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Fatty Acids: Beneficial For Pets

Posted November 07, 2012 in Advice Column, West Des Moines

Fatty acids are used to help with arthritis, allergies, cardiovascular diseases, geriatric health, skin and coat, optimal neurological development, kidney treatment, thyroid disorders, inflammatory bowel disease and cancer therapies in pets and people.

They are part of the barrier function of skin, essential for neurologic and sight tissues and maintain the normal inflammatory response.

There are two main types of fatty acids: Omega 6 and Omega 3.  Both types are used within the body, but pets and people naturally consume plenty of omega 6s on a daily basis. Omega 3s counteract omega 6s. Ideally we would strive for a balance of these two types, but since omega 6s are plentiful, we need to take in extra omega 3s as they reduce inflammation within the body. The specific omega 3 fatty acid forms — EPA and DHA — are the beneficial types as long as they are in an absorbable form.

Where can we get these? Traditionally, fatty acids were obtained from fish oil capsules.  Due to multiple reasons (see fish oil capsules are not the source from which to get the beneficial effects of EPA and DHA listed above. Over-the-counter sources of fish oil have variable quality. They are usually triglycerides that have been chemically processed for stability, but are less than 30 percent absorbable. Labels are misleading and inaccurate on absorbability of the important components of EPA and DHA. The fish source and fish husbandry practices are not commonly indicated. There is no way to know what type of impurity testing is done and to what organizational standards the product adheres. Other times people may find flax as a source, which is not absorbed well by our pets. Thus a product that says it has specific amounts of fatty acids often does not have them in an absorbable form.

Another concern is volume.  To get the beneficial effects, a 100-pound dog needs 2,300 to 3,400 mg of just the EPA to be absorbed per day. If the over-the-counter products are accurate on the absorbable level of EPA or have it even listed specifically, many times the volume to be administered is unrealistic. Recently a client brought in a bottle for evaluation — the 85-pound pet would have had to have 20 extra-large fish oil capsules per day to get close to the same benefits as the purified form. Talk about fish breath!

EPA is just one of the methods to help pets. Please visit us to learn how this piece can work with other therapies to reduce allergy flare ups, manage arthritis and pain and protect organs. It is great that we have this along with other modalities for a safe alternative to therapies for painful arthritic pets.Pets with other medical problems now have safer options for treatment. For more information, contact Family Pet Veterinary Center at or call us: 515-224-9750.

Information provided by Dr. Jen Emerson-Mathis, Family Pet Veterinary Center, 224-9750, or

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