There is a lot of attention given to fish oil for dogs thanks to its potential health benefits, that mainly come from omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3, particularly eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), play a significant role in the maintenance of canine health and wellness.
Here we will explore what is available as far as fish oil for dogs goes, and we will dig a little in to the science behind them.
Cardiac Health Benefits: Fish oil, rich in omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA), improves heart health in dogs. A study in Boxers with arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy (ARVC) revealed that fish oil supplementation reduced heart arrhythmias, unlike flax seed oil (Smith, 2007).
Joint and Inflammation Support: Omega-3 in fish oil helps managing canine arthritis and osteoarthritis. A clinical trial indicated significant improvements in joint mobility and weight-bearing capabilities in dogs given fish oil as part of their diet (Roush, 2010).
Cognitive and Neural Benefits: DHA, a key component of fish oil, is vital for puppies' brain and retinal development. Studies show enhanced memory, trainability, and cognitive functions in puppies and older dogs supplemented with DHA (Reynolds et al., 2006; Araujo et al., 2022).
Skin and Coat Health: Fish oil supplementation promotes better skin hydration and coat health. It helps alleviate symptoms related to allergies, reduces shedding and dandruff, and may improve conditions like autoimmune dermatitis.
Dosage and Administration Guidelines: The appropriate fish oil dosage for dogs varies based on their health and weight. It's recommended to consult a veterinarian for accurate dosing. Fish oil can be administered in liquid form, capsules, or chews.
Selecting and Comparing Supplements: Consider the source, quality, purity, and formulation. Fish oil is generally preferred over alternatives like flaxseed oil for its direct provision of EPA and DHA and better absorption. Potential side effects and risks should be discussed with a veterinarian.
Why is Fish Oil Good For Dogs Arrhythmia?
Fish oil supplements for dogs have a lot of Omega-3 fatty acids, mostly EPA and DHA. These natural compounds have a physiological role in helping with improved cardiac, joint and skin issues, cognitive improvement, immune system health.
Supplementing a dog's diet with fish oil can support heart health by regulating blood pressure and reducing the risk of heart problems.
A study published in the Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine demonstrated that giving fish oil can reduce arrhythmia in Boxers with arrhythmogenic right ventricularcardiomyopathy (ARVC). Interestingly, this was not observed in dogs that received flax seed oil, as demonstration that the effect was unique for nutrients present in fish oil (Smith, 2007).
This study demonstrates that administration of fishoil providing 780 mg/d EPA and 497 mg/d DHA perday is associated with decreased ventricular arrhythmiain Boxers with ARVC. (J Vet Intern Med,2007;21:265–273)
ARVC is a genetic disease that primarily affects Boxer dogs, although it has also been reported in other breeds such as the English Bulldog and American Staffordshire. The disease generally develops in middle age (5-7 years of age). ARVC affects the heart muscle, causing the replacement of normal heart muscle with fatty and fibrous tissue (Kittleson, 2023).This can lead to heart arrhythmias, which can result in episodes of collapse or fainting, known as syncope.Some dogs with ARVC may die suddenly, which may be preceded by episodes of syncope. Treatments with fish oil can help changing the lipidomic profile of the heart tissue, therefore making it more functional and able to beat better.
Joint and Inflammation Support
What's the difference between arthritis and osteoarthritis in dogs?
Arthritis is a general term that refers to over 100 joint conditions that cause inflammation (swelling) of one or more joints. It can affect tissues around the joints and other connective tissues throughout the body.There are several types of arthritis, including rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, and osteoarthritis, among others.
Osteoarthritis, on the other hand, is a specific type of arthritis. It is sometimes called degenerative arthritis, or wear-and-tear arthritis, because it occurs with use over time, as people age. Osteoarthritis is characterized by the breakdown of cartilage—the firm, whitish, flexible connective tissue that covers the ends of bones where they meet to form a joint. This causes the bones to rub against each other, leading to pain and stiffness. The joints that bear the most weight (the knees, hips, and spine) are frequently affected by osteoarthritis.
