If you have a television or internet connection, you have probably heard at some point in the last few years about the many benefits of omega-3 fatty acids for humans. Unsurprisingly, it’s also great for your dogs! Doctor Pugman put together some information for you.
Omega-3 fatty acids, also referred to as n-3 fatty acids, are polyunsatured fatty acids (PUFAs for short). There’s three commonly supplemented types of omega-3 fatty acids:
Your dog can’t produce their own omega-3, so they need to get this from their diets. Making sure your dog gets the right amount of omega-3 fatty acids can have a number of positive effects on their health.
Omega-3 fatty acids have a proven benefit to skin/coat conditions through an anti-inflammatory effect. Dogs with allergy symptoms (atopic dermatitis) such as itching, scratching, hair loss, and chewing may benefit from omega-3 supplementation.
Straight from the lab coats:
Studies have shown that dogs receiving omega-3 supplements benefited from longer lives and increased cardiovascular health. A diet high in omega-3 was shown to reduce inflammatory proteins and fatty acids in the body.
A 2006 study found that pregnant dogs fed a diet high in DHA during pregnancy and lactation were associated with improved neurological development in their puppies. They also found that: “feeding diets or supplements containing DHA may improve memory or learning in young dogs.” 
A 2004 study found that puppies with a high-DHA diet appeared to be more trainable than puppies with a low-DHA diet.
A randomized, double-blind, controlled clinical trial found that dogs fed a food extremely high in omega-3 fatty acids and lower in omega-6 fatty acids had increased mobility and improved arthritic condition.
The suspected mechanism that makes omega-3 fatty acids so beneficial is that they compete with arachidonic acid (AA), which is an omega-6 fatty acid usually derived from linoleic acid.
This may help to reduce the amount inflammatory metabolites in an animal’s body. A 2008 study suggested that: “Results supported the use of EPA- and DHA-enriched diets as part of anti-inflammatory treatments for dogs with chronic inflammatory diseases.” 
Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) is one form of omega-3 fatty acids. It’s primarily found in plant-based oils (canola, flaxseed, soybean, and walnuts).
Experts agree that ALA is an inefficient way to supplement omega-3 fatty acids to your dog, as it needs to be converted to EPA and DHA in their bodies.
In terms of marine oils, there are many different types and sometimes it can be difficult to select which one to give to your dog.
Here’s a few factors that may help your decision.
In terms of EPA and DHA concentration, here’s what some leading oils on the market currently offer:
When deciding on a fish oil supplement to feed your dog, you should use one with a higher concentration of EPA and DHA. This will minimize the amount of extra calories they will take in their diet, reducing their risk of obesity.
We recommend looking for one that is made specifically from wild-caught fish. It’s a safe assumption that if a brand doesn’t say whether their oil is from wild-caught fish or not, it’s probably farmed. Companies are typically proud to announce to the world that their oil is produced from wild fish.
Farmed fish are often fed terrible diets, exposed to antibiotics and poor living conditions. Ironically enough, they are usually fed fishmeal and fish oil made from smaller oily species such as mackerel, sardine, herring, and anchovy.
Neither “human grade” nor “pharmaceutical grade” hold any legal meaning whatsoever. We’ve put “human grade” on our label to indicate the quality of our oil, and that our product is actually made from an oil that was intended for humans. The term “pharmaceutical grade” is in very gray ethical territory in our opinion, as it suggests that a product has a drug component or effect.
Finally, it’s important to choose a product that makes serving the oil to your dogs convenient. Complex, inconvenient products are often neglected and ignored after the first few uses.
Gel-caps can be very convenient for some whose dogs are happy to eat them mixed in with food or “pill pocket treats.” Some people elect to break open the gel and pour the liquid directly on their dogs’ food.
Liquid oils can be messy unless the product comes with a quality pump or pouring cap. These products have the advantage of being simpler to serve if your dog doesn’t like pills or gel caps.
The maximum concentration of omega-3 essential fatty acids can reach in a fish oil supplement naturally is approximately 30%.
After extracting oil from the fish, the oil is in a natural triglyceride (TG) form. Fish oil supplement manufacturers that wish to increase the concentration of omega-3s per gram of oil may run the oil through a process called micro distillation. This has the potential to increase the concentration of omega-3 up to 50-70%.
Unfortunately there isn’t much research available on the absorption of TG vs EE omega-3 in dogs; however studies have found that in humans, the best absorption seems to occur with fish oil in triglyceride form. 
Omega-6 fatty acids are a strange bunch: they are a mix of pro and anti-inflammatory PUFAs.
