Petplan pet insurance presents the skinny on fatty acids

Posted by Dr. Kim Smyth on Oct 24 2011

Fatty acid supplements are all the rage these days, and for good reason. Some fatty acids have shown health benefits in humans, ranging from battling depression to boosting cardiac health and alleviating joint pain. The good news is that many of these benefits also translate to our pets’ bodies, too!

What's a fatty acid, anyway?

Polyunsaturated fatty acids have more than one double bond in their carbon structures. Perhaps you’ve heard of omega-3 or omega-6 fatty acids? These are both polyunsaturated fatty acids and are considered “good fats.” Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are also known as “essential fatty acids,” because (with a couple of exceptions) dogs, cats and other mammals (including us two-leggers) cannot synthesize them on their own, so they must obtain them through diet or other supplementation.

Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to benefit our animal friends as much as they benefit our own health. Among other properties, they are anti-inflammatory in nature and are part of a multi-modal approach to alleviating pain from osteoarthritis. Fatty acids are key tools that help resolve chronic skin conditions and play a role in immune system function, battling cancer and kidney disease.
Balancing the good fats

Making sure your pet gets the right balance of essential fatty acids can be tricky. In general, it’s the ratio of omega-6s to omega-3s that’s important. The ratio range is wide, but an acceptable average to shoot for is 5:1. This may sound like a lot of omega-6 fatty acids, but because they are so readily available in our pets’ normal diets (and ours, too), they tend to get way more than they need. In fact, obtaining the 5:1 ratio usually includes not only supplementing omega-3s, but also limiting omega-6s. Too many omega-6 fatty acids could lead to inflammatory conditions.

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There are two omega-3 fatty acids that are particularly important nutritionally: DHA and EPA. These are most widely available in cold-water oily fish such as herring, sardines, salmon and halibut. Fish oil supplements are an excellent source of both DHA and EPA for your dog or cat, depending on the brand.

There is a wide range of recommended doses for omega-3 fatty acids, but most experts agree that anywhere from 40 mg to 100 mg of DHA and EPA combined per kg per day will provide beneficial results. So for your 45-lb. dog (which equals 20.5 kg), that means anywhere from 820 mg to 2,050 mg per day.

If skin disease or aching joints are plaguing your pooch or pussycat, talk to your veterinarian about the possibility of adding essential fatty acids to their diet. Even if your pet has no current complaints, he may still benefit from finding these “good fats” in his bowl each day.

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