Omega-3 fatty acids, which are found in fish oil, have significant anti-inflammatory properties that can help support joint health in situations associated with canine arthritis and osteoarthritis. Some of these effects occur through the interaction with the endocannabinoid system, that, among other functions, modulates pain sensations in the body.
A randomized, double-blinded, controlled clinical trial studied the effect of omega 3 fish oil for dogs with osteoarthritis. Here, 38 client-owned dogs were divided in two groups to have either normal food or food with 3.5% fish oil omega-3 fatty acids. Results indicate that dogs receiving fish oil had better joint movement, and higher weight bearing abilities (Roush, 2010).
For dogs in the control-food group, the change in mean peak vertical force throughout the 90-day trial (+0.4%) was not significant. In contrast, the change in peak vertical force (+5.6%) was significant for dogs in the test-food group. Also, dogs in the test-food group were 7 times as likely to have an improvement in weight bearing over 90 days, compared with dogs in the control-food group. The magnitude of change in peak vertical force was at least as large as that reported in other studies in which drugs were used to treat osteoarthritis. (J Am Vet Med Assoc. 2010 Jan 1;236(1):67-73)
DHA From Fish Oil: The Best Dog Supplement for Brain Health
Why is DHA important for the brain?
DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) is an omega-3 fatty acidthat plays a crucial role in the neural development of puppies. It is a major structural component of the brain and is the most abundant fatty acid in the brain. DHA is vital for the development of a puppy's central nervous system and retinal function.
DHA continues to accumulate in the brain and retina after birth, causing a significant enhancement in their respective functionalities. For instance, in both humans and animals, an increase in DHA during the 'DHA accretion spurt' period results in a 10-fold increase in brain size, leading to improvement in neural and visual functions. In dogs, studies suggest that providing diets rich in DHA during gestation, lactation, and after weaning significantly improves neurological development, as indicated by ERG (electroretinogram) responses, and potentially boosts their memory or learning abilities.(Heinemann, 2006)
What does adding DHA to dog food do?
Research has shown that puppies supplemented with higher DHA levels during development showed better retinal function and improved memory, trainability, and problem-solving ability.
LCPUFA significantly enhanced memory in puppies, as shown by response differences in the long maze. The significant improvement in memory observed in LCPUFA-fed puppies may enhance trainability and support an improved pet-owner relationship. (Reynolds et. al (2006). Proceedings Nestlé Purina Nutrition Forum, p. 74)
Another study found that puppies fed diets fortified with appropriate levels of DHA from weaning until 1 year of age performed better in visual contrast discrimination and psycho-motor performance tasks. This was in contrast to puppies that were offered diets containing only low or no DHA (Zicker, 2012).
In older dogs, DHA supplementation improves cognitive deficits. Studies demonstrated cognitive benefits of when giving senior dogs DHA supplements. Fish oil benefits in this case include improved visual processing measured using a contrast discrimination task when compared to a diet absent in DHA (Araujo, 2022).
[there was] a significant increase (p = 0.048) in frontal lobe glutamate and glutamine in the treatment group compared to placebo, indicating a physiological change which may be attributed to the supplement. Decreased levels of glutamate and glutamine have been correlated with cognitive decline, suggesting the observed increase in these metabolites might be linked to the positive cognitive effects found in the present study. (Araujo et. al, Front. Vet. Sci., 13 July 2022)
Fish Oil Promotes Healthy Skin and Coat
Fish oil supplementation can improve skin and coat health, thanks to its moisturizing benefits. Dogs with itchy skin or flaky skin can experience relief from symptoms associated with allergies and sensitivities, thanks to the anti-inflammatory effects of fish oil. It is, in fact, known that it can improve your dog's skin status, even if he is experiencing autoimmune dermatitis. They help to hydrate the skin from the inside by promoting higher water retention and preventing dryness. As a result, dog fish oil supplements will promote a healthier and more vibrant coat, reduce shedding and dandruff, reduce skin hot spots, and limit symptoms of skin allergies.
