Does your pet need a fatty acid supplement?
The word amazing is used and overused way too much these days. A new cell phone, a new camera, a new car, anything that is new or different inspires people to walk around saying “It’s amazing!” What I find interesting is that as we look around us and try to find amazing things, we sometimes miss the fact that the most amazing thing of all is actually us. Our bodies and the bodies of other mammals are truly a work of wonder that function better than any man-made machine or gadget. Our bodies have a truly amazing way of regulating itself, fixing itself, creating things, and doing other fantastic things on its own without anyone’s input. Better than any chemistry experiment, our bodies can take one substance that is useless and convert it into something that the body can use. However, there are some substances that seem to be of benefit but for some reason, mammals do not synthesize in sufficient quantities. An example of this is omega -3 and omega -6 fatty acids.
Fatty acids are building blocks of dietary fats and have use in development of hormones, insulation, protection of cell structure, and a variety of other essential functions. Composed of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen, these fatty acids set the stage to help facilitate immune function, energy production and utilization, and even the reduction of inflammation.
Although when scientists do studies comparing people on omega fatty acid supplements to those taking a placebo they seem to get mixed results, there is something that is apparent to pet owners who have given them to their pets. Pet owners have reported time after time that after giving their pets omega fatty acid supplements, the pets look healthier, have shinier skin, have less shedding, and seem to have more energy. Although these reports are not scientific evidence, I have heard them often enough to believe that there is something there and to put my own dogs on them. From what I’ve personally seen, my dog Duke used to shed a lot more before taking the supplement, and his coat lacked the luster that it has today. I can’t be certain it’s the supplements but if I was a gambling man, I believe that would be a safe bet.
Let’s talk about the things that we know for certain about these fatty acids, and some things that we’ve heard enough from owners and scientists that it may be worth mentioning. Omega-3 fatty acids contain linoleic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Many consider omega-3 fatty acids not essential, but some studies have shown that alpha-linoleic acid is an extremely important part of a pet’s diet. Omega-6 fatty acids include linoleic acid (LA), gamma-linoleic acid (GLA), and arachidonic acid (AA). Omega-6 fatty acids are considered essential fatty acids since they are not naturally synthesized in the body, and both dogs and cats require linoleic acid, and cats also require arachidonic acid.
Some sources of omega-6 fatty acids include corn oil, flax seed, canola oil, peanut oil; sources of omega-3 fatty acids include many fish such as salmon, herring, sardines, tuna, trout, and mackerel, among others.
In general, omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are required for the transport and metabolism of cholesterol and triglycerides, normal brain function, vision, adrenal function, metabolism, and proper function of the immune system among other processes. Due to the important role fatty acids play in the body, they have been used in the treatment of allergies, kidney disease, high cholesterol, arthritis, behavioral problems, and skin and coat problems.
Omega-6 fatty acids help keep inflammation in check, have a beneficial effect on blood pressure, help the clotting factor which in turn allows injuries to heal quicker, and this fatty acid has also been shown to maintain a shiny coat and keep the skin healthy. Many people use omega-6 to decrease pet shedding and to help the dogs and cats to maintain that “shine” that suggests a healthy pet.
Omega-3 fatty acids help modulate allergies and inflammation, help keep the eyes healthy and improve the vision, help keep the blood thin, and even act as an antioxidant by eliminating free radicals.
Do these fatty acids have any side effects? Well, since pretty much everything does, it is important not to overdo the doses (of anything). I have read many research studies that suggest the importance of maintaining a specific ratio of omega-6 to omega-3; however, these studies don’t seem to always agree on what that ratio should be. Usually, processed pet food has more omega-6 than omega-3, so it might make sense to add more omega-3 to a pet’s diet. Excess intake of omega-3, however, could have negative effects by increasing free radicals. Omega-6 in high doses tends to increase inflammation. Both omega-3 and omega-6 have an effect on clotting and bleeding. It is important to know that if a pet is on medication that thins the blood, these supplements should not be used unless specifically recommended by the veterinarian treating the pet.
As always, if you have any medication related questions please call your 1800Petmeds pharmacist who will be happy to help answer those for you.