Whilst there are many nutrient and mineral requirements for a healthy and whole diet, none can be considered as integral to good health as essential fatty acids. Essential fatty acids (EFAs) are “required for life” (Syme, B 2011). They are vital parts of every cell in the body and responsible for the regulation of every aspect of the body’s functioning.
The two families of EFAs are divided into Omega 3’s and Omega 6’s. Although they are both important and necessary, what’s also as important, if not more, is the correct balance of these two families. When the ratio is unbalanced the excesses and deficiencies can cause numerous health issues that are very common in the companion animals of today.
(Photo by Adam Griffith on Unsplash)
EFA’s are named so “primarily due to an animals inability to synthesize it in sufficient quantities to meet its metabolic needs”. Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) are notable Omega 3’s where the Omega 6’s include Linoleic Acid (LA), gamma linolenic acid (GLA) and arachidonic acid (AA). These “fundamental components of good health” (Villaverde, C 2014) can be found in many different sources.
- Found in: vegetable oil, chicken and pig fat, flaxseeds, pumpkin seeds, borage and evening primrose oil.
- Best source: safflower oil, which can be found in our SuperGreens Veg Cubes.
- Found in: fish and fish oils, brain, eyes, raw eggs, oats, mushrooms, baked beans, spinach and banana, lambs liver, rabbit, linseed oil, chia seeds.
- Best source: mackerel and salmon.
More importantly than just the presence of these acids in the canine and feline diet is the ratio in which they exist. Because Omega 3’s spoil easily and turn rancid from heat and oxidization, they are often only found in low levels in commercial pet food.
Omega 6’s being sturdier are frequently found in much higher levels. This means that the ratio found in pet food is often up to six times higher than it should be (Syme 2011). While the natural dietary intake should be 3-5 parts Omega 6 to 1-part Omega 3, in some pet foods it can be found to be 25-30 parts Omega 6 to 1 part Omega 3.
Hence, the deficiencies that mostly occur are those of the Omega 3’s not the 6’s.
Omega 3 deficiencies in humans have been linked to asthma, allergies and hay fever which could indicate that this lack in dogs could be one of the reasons for the abundance of “allergic” conditions like atopy. The role that these fatty acids play in the skin and coat health of dogs cannot be under estimated.
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The omegas also play a huge role in the immune system working properly so a correct balance of the omegas mean that cells are less inflammatory and reactive which means a healthy skin barrier and shiny coat. When low levels of Omega 3 are present, the fatty waterproof layer of the skin which doubles as an antibacterial later is damaged and becomes dry and flaky. This permeability results in pyoderma (hotspots) as bacteria can penetrate the skin barrier.
Another inflammatory process our pets commonly suffer from is arthritis. Research shows that Omega 3 fatty acids can help with the reduction of inflammation associated with arthritis. If insufficient levels of EFA’s are present “critical body functions can be severely disrupted” (Tilford (Bauer, J 2004).
Apart from the skin and inflammation issues, EFA’s also play a part in the cardiovascular and reproductive systems. Healthy function of smooth muscle organs like the heart require the ideal ratio of both families of EFA’s.
(Photo by Alicia Gauthier on Unsplash)
Essential fatty acids are invaluable to dogs and cats because deficiencies in them equal disease. A lack of EFA’s can cause growth problems in puppies, fertility issues for both genders and all degenerative changes of old age.
An excess of omega 6 combined with a deficiency of omega 3 results in an over reactive immune system where inflammation thrives. This is the most common combination that exists in pets due to the fragile nature of Omega 3’s and the fact that Omega 6’s are often easier to get in higher levels in highly processed and cooked commercial pet food.
“At the top of the list of things commonly missing from the companion animal diet are essential fatty acids” (Contreras, S 2013). Luckily, however, there are many products available that can be used to supplement the diets of cats and dogs. Not all supplements are equal and it is important to note that oxidisation effects need to be considered when using these supplements.
Vets All Natural Omega Blend-
- It includes Vitamins A, D, E and Omega 3, 6 and 9.
- Ingredients: 100% pure, cold pressed Flax Seed Oil, Shark Liver Oil, Sunflower Oil, Wheat Germ Oil, Alkyl Glycerol’s, Squalene, antioxidants, and Vitamins A, D, and E.
- contains omega 3 & 6 fatty acids including linolenic acid and linoleic acid, EPA & DHA.
- Pump pack which pre-measures dose and reduced oxidisation effects.
- Ingredients: Fish oil and linseed oil, stabilised with vitamin E.
Paw Essential 6
- Spot on treatment applied directly to skin.
- Contains 10 essential oils (clove, camphor, gaultheria, rosemary, curcuma, oregano, lavender, peppermint, tea tree & cedar), hemp and neem oil.
- Rich in essential fatty acids (Omega 3 & 6) and Vitamin E.
- Contains Omega 3 & 6 fatty acids plus Vitamins A, B and E.
- Comes in pre-measured sachets which minimises oxidisation effects and improves stability and palatability.
- Achieves the correct ratio of 5:1 Omega 6 to Omega 3
- Ingredients: each mL contains linoleic acid 529 mg, gamma-linolenic acid 6.7 mg, eicosapentaenoic acid 41.7 mg, docosahexaenoic acid 27.8 mg, vitamins A, B6, E, biotin, zinc, inositol.
Bauer, J 2004, ‘Essential fatty acid metabolism in dogs and cats’ College of Veterinary Medicine, viewed 03 November 2017, <https://www.whole-dog-journal.com/issues/2_7/features/Essential-Fatty-Acids-For-Dogs_5237-1.html?zkPrintable=true>
Billinghurst, I 1993, Give your dog a bone, Warrigal Publishing, Bathhurst, NSW
Bunglavan, Surej Joseph & M.D, Pratheesh & R, Anoopraj & C, Harish & Davis, Justin 2011, ‘Therapeutic Uses of Omega Fatty Acids in Cats’ Indian Pet Journal, vol 12, pp. 10-17.
Contreras, S 2013, ‘Essential Fatty Acids’, The Dog Food Project, viewed 05 November 2017, <http://www.dogfoodproject.com/index.php?page=fattyacids>
Kidd, R 2016, ‘Fatty acids for pet skin and haircoat health’ PetMD, viewed 05 November 2017, http://www.petmd.com/dog/care/fatty-acids-pet-skin-and-haircoat-health#
Syme, B 2011, Scientific Guide To Natural Nutrition, Vets All Natural P/L, Southbank VIC
Villaverde, C 2014, ‘Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Disease: Choosing the Right Product’ Presented at the American Veterinary Medical Convention, Denver, CO, July 28, 2014.
Waldron, M 2004, ‘The role of fatty acids in the management of osteoarthritis’ DVM360, viewed 03 November 2017, <http://veterinarymedicine.dvm360.com/role-fatty-acids-management-osteoarthritis>