Fish oil supplements are increasingly popular among pet owners seeking to boost their dog's overall health. Rich in omega-3 fatty acids, particularly EPA and DHA, fish oil offers numerous benefits, from enhancing coat quality to supporting joint health. This article will explore the potential benefits of fish oil for dogs and provide tips on choosing, dosing, and administering omega-3 fatty acids to your pets!

What is Fish Oil, and Why Do Dogs Need Omega-3s

Fish oil is derived from the tissues of oily fish and is primarily valued for its high concentration of omega-3 fatty acids. The two key types of omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil are Eicosapentaenoic Acid (EPA) and Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA). These nutrients are vital because they play an important role in the anti-inflammatory process and support the overall maintenance of healthy cells.

Omega 3s are particularly beneficial for dogs because they help balance the omega-6 fatty acids commonly found in processed pet foods. An imbalance can lead to inflammation and various health issues. Omega 3 fatty acids are not produced naturally by dogs' bodies, so adding fish oil to their diet is an excellent way to ensure they receive these important nutrients.

Natural sources of fish oil include cold-water fish like salmon, mackerel, and sardines. These fish are known for their high oil and fat content, which provides the rich omega-3 fatty acids that are so beneficial to dogs. Supplementing your dog's diet with fish oil from these sources can lead to noticeable improvements in their health, including better skin and coat quality, reduced inflammation, and even enhanced cognitive function.

What are the Health Benefits of Fish Oil and Omega-3's for Dogs?

Fish oil is used for its broad range of health benefits in dogs, spanning from enhancing skin and coat quality to improving heart health and joint function. Here’s a closer look at the specific benefits:

Skin and Coat Health

Omega 3 fatty acids in fish oil contribute to a lustrous, healthy coat by nourishing the skin from within. This supplement can help alleviate dry skin and reduce itchiness, which often leads to less scratching and therefore, a healthier skin barrier. Regular intake of fish oil can also promote the growth of softer and shinier fur, which not only makes your dog look better but also feel better.

Joint Health

For dogs suffering from arthritis or other joint issues, fish oil can act as a natural anti-inflammatory agent. The EPA in fish oil helps reduce joint inflammation, thus easing pain and improving mobility. This can be particularly beneficial for older dogs or those who are showing early signs of arthritis.

Heart Health

Fish oil's benefits extend to the heart by helping to regulate the heartbeat, lower blood pressure, and reduce triglyceride levels. This supports overall cardiovascular health and can be especially important for dogs suffering from heart issues.

Cognitive Function and Neurological Health

DHA is essential for brain development in puppies and helps maintain healthy cognitive function in adult dogs. Studies suggest that fish oil can help improve cognitive function in older dogs, potentially mitigating the effects of aging on the brain. This makes fish oil a valuable supplement for maintaining mental acuity throughout a dog’s life. This is why I often recommend using omega-3 fatty acids for dogs with dementia.

Immune System Support

Omega 3 fatty acids can enhance the immune system by affecting the activity and amount of cytokines and eicosanoids present in the body. For puppies and senior dogs, whose immune systems might need additional support, fish oil can provide a significant health boost, potentially helping them fend off illnesses more effectively.

fish oil for dogs

Choosing the Right Fish Oil for Your Dog

With various fish oil products on the market, selecting the right one for your furry friend can seem a little overwhelming. Here are some things that I think are important to consider when selecting a fish oil to supplement with.

1. Fish oil supplements generally come in two forms:

Liquid: This is easily added to your dog's food.

Capsules: Convenient for dogs that dislike the taste of fish oil.

2. Look for reputable brands that source their oil from sustainable fisheries and follow purification processes to remove contaminants. Seek products that clearly list the amounts of EPA and DHA per serving.

The amount of fish oil in milligrams (mg) on the front of the bottle can be different from the amounts of EPA and DHA, and those are the ones that matter.

3. Look for a glass bottle. If you are using the liquid form of fish oil for your dog, it is best to choose a product that comes in a glass bottle. Glass bottles seemingly reduce the amount of oxygen, keeping the oils fresher for longer.

Can you use human fish oil for your dog? The answer is yes, you can. Just make sure there are no other added ingredients.

Vet's Tip: Always introduce fish oil to your dog's diet gradually to minimize any potential digestive upset. Start with a smaller dose and increase it over a few days or as advised by your veterinarian.

How Much Fish Oil Should You Give Your Dog?

The amount of fish oil needed for your dog will depend on their weight, overall health, and any specific medical conditions they may have. It is always best to consult with your veterinarian before starting any new supplement regimen.

Here are some guidelines that I like to follow when dosing omegas for dogs:

  1. When using fish oil for dogs with arthritis, I dose around 45 mg per lb of body weight (100 mg per kg). This is dosed per day.
  2. When using fish oil for dogs with seasonal or environmental allergies (allergic dermatitis), I usually dose around 30 mg per lb of body weight (70 mg per kg). This also is dose per day.
  3. No definitive studies have been performed to calculate a mg per lb dose for cats. The studies that have been done are based on the addition of omega-fatty acids to the diet.

With that, research has shown that cats consuming a prescription diet enriched with DHA and EPA show notably higher levels of activity including enhanced mobility on stairs, reduced stiffness, and improved jumping. Please talk with your veterinarian about starting your cat on a diet that is rich in fish oil and omega fatty acids.

  1. While some dogs can benefit from even higher doses of fish oil and omega fatty acids, the maximum dose is 170 mg per lb of body weight (370 mg per kg).

Please note that the recommended mg is a combination of EPA and DHA, and those amounts can usually be found in the ingredient list on the bottle.

Vets Tip: When first starting to give your dog fish oil, start with 25% of the recommended dose and give that once daily for 3-5 days, then increase by 25% every 3-5 days until you reach the recommended dose.

What are the Side Effects of Using Fish Oil in Dogs?

While fish oil is generally considered safe for most dogs, it's important to be aware of a few potential side effects, especially when given in high doses:

  • Gastrointestinal (GI) Upset: The most common side effect is mild digestive issues like loose stools, vomiting, or gas. This can usually be avoided by starting with a low dose and gradually increasing it.
  • Pancreatitis: Dogs with a history of pancreatitis or who are predisposed to this condition may be at higher risk for flare-ups with high doses of fish oil. Discuss with your veterinarian before giving fish oil to these dogs.
  • Platelet Function Abnormalities: Fish oil has some blood-thinning properties. While this can be beneficial in some cases, it's important to consult your veterinarian before giving fish oil to dogs on blood thinning medications or scheduled for surgery.

If you notice any side effects after starting fish oil omega supplementation, stop giving it and discuss it with your veterinarian. They may be able to recommend an alternative supplement or adjust the dosage for your dog.

Fish oil, with its powerful omega-3 fatty acids, is a wonderful natural supplement to enhance your dog's overall health. The benefits are undeniable from supporting a shiny coat and healthy skin to promoting joint mobility and heart health. When choosing a fish oil product, prioritize quality, sourcing, and appropriate EPA and DHA levels. Always remember to discuss with your veterinarian before giving your dog fish oil, especially if they have underlying health conditions or take medications.