Nutritional supplements delivering essential fatty acids have seen huge growth and expansion as knowledge of health benefits for humans has developed. Similar research now applies to the health of our canine and feline family members, with a growing bank of clinical research broadening the application of these nutrients. In the past, through a far narrower pet-health scope, fish and marine oils were mainly used for aesthetic or superficial purposes such as a shinier coat, or less dry, itchy or flaky skin. Now, deeper health connections for cats and dogs are evident between seed and marine oils and the animals’ allergies, inflammation, the health of their joints, their eyes and their hearts.

 

What are essential fatty acids?

Fatty acids are essential to the everyday bodily functions of cats and dogs, however, the body is unable to create all the fatty acids required, and it therefore becomes essential that they be taken in through dietary sources. Omega-3 and Omega-6 are two types of these essential fatty acids, with their names referring to the position of the first double bond from the tail end (also known as the “omega” end) of their molecular structure.

Omega-3 fatty acids include several sub-types of importance, which can be seen cited in literature, and may be seen highlighted on pet product labels, including: alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Omega-6 fatty acid sub-types of importance include linoleic acid (LA), gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), dihomo-gamma-linolenic acid (DGLA), and arachidonic acid (AA).

 

How Much Do Pets Need?

Each sub-type of fatty acids described above has been linked with a variety of health benefits for cats and dogs, large and small.  Credible nutrition supplement manufacturers offer some guidance based on the size/weight of the animal. For example, daily intake of 40 to 200 mg EPA, 20 to 120 mg DHA, 240 mg omega-6 and 70 mg GLA may be recommended for cats, depending on their body weight. For dogs, daily intake of 75 to 320 mg EPA, 45 to 185 mg DHA, 240 mg omega-6 and 70 mg GLA, also body weight dependent, may be in range for your animal. Of course, all pet owners should seek out specific advice from their animal care providers about nutrition goals and benefits they hope to gain through the use of fatty acid supplements, proper dosages, and to ensure their animal has no contraindications for using them.

 

Where to find Omega-3 and Omega-6 Fatty Acids

There are several ways to provide cats and dogs with the fatty acids they need. These nutrients are present naturally in concentrated amounts in marine oils, cold water fish, algae, and various seed oils, such as sunflower and safflower oils. Many pet food companies are now savvy to incorporating an appropriate level – and most importantly, a healthy proportion - of omega-3 and -6 fatty acids in their product lines. Pet safe nutritional supplements including oils, treats, and chewables, are also available, specific to the animal, size, life stage, and described health benefit.