The Scary Truth About Fish Oil for Dogs
Everything you’ve ever thought about the health benefits of fish oil is wrong…
It’s true! For years, we have heard about the health benefits of fish oil. Whether you slurped up a spoonful of cod liver oil or you were lucky enough to just take the capsules, chances are you’ve probably been on the fish oil train at one point or another.
As with all things [gluten-free, organic, etc.], pet owners have recently jumped on board due to it’s widespread popularity. So whether you take it yourself or you give it to your beloved pooch, you might want to sit down for this one: fish oil might be doing you and your pets more harm than good. Confused? I’ll explain.
- 1 Essential Fatty Acids
- 2 Omega-3 Fatty Acid Benefits
- 3 Fish Oil
- 4 Fish Oil Best Practices
- 5 Phytoplankton
- 6 Phytoplankton Best Practices
- 7 Bottom Line
Essential Fatty Acids
The nineties had some regrettable moments: bowl cuts, bucket hats, the Milli Vanilli scandal. However, the most detrimental trend to emerge was the low-fat craze. In reality, fats are a part of a well-balanced diet. There are two types of fats: facilitative and functional fats. Facilitative fats, also known as saturated fats, serve many purposes. These fats improve the taste of pet food, they convert to energy, assist in digestion and absorption of fat-soluble vitamins. They aren’t considered dangerous unless the pet is already overweight or obese.
Functional fats generally refer to essential fatty acids and as the name would suggest, these fats are an essential part of your pet’s health. Unfortunately, your pet cannot produce these fats on their own. That is where you come in!
There are two types of EFA: Omega-6s and Omega-3s, and certain amounts of both are necessary to your pet’s diet.
- Arachidonic acid (AA)
- Dihomo-gamma-linolenic acid (DGLA)
- Gamma linolenic acid (GLA)
- Linolenic acid (LA)
- Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA)
- Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)
- Eicosapentaneoic (EPA)
Omega-3 Fatty Acid Benefits
ALA is a short-chain omega-3 fatty acid that can be found in chia seeds, hemp, flaxseeds, walnuts, and soybeans. However, “ALA is an inefficient source of DHA because its effect depends on its conversion first to EPA and then to DHA.” Unfortunately, dogs can only convert a fraction, about 20%.
EPA and DHA are long-chain omega-3 fatty acids whose richest source are fatty fish such as salmon, sardines, and anchovies.
While both Omega-6 and Omega-3 essential fatty acids are vital to your pet’s health, today we’ll be taking a deeper dive into Omega-3s and the benefits that they offer your pet.
Combat Cardiovascular Disorders
Studies show that omega-3 fatty acids can help combat cardiovascular disorders. In 1998, a study was performed in which dogs with dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) were given omega-3 supplements and by the end of the study, they had reduced muscle loss and inflammation.
Cognitive Function & Neurological Health
A 2012 study in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association showed puppies who were given the most DHA “showed significantly better results in reversal learning tasks, visual contrast discrimination, and early psychomotor performance than puppies eating low to moderate amounts of DHA.” Additionally, these same puppies had way more rabies antibodies 1-2 weeks following their initial vaccinations
Inflammatory Skin Disorders
A 1994 study showed that omega-3 fatty acids that had high levels of EPA resulted in improvement in itchiness and hair loss. The 16 dogs in the study had unexplained itchy skin and inflammation most likely due to allergies.
Studies show that while omega-6 fatty acids adversely affect the kidneys in dogs with Chronic Kidney Disease, omega-3s support kidney function. Additionally, a study of 146 cats with Chronic Kidney Disease showed that “cats receiving the highest amounts of dietary EPA had the longest survival times.”
A 10 week study of 16 arthritic cats showed that those who received EPA and DHA experienced more mobility and less stiffness, could jump higher, and interacted more with their family versus the cats who did not receive the omega-3s.
While omega-6s are essential, too much can cause inflammation in your pet. Luckily, omega-3s are great for relieving inflammation. “Animal experiments and clinical intervention studies indicate that omega-3 fatty acids have anti-inflammatory properties and, therefore, might be useful in the management of inflammatory and autoimmune diseases.”
Additionally, studies show that omega-3s have the ability to slow the growth of yeast infections, aid in proper development of retina and visual cortex, regulate blood clotting, and slow the development of cancer. Wow!
With all of these benefits, no wonder pet owners are dying to get their hands on some omega-3 goodness. The only issue is, how do we choose the source?
In the past, fish oil has been the go-to for all of our omega-3 needs. Health and wellness companies got on board years ago, offering an array of fish oil supplements. In fact, a quick Google search will yield 18 Million results! Needless to say, fish oil has been a hot topic. Unfortunately, times have changed and while at one point, fatty fish may have been the best source for omega-3s, now the tides have turned. Here are some reasons as to why your pet’s fish oil supplement may be doing more harm than good…
Sure, fatty fish are loaded with omega-3s but they’re also loaded with toxins. In addition to mercury, other heavy metals such as arsenic, cadmium, and lead can be found at varying levels below sea level.
Heavy metals are extremely toxic to your dog and has the ability to cause “nervous system dysfunction, blindness, certain cancers, irreversible liver and kidney damage and even death.”
