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Is Fish Oil Good for Dogs and Cats?

Fish oil is a common and very popular supplement among humans. Many people take it because they believe it has potential health benefits, including reducing inflammation and improving joint function.

But are there any benefits to giving your dog or cat fish oil? And what's the right way to do that in order to get the best results for them? Let's answer those questions and more!

  • What is fish oil?

  • Why should I give my dog or cat fish oil?

  • Does it matter what kind of fish oil I give my dog?

  • How much fish oil should I give my dog?

  • How do I give my dog fish oil?

  • Anything else I should know about fish oil?

  • Are there any side effects to giving fish oil to my dog or cat?

What is fish oil?

Fish oil is an over-the-counter supplement that contains omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3s are a source of functional fat for the body that provides the building blocks for cell membranes and hormones that allow communication from one organ system to another. They are especially important for heart health, brain and visual development, and nervous system function. They have also been found to play a role in reducing inflammation within the body. Fish oil contains high amounts of DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid), which are vital fats needed by dogs and cats for proper organ function. Dogs with arthritis who are supplemented with fish oil may experience reduced inflammation and pain associated with arthritis as well as improved mobility, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC).

Omega-3s can be hard for your dog or cat to get from their diet alone because it's not something that's readily available in processed foods like kibble, and can even be difficult to find from fresh food sources like meat. Unfortunately, many commercial foods have a high level of omega-6 fatty acids, which are not able to be converted by dogs and cats to the healthier omega-3 fatty acid form. Omega-6 fatty acids (common in corn and sunflower oil for example) also contribute to inflammatory substances being made within the body. Luckily, most pet owners will have no trouble finding a plethora of fish oil options at their local pet store or online marketplaces. The problem is that not all fish oil supplements are created equal, so it is important to look for certain key factors when choosing the right supplement for your dog or cat.

Why should I give my dog or cat fish oil?

If you want to give your pet the best quality of life, then you should definitely consider giving them fish oil.

Not only are they important for skin and coat health, but they contribute to optimum brain development and cognitive function so even puppies and kittens should be receiving appropriate supplementation. Omega-3s play a vital role in treating joint pain and inflammation—and can be very beneficial for dogs and cats that have allergies! This means that if your pet has any of these issues (and who doesn't?), adding fish oil to their diet could be a great way to keep them comfortable. However, one of the most exciting benefits of fish oils is their effect on cognitive function. A study conducted a decade ago found that dogs who were given a source of high-quality omega fatty acids performed better on memory tests, mazes and visual assessments compared to those who were not given any supplement at all! So if you're looking for an extra boost when it comes to training time with your puppy or kitten, this might be just what you need. Health benefits from omega-3 fatty acids include:

  • Global anti-inflammatory effect and cellular health

  • Supports reproductive health

  • Promotes joint health Increases trainability and cognitive function

  • Supports vision development and eye health

  • Promotes healthy blood triglyceride levels

  • Helps maintain healthy skin and haircoat

  • Supports heart, kidney, and gastrointestinal health

  • Supports a healthy immune system response

  • Supports healthy aging in senior dogs and cats

Does it matter what kind of fish oil I give my dog?

The short answer: yes, it does matter. You should use fish oil that’s high in omega-3 fatty acids. You should also check for any added vitamins, minerals or other nutrients that can be harmful for your dog or cat. For example, cod liver oil contains one of the highest sources of DHA, but because it also has Vitamin A you should consult your veterinarian before using it to avoid Vitamin A toxicity. The first thing you need to know is that there are two main categories of omega-3 fatty acids in fish oils:

  • EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid)

  • DHA (docosahexaenoic acid).

Both are found naturally in salmon, tuna, herring, mackerel and sardines. However, there is usually more EPA than DHA so if you read “EPA/DHA 60/40″ on your label then it means 60% EPA & 40% DHA is present in the product.

How much fish oil should I give my dog?

The recommended dosage of fish oil for dogs and cats depends on the product that is being used, the stage of life that they are in and the presence of any disease processes that may increase the need of omega-3 fatty acids (like arthritis, atopic dermatitis, etc). The most common forms of omega-3 fatty acids are liquids and gel caps. They can also come in the form of soft chews, but the quantity of omega-3 fatty acids is actually very low in most of these soft chew treat forms. To give you a comparison:

  • A very popular brand available on Amazon and Chewy has 105 mg of EPA+DHA per omega soft chew and their label recommendation is to administer 1 chew daily for a dog up to 25 lbs. This is barely an appropriate supplementation amount for a 5-pound adult dog.

