Fish oil is one of the most commonly used supplements for dogs. But not all fish oils are alike and they can be fragile to store.
When thinking about fish oil supplements for your dog, it’s important to remember that it isn’t the fish, nor the oil that is important. The key issue is whether your dog is getting the right balance between two types of fatty acids — omega-3 fatty acids and omega-6s.
Fish oils (sometimes called marine oils) are a good source of omega-3s. This is important because a lot of commercial dog food contains a lot of grains and oils rich in omega-6 fatty acids, including corn and soybean oil. On top of that, they also include a lot of corn- or grain-fed animals like poultry and beef. This adds up to too much omega-6 fatty acids.
Feeding your dog a quality diet without grain will improve that balance and may make fish oils unnecessary. Adding a small amount of fish to your dog’s diet is another healthy alternative to fish oil supplements. A piece of fish, which hasn’t been heavily processed, has more nutrients that are more available for use by your dog’s body.
What is fish oil?
Fish oil can be made of oil from any type of a fish — salmon, cod, anchovies or sardines, for example. Some “fish” oil comes from krill, tiny shrimp-like creatures that whales and other fish and seabirds eat. It can even refer to blends of oils.
Not all fish oils are equal. Cod liver oil can have high levels of vitamin A and D. Vitamin A collects in your body and be toxic. Other fish oils would be a better choice. Oils made from fish on the high end of the food chain are more likely to be contaminated with mercury, lead or other toxins. So choosing fish like sardines or anchovies or animals like krill, are better choices.
The benefits of fish oil
The list of good things fish oil can do for a dog is long. Fish oil:
- Helps prevent dry skin.
- Makes fur glossy.
- Reduces inflammation from arthritis or allergies.
- Supports the immune system.
- Helps unborn and growing puppies develop.
- Improves brain function in older dogs.
- Lowers blood pressure.
- Lowers triglycerides and cholesterol.
- Helps dogs with kidney or heart disease or cancer.
- Helps obese dogs lose weight.
These benefits depend on not giving your dog too much fish oil.
According to the National Research Council, a dog can be given a dose of fish oil of 20 to 55 milligrams (mg) of fish oil for every pound he weighs. Other more conservative experts suggest a lower dosage of 10 to 15 mg per pound. Too much fish oil:
- Adds fat and calories. Err on the skimpy rather than the generous side; you’re adding fat and calories to your dog’s diet. It can be rich for some dogs’ digestive systems. Introduce the fish oil gradually.
- Interferes with blood platelets, which help the blood clot after an injury.
- Interferes with the immune system’s inflammation response. The immune system triggers inflammation to help fight infections and heal wounds. When a dog is given too much fish oil, the inflammation process is reduced. This can slow healing of wounds after an injury or surgery.
- May contain toxins such as arsenic, cadmium, led and mercury due to pollution of the oceans.
Storing fish oils
Fish oil should always be in a colored, tightly bottle in the refrigerator. Glass or BPA-free containers are best. After one to two months, it can go bad. If it smells “off,” get rid of it. Don’t buy more than you think you will use within eight weeks. Some types of fish oil made for humans contain flavoring, such as lemon, to make it taste better. Dogs often don’t like those flavors. If you’re using human-grade, look for unflavored ones.
Consult your veterinarian
Given how many people give fish oils to their dogs, it may seem like a no-brainer to give your dog fish oil. In reality, whether your dog needs fish oil supplements depends on a lot of things including his or her diet, age, health conditions and other medications. Talking to your vet will lead to a decision based on what your specific dog needs.
This is the sixth post in the 2015 A-to-Z Blog Challenge. Beginning with A and continuing on to Z, we’re committed to writing posts using the letters of the alphabet in order from Monday through Friday. Check back tomorrow for “G is for grooming at home.”