Additionally, there are a plethora of other harmful pollutants to be aware of like Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and Dioxins. PCBSs are chemicals that collect in fat and while they’ve been banned in many countries, they still exist in the ocean. Skin problems, muscle spasms, bronchitis and nervous system disorders can all come about from exposure to PCBs. Dioxins have been known to cause skin, liver and immune system problems, endocrine and reproductive issues and cancer.
Cause Premature Aging & Disease
The omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil are very susceptible to oxidative stress which can lead to health issues such as gene mutations and cancer, and inflammatory conditions
Oxidative stress is a result of oxidation, which occurs when the omega-3s are exposed to oxygen. According to LiveScience, “Oxygen in the body splits into single atoms with unpaired electrons. Electrons like to be in pairs, so these atoms, called free radicals, scavenge the body to seek out other electrons so they can become a pair. This causes damage to cells, proteins and DNA.”
Bad for the Ocean
Last but not least, the process of fishing for omega-3s is bad for the ocean. For instance, Menhaden fish are a popular option for fish oil. They are essential to marine life because they consume algae which keeps the ocean clean and able to accept sunlight.
However, around half a billion menhaden are fished every year and as a result, the oceans are now filled with areas that lack oxygen, also known as dead zones.
Fish Oil Best Practices
As you can see, the cons very well maybe outweigh the benefits of fish oil. However, if you’re still not convinced, there are a number of things you can do to verify that you’re getting the least toxic fish oil you possibly can. For instance, you should always ask for a Certificate of Analysis (COA) from the manufacturer before you buy any fish oil. The COA is a document issued by Quality Assurance that displays the results of any and all testing performed as part of quality control.
Additionally, the highest quality sources are wild caught and never farm-raised. You should always seek out wild caught fish over farm-raised because research shows that farm-raised fish contained dangerous levels of PCBs, dioxins and the insecticides, dieldrin and toxaphene. Wild Alaskan Salmon and other fish that come from the Pacific ocean off the coast of South America are preferable options.
The way in which fish oil is processed is also an important factor. The most trustworthy processing plants are located in Norway and will display “Product of Norway” on the label.
Overall, you will want to avoid fish oil that was processed using ethanol (cheaper and easier method). You can perform a quick and easy test at home to verify the quality of your fish oil. All you have to do is pour some fish oil into a styrofoam cup. If the fish oil eats through the cup in 30 minutes or less, you may have fish oil with ethanol content.
The good news is: there is another, cleaner source of omega-3s that you can give your pup, worry free: phytoplankton. Phytoplankton are microscopic marine plants, little bundles of algae that contain almost twice the amount of omega-3 fatty acids by weight as fish oil.
Phytoplankton is the foundation of nutrients in the ocean. In fact, phytoplankton contains almost all the nutrients your pup needs, including:
- Essential fatty acids
- Trace minerals
- Essential amino acids
In addition to being packed with nutrients, phytoplankton has also been known to:
Helps Digestive Issues
Phytoplankton are so tiny that your pup’s mucous membranes can absorb it without having to digest it first.
This means that dogs with digestive issues, such as leaky gut syndrome, EPI, digestive upset and bowel disease, won’t have any issue soaking up the phytoplankton’s nutrients.
Fights Mineral Deficiency
Phytoplankton is loaded with trace minerals and it’s a good thing because almost every dog is mineral deficient.
Trace minerals are a must for good health as they support digestion, hormone regulation, enzyme function, thyroid health, and prevents dehydration and premature aging. In addition to preventing disease, trace minerals have the ability to reverse serious diseases as well.
Fights Cancer & Disease
You’ve probably heard about the benefits of antioxidants and how they counteract the harmful effects of free radicals.
Phytoplankton contains what some deem the king of antioxidants, Superoxide Dismutase (SOD). SOD protect cells by removing toxins like heavy metals from the body.
Additionally, research shows that animals with the longest lifespans, such as sea turtles, have large amounts of SOD. This is no surprise given it’s estimated to be 3500 times stronger than vitamin C.
Supports the Liver
Phytoplankton also provides a great deal of support to the liver. The liver is responsible for detoxification and is essential for absorption of nutrients; however, as your pup get older, their liver’s ability to carry out their functions decrease.
Since phytoplankton can be absorbed on a cellular level, “the body doesn’t have to rely on the digestive system or liver for processing.” Not to mention, phytoplankton aids the liver in detoxification.
Phytoplankton Best Practices
Hopefully, at this point, you’re wondering how to go about purchasing this powerhouse supplement for your pup! There are a standards you should adhere to when choosing phytoplankton.
It should be grown on land with sunlight, free of toxins like heavy metals and radiation, it should be watered with ocean water that has been filtered, and it should, of course, be non-GMO, vegan, and free of fillers.
Given its potency, your dog will only need a tiny bit, about 1/16 teaspoon per day for any dog. If the phytoplankton contains fillers, then the recommended dosage may change.
While fish oil may have once been a valid source of EFA, the ever-growing problem that is pollution has made the ocean a risky source for food and supplements. Phytoplankton is an amazing replacement as it goes above and beyond, offering more nutritional benefits than fish oil ever could.