Being itchy is no fun for anyone and that includes your dog. Itchiness is a common problem for dogs and a true frustration for pet owners. This is especially true when your dog is biting, chewing, and scratching ALL night long. There are a variety of causes for your dog’s itchiness but there can also be other reasons they seem uncomfortable. Each potential cause of itchy skin or potential discomfort has its own specific treatments and preventive steps. Did you know that there is one common product that not only could potentially improve your dog’s skin and decrease itchiness BUT also help with many other aspects of their health and discomfort? There is — fish oil.
While fish oils are one of my favorite supplements, they are not a magic wand that makes all your dog’s problems, itching or otherwise, go away. In many cases though, they can be a helpful and beneficial addition to your dog’s itchy skin treatment, part of your dog’s itchy skin prevention and a boost to general health and comfort.
Why is Fish Oil Good for Dogs?
You may be wondering how fish oils are able to help. Well, Omega-3 fatty acids, specifically Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), that are present in fish oils can help decrease inflammation in not only skin cells, but throughout your dog’s body. When a body is under a state of constant inflammation, regardless of the cause or location, cells suffer microscopic damage and oxidative stress. When this occurs, there is an increased risk of illness and disease.
Guess what? Fish oil benefits don’t end with just reducing inflammation. That’s right, they offer potential benefits to other parts of the body and help with different diseases. Studies and clinical experiences are also suggesting a role for the use of fish oils in the management of a host of conditions in dogs.
Here are just some of the known benefits of giving your dog fish oil:
- Slows the progression of chronic kidney disease
- Lowers blood pressure
- Can help with mobility issues due to arthritis and degenerative joint disease
- Certain heart conditions, such as atrial fibrillation
- For puppies, studies show that puppies with increased DHA learned and retained skills faster
- For senior dogs, it helped improve recognition of other pets and family members and seems to decrease the behavior of pattern-pacing and other symptoms of cognitive decline
- Help lower triglyceride levels in the blood which is important for those dogs suffering from pancreatitis, heart disease, and inflammatory bowel disease
- Found to slow the development (by inhibiting cell growth) and metastasis (spread) of certain cancers, such as lymphoma and mammary tumors
- Improves coat condition, helping it be more silky and shiny
How to Choose the Best Fish Oil for Your Dog
While the list of the benefits of fish oils is seemingly tremendous there are some things to consider. Their benefits are impacted by your dog getting the right formulation, from a reputable source, and at the correct dose. It is important to realize that fish oils are not a stand-alone therapy for any of the conditions mentioned. Plus, even though they are generally quite safe, they do have potential negative side effects. For these reasons, it is essential to consult with your pet’s veterinarian so they can determine if the addition of fish oils to your dog’s daily routine will be useful in the management of any conditions your dog may have.
What Type of Fish Oil Should You Give Your Dog?
As mentioned, the benefits of fish oils require that the formulation is correct. When buying Omega-3 fatty acids, you must be aware if you are buying the triglyceride formulation (the natural one) or the ethyl ester formulation (manufactured one). The information should be visible on the label. Avoid using the manufactured ethyl ester formulation of Omega-3. The reason you do not want the ethyl ester product, even though it is less expensive, is because its health benefits are inferior. It is less stable, at least 40% lower absorption by the body, and it don’t taste as good. It has also been found that this formulation causes dogs to be more ‘gassy’ and who wants to deal with that! Instead, look for the natural triglyceride formulation of Omega-3.
Where is the Fish Oil Sourced?
As with anything that we or our pets consume, you want the source to be reputable and reliable. Over the years, fish oils have grown in popularity in both human and animal health. Therefore, manufacturers have made a lot of claims in regard to their products to boost sales. Unfortunately, fish oil supplements are not regulated by the FDA. This means that these supplements may not meet their label claims for DHA or EPA and could potentially exceed the recommended amounts.
When evaluating what fish oils to buy, you want to look at some key features:
- Purity. Be sure to check the labels Certification of Analysis (CoA). Fish oils can contain heavy metals and other contaminants especially if they come from polluted waters. Know where the fish were caught for your supplement.
- Freshness. Fish oils can easily go bad. This is another reason the CoA is important. The CoA’s anisidine and peroxide values help you know the freshness, which is measured by oxidation. They should be less than 5mEq/kg.
- Potency. The product must contain DHA and EPA. If you're wanting to focus on helping your dog's skin issues, such as itchiness, use oil with higher levels of EPA than DHA. The amount of DHA should be higher than EPA if you are trying to support brain health particularly, since it provides the most benefits.
- Bioavailability. The fish oil must be in the natural triglyceride form for optimal absorption by the body. Don’t use the synthetic form, which are sometimes labeled as EE-based (ethyl-esters) or sold as omega-3 fish oil concentrate.
Consult with your veterinarian on the brand they recommend that may be best suited for your dog. Some recommended products, since they have been analyzed for purity, accuracy and safety are:
Omega Benefits by Veterinary Recommended Solutions (VRS)
Only Use Fish Oils Made Specifically for Dogs
I cannot stress enough, there are several reasons not to use human fish oil supplements for your dog. They may have added sweeteners such as xylitol, which is highly toxic to dogs.
We have a regularly updated list of products that contain xylitol, including a few brands of fish oils. Please read labels and keep your eyes open, and if you find a fish oil that contains xylitol and isn't on our list, please let us know.
Fish oils formulated for humans may have added flavoring which can create adverse reactions to those dogs with food allergies. Also, there may be other added ingredients that may not be suitable for dogs. For example, some human fish oil supplements contain vitamin D. The commonly supplemented doses of vitamin D can be toxic for your dog.
How Much Fish Oil Should You Give Your Dog?
Now you know what formulation to use and what to look for with regards to a reputable source. The last thing to take into account is the dose. If you under-dose your dog, you will lose the benefits of fish oils. If you overdose your dog, you can potentially cause harm (read more about this below).
I recommend consulting with your dog’s veterinarian in order to calculate the exact dose your dog needs based on their current weight. For reference, the typical dosing range is 75–100 mg/kg. But typically, the Canine Arthritis Resources and Education suggests 100 mg/kg.
Potential Adverse Side Effects of Using Fish Oil for Dogs
It is important to consult with your veterinarian because while fish oil is generally quite safe, there are some potential adverse effects, especially if the dose is incorrect for your pet.
The following are some things to be aware of when adding a fish oil supplement to your dog's diet:
- Supplement and drug interactions — such as Anticoagulants, Doxorubicin, and NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs)
- Vitamin, herbal therapies and supplement interactions
- Changes in platelet functions which can lead to blood clotting issues
- Weight gain
- Vomiting and diarrhea
- Delayed wound healing
- Effects on insulin sensitivity
- Vitamin A overdose can occur
In addition to the above-mentioned potential side effects, you must use caution with dogs under the following circumstances:
- Pre-existing diabetes
- History of diarrhea
- Prior history of pancreatitis. This is especially true in Schnauzers and Yorkshire Terriers, both of which are predisposed to pancreatitis.
- Pregnant or nursing dogs
Overall, the benefits of fish oils are tremendous. I highly recommend consulting with your dog’s veterinarian to determine how you can safely incorporate them into your dog’s daily routine.