Is There Something Fishy About Omega-3?

09/08/2017 13:46 BST | Updated 09/08/2017 13:46 BST

For many years, people have been talking enthusiastically about the benefits of adding fish oils to a dog's diet.

But what's the truth behind these fatty acids. Can they really be as good as they're made out to be?

What are fish oils?

Fish oils are oils derived from the tissues of oily fish such as salmon and mackerel. Specifically, they contain the omega-3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and are a type of polyunsaturated fat.

These omega-3 fatty acids - EPH and DPA - are known to be beneficial to your dogs' health in a number of ways.

Primarily, they act as anti-inflammatories, meaning they reduce inflammation in the body. They also strengthen the body's immune system more broadly. In doing so, they can help dogs to better fight off and overcome infections, illnesses and diseases like arthritis and allergies. They also promote healthy joints which can help dog's with arthritis.

EPH and DHA are good for keeping your dog's heart healthy and functioning properly too, and so can be a beneficial addition to the diet of dogs suffering from heart problems.

Fish oils - and in turn omega-3 fatty acids, particularly DHA - have also been shown to play a very important role in the development of the central nervous system (the brain). So much so that it's been suggested that feeding fish oils to puppies can improve their memory retention and make them easier to train.

On a somewhat more superficial, but none the less important level, fish oils can help dogs maintain a healthy, shiny coat and can play a role in maintaining healthy weight.

The pros outweigh the cons

So far so good right? Indeed - fish oils are incredibly beneficial for dogs in a number of ways.

But as with anything, they can cause problems, especially if too much is consumed.

One of the biggest problems they can cause is to hamper wound healing.

Because one of the functions of omega-3 fatty acids is to thin the blood, if they are consumed in too high a quantity, they can alter and decrease platelet function. If this happens, it results in a dog having issues with their blood clotting - basically, it doesn't clot properly. This can be a problem for dogs who suffer any sort of trauma, or dogs who are due to have surgery.

Other, somewhat less severe side effects caused by omega-3 fatty acids include diarrhoea and gastrointestinal problems.

It's also important to consider what other medications your dog is taking before giving them fish oils, as they can sometimes interfere with these medications and how well they work.

So while they have benefits, it is important to speak to your vet before you begin including fish oils in your dog's diet.

All dogs should consume fish oils

When it comes to which dogs should be given fatty acids, the short answer is all of them.

The slightly longer answer is that while the vast majority will benefit, some are more likely to benefit from them more than others.

Those dogs that are thought to receive a greater benefit from fish oils and omega-3 fatty acids are older dogs, who tend to be more prone to arthritis, and younger dogs and puppies, whose brains are still developing and who are being trained.

Larger breeds of dog are also thought to receive a lot of benefit from the inclusion of fish oils in their diet.

How to give your dog fish oils

There are two main ways you can include fish oil into your dog's diet.

The first is by feeding them fish oil supplements, either in capsule or liquid form. These can be bought commercially and come in different doses. If you consider using supplements, be sure to look at where they're sourced from and how pure they are. The purer the better.

The second alternative is to simply include oily fish like mackerel, salmon, sardines, herring and anchovies. The benefits of doing this - of simply feeding your dog fresh fish rather than fish oil supplements - is that you can be confident in how pure they are.

Kristina is certified in Advanced Canine Nutrition.

She provides consultations on general canine nutrition and home prepared diets working closely with a wide variety of vets. Kristina also write articles on canine nutrition and care for many publications. You can visit her at:

She recently finished her first booklet; "How to Choose the Best Commercial Dog Food". This guide explains the latest facts and findings on a variety of ingredients and pet food marketing, as well as debunking some popular myths.