Updated on June 8, 2015
Five Reasons to Consider Fish Oil Supplementation for Your Dog
Fish oil is certainly a popular supplement these days for health conscious people. There are many proven benefits, and we now know that many of these same benefits also apply to our canine companions.
What is fish oil?
As the name implies, fish oil is derived from marine animals and is a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids. Animals cannot manufacture these fatty acids on their own; they must be consumed in the diet. For this reason they are often referred to as “essential fatty acids.”
Mackerel, tuna, salmon, sturgeon, mullet, bluefish, anchovies, sardines, herring, trout, and menhaden are all loaded to the gills (pun intended) with omega-3’s, and they are common sources of fish oil supplements. The fatty acids with the greatest health benefits are docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). Both are ingredients found on the labels of fish oil supplements.
Five known benefits of fish oil supplementation for dogs
Based on the documented benefits of fish oil, veterinarians recommend its use as a nutraceutical (a food that provides medicinal benefit) for the following common canine maladies.
The anti-inflammatory properties of omega-3 fatty acids are responsible for their therapeutic benefit for dogs with arthritis. In a study of 127 dogs with arthritis, those fed a diet supplemented with omega-3 fatty acids showed significant improvement in their abilities to rise from a resting position, play, and walk. Prescription diets made specifically for dogs with arthritis are heavily supplemented with fish oil.
- Inflammatory skin disease
Allergic skin disease and other inflammatory skin conditions have the potential to benefit from the anti-inflammatory effects of fish oil. A study was performed on 16 dogs with itchy skin. Compared to the placebo group, those receiving fish oil demonstrated significant improvement (less itching, less self-trauma, and improved haircoat).
Another study performed on dogs with varying stages of skin allergies demonstrated that fish oil was more effective for dogs who were in the earliest stages of their skin problems compared to those with more advanced disease.
- Treatment of canine cognitive dysfunction
Canine cognitive dysfunction is a well-recognized syndrome of older dogs that, in many ways, resembles human dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. The omega-3 fatty acid, DHA, has been shown to improve cognitive dysfunction in affected dogs. Interestingly, DHA appears to slow the progression of human dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
A study was performed on 142 older dogs with a variety of behavioral abnormalities (disorientation, disrupted sleep patterns, altered interactions with family members, altered activity levels, and loss of house training). During the 60-day period, dogs fed a DHA-supplemented food showed significant improvement in every one of these behavior categories.
- Treatment of heart disease
Profound weight loss is a common symptom in dogs with chronic heart failure, and is associated with decreased survival times. A study was performed on dogs with heart failure, some of whom were fed fish oil. The dogs receiving the fish oil supplementation experienced longer survival times and less weight loss compared to those on a fish oil-free diet.
- Treatment of kidney disease
Fish oil supplementation has proven benefit in dogs with glomerular disease, a kidney disorder resulting in excessive protein loss in the urine. Glomerular disease is often associated with kidney failure.
In a study of dogs with glomerular disease, dietary supplementation with fish oil was shown to significantly slow the progression of the kidney damage. Additionally, fish oil has been shown to have a protective effect against acute injury to the kidneys. For this reason, fish oil supplementation is reasonable to consider for any dog with compromised kidney function.
Fish Oil Precautions
Let the buyer beware. Not all over the counter fish oil supplements are created equal. In a study of 51 best-selling fish oil products in the United States, 21 of them varied in their DHA and EPA concentrations by more than 10 percent compared to their label claims.
Careful attention to the dose of fish oil for a dog is important. Too much fish oil can produce adverse side effects such as diarrhea, blood clotting abnormalities, delayed wound healing, vitamin E deficiency, weight gain, and altered immune system function. Lastly, fish oil has the potential to produce problematic interactions with some other medications, particularly nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications.
Questions for your veterinarian
Thinking of getting your dog started on a fish oil supplement? Before you do, I encourage you to discuss this idea with your veterinarian. Here are some questions to be sure to ask.
- Does my dog have a disorder that might benefit from fish oil supplementation?
- What dosage should I give?
- What brand of fish oil do you recommend?
- Is fish oil supplementation compatible with the other medications I am giving my dog?
Do you give a fish oil supplement to your dog? If so, what is the reason?
Nancy Kay, DVM
Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Author of Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
Author of Your Dog’s Best Health: A Dozen Reasonable Things to Expect From Your Vet
Recipient, Leo K. Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian of the Year Award
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Recipient, AKC Club Publication Excellence Award
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Please visit http://www.speakingforspot.com to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health. There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health are available at www.speakingforspot.com, Amazon.com, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller.