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Omega-3 fatty acids are a family of polyunsaturated fatty acids, some of which are beneficial for the body. Some of these nutritionally important omega-3 fatty acids are a-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Unfortunately, plants are the only organisms that can naturally produce omega-3. This is why plants, especially seeds, contain high amounts of omega-3 fatty acid. And among these plant sources, flaxseed contains the most omega-3. Fish get their Omega-3 from the plankton or algae they feed on (e.g., herring, sardines and anchovies). Carnivorous fish such as salmon and cod get their omega-3 from the smaller fish they eat.

Historical Background

Omega-3 fatty acids have been used to improve general health for centuries through the intake of cod liver oil. This practice was first observed by the people from fishing communities of northern Europe since they believed that cod liver oil could improve their body’s resistance against the extreme cold.

In the 1920s, American scientists discovered that rats deprived of polyunsaturated fatty acids developed symptoms of illness. They concluded that polyunsaturated fatty acids were vital for bodily function and named them vitamin F.

By the 1930s, more people were aware of the health benefits of polyunsaturated fatty acids. A testament to its popularity is that mothers were giving their children cod liver oil, and in the fifties, the nutraceutical industry based on omega-3 supplements was flourishing. In the 1980s, a Danish scientist discovered that omega-3 fatty acids played a central role in immunity, platelet aggregation and inflammation.

Now omega-3 supplements are consumed all over the world. In fact, omega-3 supplements are not only used by humans, but also by dogs, who are now able to enjoy the health benefits of omega-3.

Plant Omega-3 versus Fish Omega-3

Which is better for your dog? Unless your dog is allergic to fish, omega-3 from fish oil is always better than omega-3 from plant sources. Most people will find this answer surprising because it is popular knowledge that plant sources especially flaxseed oil contains higher amounts of omega-3 than fish oil. Furthermore, more people are now ambivalent of consuming fish high in omega- 3 because of studies showing that their flesh contains heavy metals and fat-soluble pollutants.

However, fish oil remains the better choice. It is true that plant sources have more omega-3 but it is in the form of a-linolenic acid or ALA. What is most beneficial for your dog is eicosapentaenoic acid or EPA. Although the dog’s system can convert ALA to EPA, the process is not as efficient.

In addition, when it comes to the issue of heavy metals and fat-soluble pollutants they should not be a source of concern as you have to consume very large amounts of fish or fish oil before you will see any side effects. Also, fish oil products are highly regulated and are generally very safe.

Benefits of Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids play an important role in many bodily functions. This is the reason why it can also be called essential fatty acids. In veterinary medicine, it has only been a recent practice where omega-3 is used to control inflammation and maintain joint health as in the past omega-3 was used merely for its ability to improve the dog’s skin and coat.

Currently, an omega-3 supplement is a necessary part of any dog arthritis treatment plan. Omega-3 fatty acids’ benefits are threefold. Firstly, it is able to reduce inflammation. Although this may sound confusing, omega-3 is actually pro-inflammatory but to a lesser extent. The explanation why a pro-inflammatory agent can reduce inflammation is quite complex. However, in simple words, omega-3 is able to reduce inflammation because it competes with other enzymes that are pro-inflammatory. Therefore, when omega-3 is used instead of the other pro-inflammatory agents by the body during injury or infection, the resulting inflammation is much less. Secondly, omega-3 slows down cartilage damage. A study done at Cardiff University in Wales found that omega-3 from cod liver oil was able to reduce the amount of enzymes produced that can damage the cartilage in human patients. Plus, it also showed a reduction in the enzymes that cause joint pain. Lastly, omega-3 reduces the genetic expression of inflammatory molecules. The mechanism behind this is that omega-3 is able to reduce the level of TNF-alpha, a pro inflammatory mediator, responsible for the release of MMP (matrix metalloproteinases) enzymes, which are enzymes released by connective tissue cells in response to the presence of inflammation. Also, omega-3, specifically DHA and EPA, are precursors for potent anti-inflammatory lipids called resolvins and protectins.

Aside from dog arthritis and unhealthy skin and coat, omega-3 can be useful in the following situations:

  • Allergies and autoimmune conditions
  • Yeast infections
  • To encourage the proper development of the retina and visual cortex
  • Heart problems
  • Certain type of cancers
  • Hypertension

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Comments (9)

  1. Posted by: Ricky July 5, 2012, 10:26 PM

    Hi my name is Rick and my dog, Vergne, is a 7 year old male Black Lab and last September he was diagnosed with Diabetes and Arthritis. I am currently giving him Insulin injections 2sx a day for the Diabetes and DHA ALGAL 900, 3 capsules every day for his Arthritis. The DHA ALGAL 900 comes from Algae extract instead of ” Fish Oil ” and I am looking for another suppliment for his Arthritis that might be a better option for him but I don’t want a ” Glucosamine product “. I have read that Glucosamine is based on amino sugars in long chains and I guess that is not a good thing to give to a Diabetic dog…??? What would you suggest to give to a dog that has Diabetes and Arthritis when I want to treat his Arthristis ??? I am also giving him 50 mg of ULTRAM 2xs a day for pain relief but I would like to get off the prescription drug IF at all possible, I just don’t want him to be in any pain and I am pretty sure we BOTH would like it if he were able to move easier, the diabetes seems to have had taken a sedentary effect on him and he was always running around and jumping up and down when it was time to eat or time to go out. I appreciate any and all suggestions !!! Thank you very much !!!

    1. Posted by: christopher July 6, 2012, 9:23 PM

      Hi Ricky,

      So the diabetes is under control on the insulin?

      The DHA is fine. I actually didn’t know you could make it from algae so I learnt something :)

      My understanding is that you still need the EPA, both of these are Omega 3 fatty acids derived from the breakdown of alpha-linoleic acid. That is as far as my biochemistry goes!

      Check on the labelling and it should say if EPA is present or not.

      ETA is the one that I am most interested in, is kind of new and you won’t find it in many supplements. You can find it in this one… Flexerna

      As far as glucosamine goes, I would be surprised if the sugars in this turn into glucose and throw out the diabetes. I don’t think that is a problem at all. Of course you would monitor the diabetes as you are using the supplements and make sure all is ok.

      What would I give? Well, it sounds like you want to minimize the prescription drugs. In that case you need to do the supplements very well. Flexerna is good and will be stronger as an anti-inflammatory than your algae DHA.

      If you have read my blog you will see I suggest the supplement Glycanaid quite a lot. The formulation is very well thought out and it helps a lot. You can get my book free with it here…

      Glycanaid + Book ‘Modern Dog Arthritis Treatment’

      Other options would be Dasuquin, or maybe Glycoflex III. Any of these are good supplements but I can’t offer my book as a freebie on the others.

      Once you have been using the Glycanaid HA for 4-6 weeks we can then talk about other supplements to add in if needed.

      Dr. Chris

  2. Posted by: Eileen March 9, 2011, 10:47 PM

    I give my dog Omega 3 from fish oil and she has the most shiny, beautiful coat that I’ve ever seen on a dog. It is smooth and silky. She also stopped scratching herself; I get comments all the time when we go for a walk that she still looks like a puppy.

    1. Posted by: christopher March 27, 2011, 4:45 AM

      Yes Eileen, Omega 3s are excellent for skin as well as for joints :) Through exactly the same chemical pathway that they relieve inflammation.

  3. Posted by: Jana Rade March 5, 2011, 5:54 PM

    I remember when mom was feeding me fish oil, not a pleasant memory! LOL Jasmine doesn’t like it either, we have to give her hers in form of gels.

    This is a great in depth article!

    1. Posted by: christopher March 27, 2011, 4:56 AM

      Thank you Jana for your continued interest in my blog, your comments are always welcome :) Happy to write another guest post for you soon, just getting on top of my ebook first.


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