The more our field learns about fish oil and omega fatty acids, the more we veterinarians have been recommending them. There’s a good chance your pet, or a pet you know, has been recommended to be on fish oil. It’s great for problem skin (big time!), arthritis, kidney disease, heart disease, and even can help fight dementia!
Have you ever then gone to a store and looked at the fish oil section? It’s a bit daunting. Which form? How much? For a while, we vets really didn’t know what to tell people, as there was no agreed-upon consensus. But, we’re getting there.
Here’s what makes it complicated – all fish oil is not the same! And if you’re thinking coconut oil will be better, step away from the coconut oil! If your veterinarian recommended fish oil or flax oil, that’s what they mean. (Coconut oil is entirely different and by no means equivalent!) We mainly want Omega-3 fatty acids, which also go by the name DHA and EPA. (Here’s my more in depth article about omega fatty acids – they are NOT in coconut oil!). When you pick up the bottle of fish oil, it will advertise on the front something like 1,000mg. Great! Grab it and go, right? Not so fast.
There are three kinds of omega fatty acids that can show up on a fish oil label. Omega 9 only sometimes shows up. We really don’t care about it, so I mention it just so it is not a distraction. Omega 6 is almost always on there. Thing is Omega 6 fatty acids can be found in a lot of other foods, so we really do not need to worry about supplementing it. Remember, we want Omega 3. Well, the bummer is, that 1,000mg fish oil capsule probably has 200mg or so of Omega 3. If your vet said to give your dog 1,000 mg of Omega 3 fatty acids, that would be FIVE of those capsules! Keep shopping!
If your vet carries a product they like, or if they know of a brand, ask them! Thankfully, many companies have come out with fish oil supplements that are primarily omega 3, so they are easier to find. Here’s one of my favorites, called Welactin, and no, I didn’t get paid to say this!
Here’s two examples of fish oil products. One is a human product, like many “human” products on store shelves (they are meant for people, after all!). The other is a veterinary product.
The product on the left is all omega 3 fatty acids. You aren’t giving your pet a lot of extra oil he doesn’t need. The product on the right is for people, and out of 1200mg in that capsule, only 360 are omega 3! That might be fine for people, but it’s not what we’re shooting for in our pets!
Again, ask your vet for what brand they carry. A lot of vets may not stock a product, just because there are so many out there, but most vets these days have online pharmacies with many options as well.
I have talked about capsules here, but many people prefer the oil version on top of the pet’s food. It often comes with a little measuring scoop, is less messy than it sounds, and is an easy way to dose your pet accurately. Let’s face it, fish oil is kind of nasty. Most pets like gross things, so it tends to go over well! Another option, especially for cats and smaller dogs, is a “twist-tab”. It’s a little capsule containing fish oil that you twist (or cut) the end off of, and pour the oil onto the food. It may take some experimenting to find the version both you and your pet agree on.
Below is a chart on how I dose omega 3 fatty acids in my patients. If your vet suggested a different number, go with it! Again, there is no strong consensus yet, and there’s a wide range of safety on these supplements. My doses are actually on the medium/lower end, so there’s plenty of room to go higher if it’s needed!
BUT, always check with your vet before starting any supplements! With fish oil, pets with certain uncommon blood disorders may actually worsen from taking this, so don’t just go popping pills without a quick phone call!
**On the above chart, the weights listed are in pounds**
Finally, yes, I talked about DHA and EPA, which are found in fish oil. There is another kind of omega 3 fatty found in flax seed oil, called ALA. This has not been as well studied, but there are no indications ALA is not as effective as EPA or DHA. It also is a nice vegetarian and vegan option. The same dosing would apply for ALA.