Fatty Acids

Fatty acids, omega-3’s, ALA & EPA…what do all these mean? Understanding the way fatty acids work can be a difficult task, especially when it’s complicated by the lack of reliable scientific research and the exaggerated claims sometimes promoted by marketing companies. The terminology, the endless pathways and controversial claims can make understanding fatty acids as difficult as learning a foreign language.

Dermatologists and universities are starting to take a stronger interest in the activity of fatty acids, and studies have concluded various benefits in their use in veterinary medicine. In the past 20 years, fatty acids have gone from simply promoting healthy skin and coat to being recognized for helping musculoskeletal disorders, cardiovascular disease and various other disorders.

Essential fatty acids (EFAs) are considered “essential” because they are not produced by the body and must be supplemented in the diet. Today’s premium pet foods supply high amounts of fat for calories, but the majority of this fat content is empty calories from saturated and monounsaturated animal fats, with few essential fatty acids. In addition, oxidation and heat processing causes fatty acid breakdown, so diets lose even more EFAs.

EFAs are supplemented as Omega-6 and Omega-3 fatty acids. Some veterinarians recommend higher levels of Omega-3 fatty acids, while other veterinarians recommend what they feel are optimal ratios between both Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids. The optimal dosages or ratios have not been clinically determined for dogs and cats.

Because dogs and cats do not readily make these needed fatty acids, your pet needs to ingest foods containing Omega-3 fatty acids. Beneficial fatty acids are found in marine oils, particularly cold-water fresh fish such as salmon and trout. Supplements containing essential fatty acids can also be given. However, fatty acids are not created equal. Some fatty acids are beneficial for reducing inflammation, while others are actually counterproductive. So how do we identify which ones are needed?

Omega-6 vs. Omega-3

Omega-6 fatty acids are derived from Linoleic Acid (LA), which are found in products such as safflower oil, sunflower oil and soybean oil. Linoleic acid is responsible for maintaining the integrity of the skin. It’s also largely responsible for the luster and sheen associated with a healthy hair coat.

Omega-3 fatty acids begin with alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) as the parent compound, which can be converted into eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). EPA is commonly used in the management of several disorders including inhalant allergies, arthritis, heart disease and keratinization disorders.

As a whole, fatty acid supplementation aids in reducing inflammation of tissues, treating musculoskeletal disorders, cardiovascular disease and promoting healthy skin and hair coat. Supplements have taken the guess work out of fatty acids by providing the proper ratios of the essential fatty acids your pet needs. Your pet’s health and hair coat will tell you if fatty acid supplements are beneficial or not.

Skin and Coat Supplements





The materials, information and answers provided through this website are not intended to replace the medical advice or services of a qualified veterinarian or other pet health care professional. Consult your own veterinarian for answers to specific medical questions, including diagnosis, treatment, therapy or medical attention.

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