Fish oil contains essential fatty acids that are good for your dog. But is it the best way to get these nutrients to your dog? Read on to learn what the benefits are, why it may not be the best choice, and some better alternatives that will provide the same benefits for your dog’s health.
What Are The Benefits of Fish Oil for Dogs?
Omega-3 essential fatty acids play a crucial role in your dog’s health. The most common dietary sources of these are fish oil and some plant oils.
Omega-3s are important for many bodily functions in your dog, including:
- Maintaining healthy skin and coat
- Brain and eye function
- Moderating inflammation
- Normal hormone regulation
- A healthy immune system
- Normal cellular structure and function
Most dog diets don’t contain enough omega-3 fatty acids, because they contain a lot of foods high in omega-6. The balance of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids is important for health. Too much omega-6 leads to inflammation that can cause chronic problems like arthritis, allergies, autoimmune disease or even cancer.
Omega-3 fatty acids have anti-inflammatory functions that help reduce the risk of chronic disease.
Fish oil is a good source of the following essential omega-3 fatty acids:
- Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)
- Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)
These beneficial omega-3s help the nervous system develop, fight inflammation, and keep the brain and eyes healthy. They promote a healthy coat, improve joint health, and may lower the risk of some cancers.
Can Fish Oil Be Bad For Dogs?
There are some good reasons to avoid fish oil for your dog. Although fish oil contains high amounts of omega-3s, it may not be the best choice.
1. Fish Oil Can be Toxic
Environmental toxins accumulate in fat tissue. Fish oils carry the risk of exposure to toxic contaminants, such as PCBs and heavy metals. These have built up over time due to polluted oceans. These toxins can cause harmful effects on your dog, including organ damage, endocrine issues, neurological problems, leaky gut, immune issues, and more.
Pacific fish have also tested positive for radioactive particles, which could pose a cancer risk to your dog.
2. Fish Oil Goes Rancid Easily
Fish oil is very unstable and oxidizes easily. That means that as soon as you open the bottle and expose it to air, it starts to turn rancid. Not only does it smell bad (you’ll notice a fishy odor) … it also produces unstable molecules called free radicals that cause cell damage in your dog. This oxidative stress to your dog’s body can contribute to problems like joint issues, cognitive decline, cancer, and diseases of the heart, liver, and kidneys.
3. Fish Oils May Not Actually Contain What They Claim
Many fish oil supplements claiming to provide omega-3 fatty acids do not contain enough EPA or DHA to meet dietary needs. A study of fish oil supplements in New Zealand found that capsules contained only 68% of the EPA and DHA they claimed to. Some of these supplements tested were from Canada and US.
If you rely on fish oil to provide EPA or DHA to your dog, you may not be providing as much as he needs. Know your supplier and buy a quality oil.
4. Fish Oil May Have Unexpected Side Effects
Although it offers some health benefits, fish oil can also be harmful when you give too much of it. You also need to make sure your dog does not have a health condition that you could make worse by giving fish oil.
Here are some potential side effects of giving fish oil to dogs:
- Low Blood Pressure: Fish oil has properties that lower blood pressure, which is great if your dog has high blood pressure! But if your dog already has normal blood pressure or is on blood pressure medication, you need to be careful.
- Diarrhea: High doses of fish oil may cause diarrhea or other digestive upset, like acid reflux.
- Vitamin A Toxicity: Be cautious with cod liver oil It’s very high in vitamin A. This is a fat-soluble vitamin, and your dog can store it in excess. So too much cod liver oil can be toxic.
- High Blood Sugar: Some research shows that high doses of fish oil may increase blood glucose, so if your dog is diabetic, pay attention to his glucose levels if you give fish oil.
- Bleeding: Fish oil is a natural anticoagulant, meaning it helps prevent blood from clotting. Its blood-thinning properties are what may make it heart-healthy. But this can present a risk for dogs on certain medications or undergoing surgery.
5. Fish Oil Lacks Some Important Anti-inflammatory Fats
Fish oil is a great source of EPA and DHA, but it doesn’t have other beneficial anti-inflammatory omegas like eicosatetraenoic acid (ETA) and gamma-linolenic acid (GLA).
ETA is an omega-3 that your dog can convert into EPA in the body. GLA is an omega-6 that is only found in plant oils. Both fats have potent anti-inflammatory effects.
6. Fish Oil is Bad for the Environment
Though fish oil is a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids, it comes at a devastating cost to our oceans. In 2018, people used a shocking 22 million tonnes of fish just to produce fish oil and fish meal. Overfishing harms ecosystems that depend on the type of fish used for oil.
Marine sources can’t meet the demand for human requirements, let alone dogs! Only a few fish oil brands use verified sustainable harvesting methods.
Before, fish oil was considered the best source of EPA and DHA. Now, there are more sustainable ways to ensure that your dog gets the omega-3 fatty acids he needs.
What Are The Best Alternatives To Fish Oil for Dogs?
Why take the risks that come with fish oil when there are many safer alternatives? Here are some options that are better for your dog, and for the environment:
1. Green-Lipped Mussel Oil
Green-lipped mussels are found in the pristine waters off the coast of New Zealand. They can be sustainably farmed, so they’re an environmentally responsible alternative to fish oil … with all the same benefits. These mussels eat phytoplankton, which can also be sustainably grown.
Green-lipped mussel oil offers 30 fatty acids, including plenty of EPA and DHA. But it has an extra anti-inflammatory omega-3 that fish oil lacks: ETA.
Since your dog can convert ETA into EPA in the body, he makes only as much as his body needs. This helps avoid the possible side effects of too much EPA that come with fish oil.
2. Ahiflower Oil
Ahiflower is a wild plant that is now cultivated for the omega-rich oil of its seeds. This up-and-coming plant oil is a fully sustainable source of essential fatty acids. Just one acre of ahiflower can yield the same amount of omega-rich oil as 40,000 mackerel or sardines.
It offers several omegas in one non-GMO plant-based package:
- Omega-3s: Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), Stearidonic acid (SDA)
- Omega-6s: Linoleic Acid (LA), Gamma Linolenic Acid (GLA)
- Omega-9: oleic acid
Ahiflower has a higher concentration of SDA (which is a precursor for EPA) than any other oilseed. One study showed that ahiflower oil converted to EPA four times better than flaxseed oil.
Ahiflower also contains GLA, which supports a healthy inflammatory response. Fish oil does not contain much GLA.
3. Hempseed Oil
Hempseed is another good option for providing an ideal balance of omega-3, 6, and 9 fatty acids. It also contains GLA and SDA (but much less than ahiflower).
Phytoplankton is a food source that anchors ocean ecosystems. These microalgae are full of nutrients, including EPA. They can be sustainably grown on land and contain a powerful antioxidant, Superoxide Dismutase. The downside of phytoplankton is that is very expensive.
5. Algal Oil
Algal oil is a plant-derived oil with a good amount of DHA. Like fish oil, it does not contain GLA or ETA. The main advantage of this oil is that it is a sustainable, plant-based source of omega-3s.
6. Brains And Eyes
Yes, you read that right! You can provide your dog the same nutrients found in fish oil by feeding these organs instead. Just 4 ounces of brain has more DHA and EPA than one teaspoon of fish oil.
Feeding organs like these also prevents waste by helping use more parts of animals being used for meat in the livestock industry.
Now you know several great ways to provide essential omegas to your dog without hurting our oceans and risking his health.