The Use of Fatty Acids in Dogs and Cats
When we mention the word fat these days, it seems to have an immediate negative connotation. We immediately imagine overweight, unhealthy, possibly the source of many of today’s illnesses and health struggles. The fact is that fats provide the most concentrated source of energy; if that energy is not used up it may be stored in the body for possible future use. That stored form of “energy” we recognize as someone “being fat.” Fats contain more than twice the amount of energy as proteins or carbohydrates so obviously ingesting that much energy and remaining sedentary is not a good way to stay thin. Dogs and cats love to run around, chase things, and explore. When we turn our pets into “couch potatoes” and increase the fat intake, we risk causing them health problems. Fats cannot be eliminated completely from the diet however because they are required for a variety of important reasons.
The building blocks of dietary fats are called fatty acids and these fatty acids are required for cell structure, production of some hormones, absorption and the use of fat-soluble vitamins, insulation, and protection. Fatty acids are composed of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen and are precursors of many chemicals involved in creating an environment to facilitate immune function, energy production and utilization, cell membrane strength and function, and the reduction of inflammation.
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 important things. 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 shedding to help the dogs and cats to maintain that “shine” that suggests a healthy pet.
Omega-3 fatty acids help modulate allergies and inflammation, helps keep the eyes healthy and improves the vision, helps keep the blood thin, and even acts as an antioxidant by eliminating free radicals.
Do these fatty acids have any side effects? Well since everything pretty much does it is important to not 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.
Fatty acids play many important roles in the body. Increasing a pet’s intake of omega-3 and omega-6 acids may be extremely helpful for a variety of reasons. Many of us working here at 1800PetMeds use these supplements for our own pets. I have personally used Be Well for my cats and a add a little sprinkle on their food each day. This product not only supplies some essential components, it also prevents my cats from eating too fast for some reason. This isn’t what the medication claims to do but it does that for my cats and has helped them become healthier in a variety of ways, and I would not have my cats go without it. Another product that I have used is Shed Terminator which has helped my dog Duke who seems to shed more right before the summer arrives.
As always, it is best to be in close contact with your pet’s veterinarian so you get the best information on what will help and hopefully not harm your pet. All pets are a little different and a good veterinarian who understands these differences will be able to suggest things for your particular pet that will be the most helpful. Additionally if you have any medication related questions, your pharmacist at 1800PetMeds is more than happy to help answer those for you. We are always just a phone call away.