  • This same company makes a Wild Alaskan salmon oil supplement- for this product, they recommend 1530 mg of EPA+DHA for a 0-40 pound dog. We can all agree that a 10-pound dog should not be receiving as much as a 40-pound dog.

This is another example of improper label recommendations for the optimum health and safety of our pets. As pet parents, it is very important to learn how to assess these products or have a trusted veterinarian to consult with, as many of these companies are not as responsible with their dosing recommendations as we would hope. It is also important to keep in mind that our dogs and cats require different doses in different stages of their lives as well. Senior pets have a higher requirement of omega-3 fatty acids, but this should also be introduced slowly over time to avoid any gastrointestinal upset. For example:

  • A 40-pound adult dog should be receiving a total of 810 mg of EPA+DHA daily.

  • A 40-pound senior dog should be receiving closer to 1,080mg of EPA+DHA daily.

This daily fish oil dosage is to account for the increased oxidative stress that occurs with aging. We recommend consulting your veterinarian to try and figure out the best dosing for your dog or cat. Alternatively, Dr. Lindsey offers in-person or video consults specifically for supplement guidance where she can utilize your pet’s medical records and create a comprehensive plan including the types of supplements and appropriate dosing to support the health and wellness of your precious pet. You can request a consultation through our website.

How do I give my dog fish oil?

Thankfully, fish oil is easily ingested and can just be given with some food. In fact, fish oil is best given with food, to avoid an upset stomach and also to optimize the absorption of the supplement. Some pets can be a little tricky when it comes to eating their food so when giving fish oil to your dog or cat we recommend 2 ways:

  • You can apply the dose directly onto the entire meal if they are a good eater. You want to make sure they get the entire dose of fish oil. Who knows, maybe your dog or cat just loves the taste of fish oil!

  • For the more finicky eater or “all-day grazer”, you can offer the dose on a smaller portion of the food. We just want to ensure that they ingest the full amount soon after applying, rather than throughout the day. If it’s been sitting out all day, it may lose potency or just not get eaten at all.

When first starting fish oil supplementation, Dr. Lindsey recommends giving one-half of the intended dose for the first 7 days and monitoring for any change in appetite, stool quality or other abnormalities. If no abnormalities have been noted after that first week, then you can increase to the full dose. Always continue to monitor though. Never hurts to keep a close eye on your dog or cat after starting something new.

Is there anything else I should know about giving my dog fish oil?

You better believe there is! There is so much more to know, such as:

  • If your dog is allergic to fish, do not give them fish oil as it is likely to cause an allergic reaction (hives, itchiness, vomiting, diarrhea, etc).

  • Do not give your dog fish oil if they have a bleeding disorder, such as hemophilia.

  • Do not give your dog fish oil if they are pregnant or nursing.

  • Discuss fish oil supplementation with your veterinarian if your dog is taking any vitamin supplementation or has a health condition that can be worsened by increasing fat content in their diet (pancreatitis for example).

  • Human studies have shown inconclusive results regarding the effect of fish oil on bleeding tendencies and platelet function. To be conservative, Dr. Lindsey recommends discontinuing any omega-3 fatty acid supplementation for 7-10 days prior to any major surgical procedure and waiting 2-3 days after surgery before resuming the supplementation.

Are there any side effects to giving fish oil to my dog or cat?

It’s always good to ask these questions! Fish oil has many health benefits for dogs and cats, but it can have side effects too. There are always going to be horror stories out there of someone trying something new and it going horribly wrong. So before you accidentally come across the worst scenarios like “I almost killed my dog with fish oil” on the internet, we recommend just consulting your veterinarian first. There are different types of fish oil you can give your dog and cat, including krill, sardine, mackerel and salmon oil supplements. Consult with your vet about which one is best for your dog or cat based on the symptoms they're experiencing and how long they've had them. There are specific dosage recommendations depending on the condition that is being treated/supported, and the weight of the dog or cat also determines their dosage. You should consult with a veterinarian who will weigh them and recommend an appropriate dose based on that information before making any changes in their diet or medications. Click here to read about the many benefits of fish oil for dogs

In conclusion!

If you’re looking for a way to promote optimum health for your dog or cat, fish oil may be just what you’re looking for. As we have discussed in this article, there are a multitude of benefits for our pets during different stages of their lives. However, it’s important that you talk with your vet before giving fish oil to your pet so that together you can choose a safe and effective option for your dog or cat. Click here to access countless research articles about the benefit of omega-3 fatty acids for animals and humans! Do you, your dog or your cat have a request for a future blog topic? Visit the Crystallotusvet instagram page and let us know what you want to read about next!

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