The specific “problem acid” is Arachidonic Acid (AA). It can be found in poultry, eggs, meat, and some fish oils.
In response to external conditions such as pollution, smoke, vegetable oils, dietary consumption of linoleic acid (another omega-6, from safflower, primrose, sunflower, hemp, and other plants), arachidonic acid is released from cell membranes. It is then metabolized by various enzymes into substances that can increase inflammation.
EPA can help minimize the effects of AA in the body. The hormones (eicosanoids) made from EPA are much less inflammatory than those from AA. They also reduce the effects by competing with AA for access to the same enzymes. Finally, the actual eicosanoids derived from EPA can counteract the AA ones.
While the specific amount of omega-6 a dog gets from their diet is important, what appears to be most important is the ratio between the amount of omega-6 and omega-3 a dog consumes.
Most dog foods have a high ratio of omega-6 to omega-3, some up to 10:1. A study found that “feeding a diet containing an (n-6):(n-3) fatty acid ratio of 5:1 had a positive, rather than a negative, effect on the immune response of young or geriatric dogs.” 
A 2008 study sponsored by a major dog food company found that “… a dietary omega-6:omega-3 fatty acid ratio in the range of 2:1 to 3:1 may be more effective in managing the skin inflammation that is associated with atopy.” 
By giving your dog a high quality omega-3 supplement, you can help balance out the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 in their diet. This can help support less inflammation in their body, and support overall health and vitality.
“As a free radical scavenger, it protects cells from the potentially damaging effects of toxic oxygen radicals, whose major source is lipid metabolism. The dietary requirement of vitamin E, therefore, is linked to the dietary intake of PUFA, and high fat diets can induce a relative deficiency of vitamin E.”
Translated into English: when your dog ingests more PUFAs (such as omega-3), they are at risk of a vitamin E deficiency. It acts as a powerful antioxidant, protecting the body from free radicals from added dietary fat.
A supplement with vitamin E in it can help prevent the oxidative damage in omega-3 oil. Not only that, but it may also benefit your dog’s skin health, immune system, osteoarthritis, and more.
When a dog food manufacturer cites that its bag of food has a certain amount of nutrients in it, it’s only right after it’s made. The entire time that it’s shipping and sitting on the shelves, that bag of food may be losing nutrients to oxidation.
By the time your dog finally eats the food, there’s almost certainly not the cited amount of omega-3:
“Levels of PUFA may also be depleted in food after oxidative damage resulting from prolonged storage or in cases in which antioxidants such as vitamin E are included in inadequate amounts.” 
Adding vitamin E directly in your dog’s omega-3 oil can help keep the fish oil fresh for longer, protect against a vitamin E deficiency in your dog, and offer additional overall health benefits.
Of course, it couldn’t be as simple as saying “Just add more vitamin E to your dog’s diet!”
There just HAD to be eight different types of vitamin E. To keep things simple, we’ll just cover the big differences and considerations.
Natural vitamin E is known as “d-alpha-tocopherol.” This is the most biologically active form of vitamin E you can get.
Synthetic vitamin E is known as “dl-alpha-tocopherol.” According to the NIH Office of Dietary Supplements, you need “approximately 50% more IU of synthetic alpha tocopherol” to get the same nutritional effect. Oh, and they are derived from petroleum products.
Don’t be tricked by labels claiming to give your dog a lot of vitamin E, if all you see on the label is “mixed tocopherols.” These are a mixture of the tocopherols family of vitamin E (alpha, beta, gamma, and delta), in varying and usually unconfirmed amounts. This is less desirable since other non-alpha tocopherols have lower levels of biological activity.
This also makes giving your dog the right amount almost impossible, as you can’t know how much they are going to actually absorb from the mixed tocopherols. Additionally, they are rarely provided in nutritionally significant amounts.
Vitamin E can be derived from a number of different sources. It can be derived from soybean, corn, and wheat. These sources are typically from GMO material. There’s some alternatives, however they’re typically more expensive and manufacturers want to minimize expense so they’ll opt for the GMO product.
Just like with the wild-caught versus farmed fish factor, if a brand doesn’t clearly state their product is non-GMO, then it’s probably because they can’t.
It's important to know the different factors that go into a quality fish oil supplement for your dog. There's a lot of noise out there about different products, and we hope this post has helped to clear some of it up.
If you have any questions or comments, please call us toll-free at 1-800-745-0188, or send them to firstname.lastname@example.org - we love chatting with fellow pet lovers!
We’ve made an attempt to provide as many references as possible for dog parents to do their own research. We offer a non-GMO, wild-caught fish oil supplement for dogs, with natural vitamin E, a pump, and a pouring cap.
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