The benefits of fish oil supplements in your pet’s diet can be surprisingly far-reaching. Fish oil for dogs and cats supports the health of the skin, coat, joint, kidneys, heart, and immune system. It’s even been shown to aid in more serious problems, like cancer.
Here’s what you need to know about what fish oil can do for your pet, and what to expect.
What’s in Fish Oil Supplements?
- Fish oil supplements contain two essential fatty acids: EPA and DHA (or eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid). Both are omega-3 fatty acids that can only be made in a limited capacity in dogs and are even more poorly synthesized in cats.
- These two fatty acids come straight from fish like salmon, sardines, mackerel, black cod, herring, anchovies, and albacore tuna.
5 Great Things Fish Oil Does
- EPA, one of the two omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil, acts as an anti-inflammatory. It will help with any condition that causes inflammation of the heart, kidneys, skin, and joints—such as arthritis.
- It will ease inflammation due to allergies, and reduce itchy skin and dandruff. This can also be an effective way to potentially decrease the incidence of hot spots on your pet.
- Like many fat supplements, it promotes a shiny, healthy coat, and reduces shedding.
- For cats, this may also mean fewer hairballs, since your cat won’t pick up as many loose hairs while grooming.
- DHA, the other omega-3 fatty acid in fish oil, is important in brain and eye development in puppies and kittens. Giving fish oil to pregnant or nursing pets can benefit the babies once they're born.
- In some studies, fish oil has slowed the growth of cancer. Though more studies are needed to reach conclusive results, some veterinarians recommend it for any pets with cancer.
How it Works
How can one supplement do so much?
Both EPA and DHA are important components of cell membranes in both humans and animals like dogs and cats. These unique fatty acids act as signals in cells to decrease inflammation. Less inflammation leads to less pain, redness, and swelling in the skin, joints, or other organs.
If that sounds very important, it is. These are the same pathways of inflammation that we inhibit with painkillers like aspirin all the time.
Omega-3 fatty acids, in particular DHA, also act to promote neuron development. This fatty acid affects cell permeability and the growth of nerve cells. So when a puppy's or kitten's nervous system is developing in the first few months of life (and even while developing before birth), delivering ideal amounts of DHA is important for optimal development.
How Do I Give Fish Oil to My Pet?
Fish oil comes in capsule or liquid form. If your pet will cooperate, give them the capsule to eat. If your pet has no interest in swallowing the capsule, use a clean safety pin or a small knife to open the capsule, and squeeze the liquid onto your pet’s food.
If you need a large dosage, look for fish oil sold in liquid form.
As with any supplement, dosage is important. You should consult your veterinarian before deciding on the correct dosage for your pet, and read product labels carefully. Here is a general guideline:
Daily use for cats over 2 pounds
||Total Long Chain Omega-3
Daily use for dogs 2-19 pounds
||Total Long Chain Omega-3
Daily use for dogs 20 pounds and up
|EPA per 20 pounds
||DHA per 20 pounds
||Total Long Chain Omega-3 per 20 pounds
(Dosage information from Nordic Naturals)
Are There Any Side Effects of Fish Oil for Dogs and Cats?
Fish oil won’t become toxic if too much is taken, but a too-large dosage could result in uncomfortable side effects.
- If your pet has a history of gastrointestinal problems, slowly introduce fish oil into their diet a bit at a time, instead of using the full dosage right away. If your pet starts to have diarrhea, contact your vet, since you may be giving your pet too much fish oil.
- Omega-3s have been shown to slow blood clotting, by decreasing the ability of blood platelets to stick together. This effect is more common and more pronounced in cats than in dogs, so be especially sure to consult your vet if you want to give fish oil to an outdoor cat who can get in scrapes or fights.
- For this same reason, don’t use fish oils along with any blood-thinning medications before consulting your vet.
- Because fish oil is an anti-inflammatory, don’t give it to a pet already on anti-inflammatory medications without first talking to your vet.
- The doses provided above will not cause immunosuppression, but if your dog is on immunosuppressive therapy for some reason talk to your veterinarian about an appropriate dose of fish oil.
- If your pet’s breath starts to smell a bit fishy, just lower the dosage. The bad smell isn’t harmful to pets, but getting rid of it will make you happier!
With just one simple supplement, your pet can enjoy all these various benefits of fish oil.
This information is for informational purposes only and is not meant as a substitute for the professional advice of, or diagnosis or treatment by, your veterinarian. It has however been reviewed for accuracy by Dr. Joe, a board certified veterinary nutritionist and graduate of Cornell University's program for Veterinary Medicine.
References & Resources
The Allergy Solution for Dogs by Shawn Messonnier, D.V.M.
Canine Rehabilitation and Conditioning Group
Nordic Naturals Veterinary Professional
Dr. Weil, M.D. Q&A Library
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