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By JoAnna Pendergrass, DVM
Fish oils are nutritional supplements with many reported health benefits. For people, fish oils can help reduce the risk of heart attacks, manage high blood pressure and relieve arthritis pain.
With such health benefits for people, you may ask, what are the benefits of fish oil for dogs and cats? In fact, fish oil supplements are one of the most commonly used supplements for pets. Before going through the benefits of fish oil for dogs and cats, let’s first learn about some fish oil basics.
What Are Fish Oil Supplements?
Fish oil supplements contain omega-3 fatty acids, which are fats that have many important functions in the body, such as providing structure to cell membranes and providing energy for the body. Omega-3 fatty acids are essential fatty acids, meaning that the body cannot produce them; they must be obtained from the diet.
Fish oil supplements, which come in pill or liquid form, have two types of omega-3 fatty acids: eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). These fatty acids are primarily found in cold-water fish such as salmon, tuna, pollock and trout.
What Are the Benefits of Fish Oil?
Using fish oil for cats and dogs offers several key health benefits:
Reduction of Inflammation
Fish oil supplements are well known for their anti-inflammatory properties. In fact, EPA and DHA act as cellular signals to reduce inflammation. Therefore, fish oil supplements help manage inflammatory diseases like arthritis and heart disease. Fish oil can also ease the inflammation from skin allergies, helping your pet to feel less itchy.
If your pet has severe arthritis, fish oil supplements can be used along with traditional pet pain medication to maximize pain relief.
Improved Brain Development and Cognitive Function
DHA, in particular, plays a very important role in how the brain develops and functions. In puppies, DHA supplementation can help with learning and retaining various skills.
In older dogs, DHA can reduce the effects of cognitive dysfunction, which is similar to dementia in people. For example, using DHA dog supplements can help an older dog better recognize its family members and not feel so easily disoriented.
Slowed Tumor Growth
Interestingly, fish oils can inhibit tumor growth by stimulating the cancer cells to differentiate (turn into specific cell types). When cells differentiate, they have a limited ability to divide and ultimately survive. DHA has been shown to promote cancer cell differentiation, meaning that the cells cannot continue to divide, and the tumor cannot continue to grow.
Fish oil supplements have also been shown to reduce abnormal heart rhythms and seizure frequency, as well as reduce levels of triglycerides, which are fats that can be harmful in high amounts.
Giving Fish Oil to Your Pet
There are so many fish oil supplements to choose from, but your veterinarian can help you determine which fish oil is best for your pet. They can recommend high-quality brands and advise you on how much fish oil supplement to give your pet.
Fish oil supplements come in liquid or capsule form. If your pet does not want to swallow a capsule, you can use a small knife to open the capsule, and then pour the contents onto your pet’s food.
Most commercial pet food formulas contain omega-3 fatty acids. However, EPA and DHA can become rancid quickly, so pet food that contains omega-3 needs a proper dog food storage container to prevent the food from going bad.
Also, these pet foods may contain other omega-3 fatty acids (flaxseed or canola oil) that do not provide the same benefits as EPA and DHA.
Fish oil supplements are not toxic to dogs and cats, but they do have side effects. The most common is fishy odor on the breath or skin. Other side effects include gastrointestinal discomfort and oily, flaky skin. Contact your veterinarian if your dog or cat experiences these side effects with fish oil supplements.