it cannot be stored in the body. As such, supplementing it with fish oil is a must. Plus, its anti-inflammatory properties are well-recognized and duly established. And since many of the health conditions besetting dogs today are inflammatory in nature, it would be best to get a product that has naturally higher concentrations of eicosapentaenoic acid. Of course, if you already get EPA, then DHA follows.
To help you better decide, here are some of the omega-3 fatty acid blends that are currently available in the market:
- Sardine, mackerel, anchovy, and herring blends – These typically contain the highest concentrations of EPA and DHA at 18% and 12%, respectively.
- Salmon oil – More often than not, the salmon oil you may have in your product is sourced from farmed salmon. Know that farmed fish are typically fed with antibiotics as well as unnatural commercial diets. So, you have to make sure that the fish oil is sourced from salmon caught in the wild. This should give you an EPA and DHA concentrations of 10% and 11%, respectively.
- Pollock oil – Like salmon oil, make sure the label reads “caught in the wild” to make sure that it is safe and that your dog will be getting as much as 12% DHA and 6% EPA. You read that right. This is one of the major advantages of Pollock oil as it comes with higher concentrations of DHA than EPA.
There are other sources of omega-3 fatty acids that you might be interested in. Understand, however, that these are not considered fish oil. These include cod liver oil, which has 9% EPA and 11% DHA, and krill oil, which has 11% EPA and 5% DHA. Know that if you choose cod liver oil, this product is often included with Vitamin A and Vitamin D. Since these vitamins are fat-soluble vitamins, they do have the tendency to stay in your pet’s system a lot longer. If you continue giving the, cod liver oil, they may develop toxicities related to an oversupply of these 2 vitamins.
- Go for fish oil whose sources are caught in the wild
We already said that fish that have been farmed are generally not safe to consume primarily because of the fish-raising practices employed by these companies. Many fish farms use antibiotics, paraciticides, antifungals, and dyes as well as commercial diets that may be filled with many synthetic ingredients. Many are grown in polluted waters, are heavily vaccinated to increase their viability. Studies also show that many of the aquatic produce from fish farms contain alarmingly higher concentrations of mercury, PCBs, dioxins, and other toxins.
As such, you should really get a product that sources its fish oil from aquatic creatures in the wild. Now, be very careful as some products that are labeled ‘caught in the wild’ are not actually from the open seas but rather from hatcheries. While these are relatively ‘safer’ than those found in fish farms, they often contain less EPAs and DHAs because they do not have, or have limited, access to the primary source of these compounds – the phytoplanktons and algae.
- Stick with ‘real’ fish oils
There are products that come with omega-6 fatty acids in their formulation. Some even come with ALA. Alpha-linolenic acid is usually converted into EPA and DHA. Unfortunately, the body is not that efficient in converting this molecule for more useful purposes. Also, your pet’s food already has plenty of omega-6. Adding some more may not be a good idea if you want to secure a healthier omega-3/omega-6 ratio.
- Choose the more convenient way of administering the fish oil to your dogs
Fish oils are currently available in chewable tablets, liquids, and soft gel formulations. You simply have to choose the best and most convenient way of administering these to your dog. For some, soft gels are preferred as these can be mixed with food or incorporated in doggie treats. Liquid oils, on the other hand, can be quite messy especially if there are no pouring mechanisms. It can be easily mixed with food, though. Chewable tablets are often preferred for their doggie treat-like characteristics.
What is the Best Fish Oil Dosage for Dogs?
Identifying the correct amounts of fish oil to give to your dog is crucial. The good thing is that there is a very simple way of identifying how much EPA you should target for your pet. The general rule of thumb is to get your pooch’s weight in pounds and multiply this by 20. This should give you an estimate of how much EPA you need to give. As such, if you have a 15-pound pooch, multiply this by 20, and you get 300 milligrams of EPA. If a product is labeled as containing 150 milligrams of EPA per teaspoon, then you should give your mutt 2 teaspoons to account for its 300 milligram requirement.
How about DHA? Well, we already mentioned that EPA is given more emphasis in fish oils primarily because of its greater anti-inflammatory activity and the inherent inability of the body to store it efficiently.
Fish oils are needed by dogs especially if you’re feeding them diets that are naturally rich in omega-6 fatty acids or that your pet has an inflammatory problem. This balances the omega-6/omega-3 ratio to help promote normal cardiovascular, integumentary, immune system, and nervous system functioning. Choosing products that are essentially high in EPA, especially those sourced from marine life in the wild, can help ensure that your pet receive all the health benefits of fish oils.