Like humans, dogs cannot make their own omega 3 fatty acids, which are essential for their heart health, brain & vision function, inflammation processes, and much more.
There are many types of omega 3s, but the most important ones are ALA, EPA, and DHA.1
And just like humans, dogs especially need the EPA and DHA types of omega-3s.2
If dogs or cats have an omega 3 deficiency, this could result in health issues such as decreased visual sharpness.
Dogs need proteins the most in their diets, and after those, they need fats.
Undomesticated dogs get around half their calories or energy from fat.
For dogs, fats function as chemical messengers, form part of the membranes of the dog’s cells, help their bodies absorb vitamins A, D, E, and K, control their hormones, and play a role in inflammation.
By contrast, carbohydrates only provide energy for dogs – they serve no other function.3
Of course, when it comes to fats, there are various kinds – grouped into saturated, unsaturated and polyunsaturated.
Your dog needs both the first and the second, but tends to have some issues with the third type.4
Polyunsaturated fats can in turn be divided into omega 6 and omega 3s.
The omega 6s are important for inflammation, blood clotting, and cell growth.
The omega 3s, on the other hand, also have an impact on the dog’s immune system.
The omegas work alongside each other, so it is important that your dog gets a reasonable balance of the two.5
Unfortunately, the meats that dogs tend to eat have much higher ratios of omega-6 fats to omega-3s, than if the dog were to eat purely wild meat.
This is because most farm animals have a diet that is heavy in grains, soy, and corn.
Higher ratios of omega 6s can result in too much inflammation (that is, chronic inflammation), and that is one of the main causes of degenerative and inflammatory health issues in dogs.6
The nutritional needs of each animal vary, especially depending on if they are heavy meat eaters, or mostly herbivores.
Cats are similar to dogs, in that they too cannot produce omega-3s, and they need that balance of omega-6s and omega-3s.7
They also need omega-3s for healthy skin and fur, some hormone production, absorbing vitamins, insulating their bodies, and for protecting their organs.
Animals’ omega needs also vary by life stages. Growing kittens and puppies need more DHA omega-3s than adults do. 8
In addition to protein and fats, both cats and dogs need fibre.
They need fermentable fibre, which is typically found in wheat, vegetables, and rice. And while kittens and puppies need more fats and protein as their energy levels are so high, they do not need as much high-fibre foods.
Most of the food that cats and dogs eat contains the vitamins and minerals that they need, such as calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, sodium, potassium, chlorine, and iron.9
Finally, pet birds and poultry also need a good balance of omega-3s and omega-6s.
They can get their omega-3s from flaxseed, walnuts, and nuts, and they can get their omega-6s from sunflower seeds, and the typical seeds, corns, and grains found in bird food.10
Because captive birds tend to get much less exercise than their wild counterparts, hardening of their arteries is fairly common.
Diets that are high in sunflower seeds, for example, can also contribute to this.
The omega-3s, on the other hand, play an important role in inhibiting inflammation in the blood vessels, reducing plaque formation, and thereby protecting the birds’ arteries.11
To balance out the amount of omega 6s in your dog’s diet (which, when bought pre-made, is often a combination of farm meats and grains), you can add whole fish to their diet.
Fish is high in omega 3s and in some minerals. The small fish such as sardines and anchovies that eat phytoplankton rather than other fish, are some of the best. 12
But, what if your dog does not like fish?
Fish oil supplements are one option, though be aware that they can go off quickly, so it always pays to keep a close eye on the expiry date.
Fish oil as a supplement is often given to dogs and cats for some inflammatory skin diseases, heart issues, and to support optimal bodily function and neuronal development.
You can also get dog and cat foods with fish oil added to them.13
Hempseed is another possible supplement, but one issue is that its omega 3s are the ALA type, rather than the EPA and DHA types that dogs, cats, and humans need.14
Last updated: 16 March 2021
Joined Holland & Barrett: Apr 2019
Masters Degree in Toxicology and BSc Hons in Medical Biochemistry
Bhupesh started his career as a Clinical Toxicologist for Public Health England, advising healthcare professionals all around the country on how to manage clinical cases of adverse exposure to supplements, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, industrial chemicals and agricultural products.
After 7 years in this role and a further year working as a drug safety officer in the pharmaceutical industry, Bhupesh joined Holland & Barrett as a Senior Regulatory Affairs Associate in 2019.