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Has your veterinarian recommended adding essential fatty acids to your dog or cat’s diet? While the idea of giving your pet additional fat may seem counterintuitive, essential fatty acids, such as omega-3 and omega-6, are energy-rich nutrients that can provide numerous benefits for humans and animals alike.

Good fat vs. bad fat

Healthy dietary fats, or unsaturated fats, are divided into two main groups: monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. Essential fatty acids fall into the polyunsaturated category. Commonly found in fish and plant-based foods or oils, these are the “good” fats that feed the body’s cells and promote overall health.

Julie Buzby, DVM, CAVCA, CVA, associate veterinarian at Animal Medical Center of the Lowcountry in Beaufort, South Carolina, and member of the Grey Muzzle Organization Advisory Board, is a firm believer in adding fatty acids to a pet’s diet. “The closest thing to a panacea, omega-3 supplements can positively impact every cell in your dog’s body,” she said.

The omega fatty acids family

Omega-3 and omega-6 are part of the essential fatty acids family, and both are vital to a pet’s health and wellbeing. As the name implies, these nutrients are...


Has your veterinarian recommended adding essential fatty acids to your dog or cat’s diet? While the idea of giving your pet additional fat may seem counterintuitive, essential fatty acids, such as omega-3 and omega-6, are energy-rich nutrients that can provide numerous benefits for humans and animals alike.

Good fat vs. bad fat

Healthy dietary fats, or unsaturated fats, are divided into two main groups: monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. Essential fatty acids fall into the polyunsaturated category. Commonly found in fish and plant-based foods or oils, these are the “good” fats that feed the body’s cells and promote overall health.

Julie Buzby, DVM, CAVCA, CVA, associate veterinarian at Animal Medical Center of the Lowcountry in Beaufort, South Carolina, and member of the Grey Muzzle Organization Advisory Board, is a firm believer in adding fatty acids to a pet’s diet. “The closest thing to a panacea, omega-3 supplements can positively impact every cell in your dog’s body,” she said.

The omega fatty acids family

Omega-3 and omega-6 are part of the essential fatty acids family, and both are vital to a pet’s health and wellbeing. As the name implies, these nutrients are essential because the body cannot produce them on its own. Instead, they must be consumed through diet or a supplement.

Omega-3 fatty acids come from both animal and plant sources. Fish oil is a great source of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), whereas plant sources of omega-3 fatty acids, such as flaxseed oil, are rich in alpha-linoleic acid (ALA).

While plant sources of omega-3 fatty acids are a great option for humans—and especially appealing to vegetarians—ALA “requires the body to first convert it to EPA and DHA before being able to ‘use’ it,” Buzby said. “Dogs have a limited ability to make this conversion; therefore, supplementation with high-quality omega-3 fish oil is recommended.”

Omega-6 essential fatty acids are found in animal fats and vegetable oils. Dogs and cats primarily receive this nutrient from commercially manufactured pet food.

The benefits of essential fatty acids

According to a 2010 research study conducted by Lisa Freeman, DVM, PhD, DACVN, and the clinical nutrition team at the Cummings Veterinary Medical Center at Tufts University, a daily dose of omega-3 fatty acids reduced inflammation and helped protect against abnormal heart rhythms in dogs and cats with heart disease.

“Omega-3s reduce inflammation throughout the body, benefitting skin, eyes, bladder, brain, and joints,” Buzby said. “Their anti-inflammatory properties make them potentially appropriate in renal disease, heart disease, and even some types of cancer.”

In addition, essential fatty acids can:

  • Reduce inflammation due to arthritis
  • Lessen sensitivity to pollen and mold
  • Reduce symptoms of autoimmune disorders, such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
  • Improve itchy skin and dandruff
  • Promote a healthy, shiny coat
  • Improve brain development and function
  • Slow the growth of some tumors 

Before you start

Before you make any changes to your pet’s diet, it is important to check with your veterinarian. She can determine the proper dose of essential fatty acids for your pet, calculate how much of that dose is included in your pet’s diet, and advise you on whether an additional supplement is needed.

Sharon Seltzer is a freelance animal writer and founder of the blog, Lessons From A Paralyzed Dog, which brings information and resources to owners with disabled pets. 


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