Pet food has come a long way over the past 50 years. For the most part, modern pet foods are pretty good. We rarely see nutritional deficiencies in the United States, and the top nutritional disorder diagnosed in dogs and cats today is obesity. But one area in which many commercial pet foods are lacking also happens to be one of the most important: omega-3 fatty acids (found in fish oils). If you’re only going to give your pet (or yourself) one supplement, make it an omega-3 fatty acid.
Our pets and the omega-3 fatty acids docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) have a long history together. Dogs and cats originally consumed DHA and EPA when they fed on fish, rodents, eggs, birds, elk, and other wild game. Their bodies evolved to take advantage of these healthy fats. DHA and EPA became essential nutrients, required for life by dogs and cats. Omega-3 fatty acids are vital in maintaining brain and eye health, boosting the immune system, protecting kidneys, preserving healthy skin and coat, and supporting joint health. We’re learning that DHA and EPA help reduce inflammation and may be important in helping to prevent chronic diseases including many cancers. So how can today’s domesticated pets get enough of this fundamental nutrient? That’s where supplements come in handy.
Pet Food vs. Supplements
The problem with manufacturers simply fortifying pet food with omega-3 fatty acids is their inherent instability. Like all fats, when DHA and EPA are exposed to air, they become rancid or spoil relatively quickly. This makes adding high levels of omega-3 fatty acids in dry pet foods challenging. Canned foods fare better, but it comes at a cost. Adding DHA and EPA to pet foods can be expensive due to the additional processing, handling, specialized packaging, and storage required. That’s why it’s almost always better to give your pets an omega-3 supplement in addition to feeding a high-quality, premium pet food. Chances are there’s simply not enough DHA and EPA in your pet’s food to provide optimal health benefits.
And that’s an important point. The crucial factor in achieving the health benefits of DHA and EPA is the total amount of omega-3s a pet is fed. This is because the majority of pets eat a diet rich in omega-6 fatty acids derived from corn. The problem with omega-6 fatty acids is that they become pro-inflammatory in higher quantities, causing potentially harmful chemical changes throughout the body as a result. In order to reestablish a healthy ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids within the body, we need to add omega-3 fatty acids to the diet. This ratio is one of the keys to reducing toxic inflammation and preventing disease. If you feed your pet a commercial diet, especially a dry food, you need to consider adding an omega-3 supplement to its daily routine.
Choosing the best dietary supplement for your pet can be challenging. There are countless brands available, some expensive and others dirt-cheap. Is there a difference? The choice is further complicated by the fact that there is little government oversight of pet supplements. This can lead to, at worst, dangerous supplements being sold, and at least, products making false claims or not meeting their label claims. While it’s rare that poisonous products are sold in the United States, a 2007 pet food recall reminded all pet owners and veterinarians that it can happen. What’s more common are supplements that fail to contain what they claim; that means people—and their pets—are getting ripped off.
The best way to avoid wasting your money is to investigate the supplements that interest you. Is it a recognized and respected brand? For pet owners, brands associated with human manufacturers often have better resources, research facilities, quality control measures, and a bigger reputation to protect than smaller, unknown companies. Review the supplement’s website. Can you find published research to back any health claims? If you encounter pages of outlandish testimonials (“This cured my dog’s cancer!”) instead of science, look elsewhere. The better products steer clear of showboating and offer you the story of how they ensure purity and safety, where and how they produce their supplements, and veterinary-conducted research and advice. Is the product specifically formulated for dogs and cats? Human fish oil supplements typically have different concentrations and manufacturing guidelines than pet preparations. Finally, consider cost.
Typically better supplements and foods will cost more. This doesn’t mean they have to be the most expensive, but rarely have I found the clearance sale items to meet my needs. Base your purchase on safety, efficacy, and your personal veterinarian’s recommendation. The one supplement every pet (and person) needs is an omega-3 fatty acid supplement. Whether in a capsule or liquid, these essential fats may hold the secret to helping prevent disease and promoting your pet’s longevity. Talk to your veterinarian today about whether an omega-3 fish oil supplement is right for your pet.
ME AND MY PET GIVEAWAY FROM NORDIC NATURALS
Omega-3 fish oil is the easy way for people and pets to get the essential healthy fats they need. Three readers will win a bottle of Nordic Naturals Ultimate Omega-3 for you and a bottle of Omega-3 Pet soft gels for your pet! Enjoy revolutionary freshness, purity, and taste. Always environmentally responsible. Enter to win! Please send your name and address to email@example.com and write “Me and My Pet” in the subject line. Entries will be taken through December 15, 2012.
Ernie Ward, DVM (“Dr. Ernie”) is a practicing veterinarian in Calabash, North Carolina, and author of Chow Hounds: Why Our Dogs are Getting Fatter—A Vet’s Plan to Save Their Lives.