How to Give Your Dog Fish Oil
Fish oil is one of the best supplements you can give your dog. If you want to make fish oil part of your dog’s diet, it's important to follow the proper dosage and administration guidelines for safety and effectiveness. These protocols vary based on the dog's weight, overall health, and specific needs as determined by a veterinarian.
How much fish oil should I give my dog.
The first step would be to consult with your veterinarian, as they can suggest the best way to give your dog products that contain fish oil, or suggest what supplement may be best. The correct dose also depends on whether you are looking at using fish oil for dogs for general health, or to help dogs with specific conditions.
Generally, dosage recommendations may be given in milligrams (mg) of EPA and DHA, the active omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil. The amount of DHA and EPA up to 20-50 mg per kg per day is very safe for maintenance and general wellness. However, it's possible that your dog has some extra health issues like osteoarthritis. In this case, the combination of healthy DHA and EPA omega 3 can be used at a dosageup to 80-100 mg/kgof body weight per day.
How to Administer Fish Oil
Fish oil supplements may simply be added to regular food. This is the easiest way when talking about the liquid form. Alternatively, capsules may be given whole, hidden in a treat, or punctured to mix the oil into the dog's food. Chews are designed to be yummy and can be offered as a pet's treat. I mean, every dog loves treats! Adjustments to the dosage and frequency should only be made as recommended by veterinarians.
Considerations for Selecting Fish Oil
Selecting the right fish oil for a dog involves understanding the different sources, ensuring that there are no harmful toxins and heavy metals, and do not contain any artificial ingredients.
Understanding Different Sources
Fish oil is derived from various marine sources, including salmon, sardines, anchovies, mackerel, and menhaden. These cold-water fish are highly valued for their omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acid content. These are optimal sources of EPA and DHA, essential fatty acids that need to be in your pet's diet. Wild-caught fish are often cited as superior due to less exposure to environmental toxins. In contrast, algae-based oils offer a sustainable and toxin-free alternative, providing similar omega-3 benefits.
The Importance of Quality and Purity
High-quality fish oil must comply with rigorous quality control standards to ensure purity and safety. For example, some products are human grade and molecularly distilled to remove contaminants that may harm your pet. Always keep an eye on the type of fat included in the supplement. That's because you need to know the concentrations of DHA and EPA omega 3 for dogs supplementation. In case of confusion, always talk to your veterinarian to clear the air and to ensure that you are getting a supplement that helps your dog.
Label Reading for Safety
Crucial to selecting a suitable fish oil is reading the label attentively. Labels should be checked for:
Concentration of omega-3 fatty acids: Ensures potency.
Form of omega-3: Natural triglyceride oil is better absorbed than ethyl ester oil or synthetic triglyceride oil.
Absence of xylitol: This sweetener is toxic to dogs.
FDA compliance: Look for labels that indicate compliance with Food and Drug Administration guidelines.
Fish Oil Formulations
Fish oil for dogs comes in various formulations:
Liquid fish oil: Often higher in potency and can be mixed with food.
Triglyceride oil capsules: Easier to administer and manage dosage.
Flaxseed oil: While not a fish oil, it's sometimes used as a plant-based alternative but does not provide the same level of omega-3s as fish oil.
When choosing a fish oil product for their dogs, owners should select a product that aligns with their dog's specific health requirements, always considering a veterinarian's guidance.
Side Effects and Risks
While fish oil is often recommended for its potential health benefits for dogs, it is important that pet owners are aware of the possible side effects and risks associated with its use. It is crucial to consult a veterinarian before starting any new supplement regimen for your pet to ensure it is appropriate for their specific health needs.
Potential Adverse Effects
Fish oil supplements can sometimes lead to adverse effects in dogs. Some dogs may experience gastrointestinal upset, which can result in diarrhea and vomiting. These supplements can also lead to an unpleasant fishy odor on the breath or skin. In certain cases, there can be more serious effects; for instance, dogs with allergies may have a reaction to fish oil supplements. Dogs who are prone to pancreatitis may suffer from an exacerbated condition due to the high fat content in fish oils.
Rarely, fish oil may affect blood flow and lead to a condition known as atrial fibrillation, which is an irregular and often rapid heart rate that can increase the risk of strokes, heart failure, and other heart-related complications. Therefore, when introducing fish oil into a dog's diet, one should do so gradually and under supervision of a veterinarian.
Comparing Fish Oil with Other Supplements
When comparing fish oil like salmon oil or other natural dog supplements, one major point of differentiation lies in the fatty acid content. Fish oil is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which are beneficial for a dog's health, particularly in supporting heart health, cognitive function, and reducing inflammatory responses.
Omega-3 vs. Omega-6
Fish oil provides a high concentration of omega 3 and omega 6, but also two important types of omega-3 fatty acids: EPA and DHA. These can help balance the foods that are high in omega-6 fatty acids, prevalent in many commercial dog foods and believed to contribute to inflammation when not balanced by omega-3s.
Can promote pro-inflammatory processes if unbalanced
Fish Oil vs. Flaxseed Oil:
Comparatively, flaxseed oil contains alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), a form of omega-3 fatty acids. However, dogs need to convert ALA into EPA and DHA, a process which is inefficient. Therefore, although flaxseed oil is often used as a plant-based alternative, fish oil is generally more effective due to its direct provision of EPA and DHA.
Purity and Absorption:
Fish oil is frequently preferred for its potency and the body's ability to absorb these fatty acids. It is essential to ensure that fish oil is pure and free from contaminants, and it has been attributed with reducing the dosage of certain medications, like carprofen, for dogs with conditions such as osteoarthritis.
In summary, when choosing supplements for a canine's diet, fish oil is a robust option due to its high omega-3 content and bioavailability compared to other supplements like flaxseed oil, which offer omega-3 in a less direct form.
Frequently Asked Questions
Understanding the impact of fish oil on canine health is crucial for pet owners considering this supplement. These FAQs cover common concerns surrounding fish oil use in dogs.
What are the benefits of giving fish oil to dogs?
Fish oil is widely used to support canine joint health and may aid in reducing inflammation due to osteoarthritis. It's also suggested that omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil can contribute to improved coat quality and assist with allergy management.
How much fish oil should I give my dog daily?
The appropriate dosage of fish oil for dogs can vary based on size, age, and health condition. It's imperative to consult with a veterinarian for an individualized recommendation to ensure the right dosage that will maintain efficacy without causing harm.
Can I use human-grade fish oil for my pet, or is there a specific canine version?
While human-grade fish oil can be given to dogs, it's important that the dosage aligns with canine health requirements. Manufacturers also offer dog-specific fish oil supplements which are formulated to meet a dog's nutritional needs.
How long does it take to see the effects of fish oil supplementation in dogs?
The effects of fish oil supplementation can take several weeks to become noticeable. Consistent use is key to observing the benefits, which may include a healthier coat and improved joint function over time.
Are there any risks or side effects associated with fish oil for dogs?
While fish oil is generally safe, over-supplementation can lead to negative effects such as gastrointestinal upset or blood clotting disorders. Careful adherence to recommended dosages helps mitigate these risks.
Which brands of fish oil are recommended for canine health?
Choosing a reputable brand known for purity and quality can be critical. Brands with third-party testing and positive reviews from canine health professionals are preferable. Specific product recommendations should be sourced from a veterinarian familiar with an individual dog's health profile.
Smith et. al, 2007. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1939-1676.2007.tb02959.x
Reynolds et. al (2006). https://www.researchgate.net/publication/294652556_Effect_of_long-chain_polyunsaturated_fatty_add_supplementation_on_mental_stability_problem-solving_ability_and_learned_pattern_retention_in_young_growing_dogs
Seb has been a research scientist for the past two decades and is the founder and owner of My Blissful Pet. Seb grew up with cats and dogs and married his passion for science and animals with My Blissful Pet by wanting to help dogs and cats live healthier lives.