Updated: Aug 11
Read this blog post to find out:
What are EFAs?
What's so good about EFAs and why does my pet need them?
What are some good sources of EFAs for my dog or cat?
What are EFAs?
EFAs (Essential Fatty Acids) are polyunsaturated fatty acids (omega-6 and omega-3) that are essential to human and animal health.
There are two families of EFAs – omega 3 and omega 6. The two families act very differently within the body with the omega 3 EFAs having an anti-inflammatory effect and the omega 6 EFAs having both a pro-inflammatory and anti-inflammatory effect.
Each of the EFA families consist of chain acids as demonstrated in the below graphic. The Omega-3 family consists of ALA, which is then converted into EPA, DHA and DPA. The Omega-6 family consists of LA, which is then converted into GLA, DGLA and AA.
Both families of EFAs are essential for optimum health but the proper balance between the two families needs to be achieved. Current research indicates that an optimal omega-6 to omega-3 ratio for cats and dogs is 10:1 to 5:1.
What’s so good about EFAs and why does my pet need them?
Like humans, dogs and cats require both types of EFAs. EFAs produce prostaglandins which help regulate every aspect of a body’s functioning.
EFAs are important in respect of development, especially for the nervous system and the heart. They are precursors to many important hormones and other compounds in the body. In dogs and cats, they’re particularly important for skin and coat health.
Supplementing omega-3 fatty acids from fish is said to support dogs and cats with inflammatory conditions associated with the skin, joints, kidneys and heart. Omega-3 has the benefit of normalizing an over-reactive immune system. In this respect, omega-3 is an essential part of a diet for a dog or cat with allergies.
In dogs, omega-3 EPA is said to promote healthy triglyceride levels in blood. In puppies and kittens omega-3 DHA is said to play a key role in neurological and retinal development. It may even be beneficial for pets with aggressive conditions.
Arachidonic acid (AA) is one of the omega-6 acids that cats require but dogs don't. Cats cannot make their own AA because a cat’s liver contains no delta-6-desaturase enzyme, which is required to convert LA to AA. Dogs can make their own provided they consume enough LA.
AA plays an important role in the control of blood clotting, pain, inflammation and contraction of the muscles of the intestines and bladder. It is especially important for normal cat reproduction.
Without adequate levels of EFAs, many health problems can arise, including:
dull, dry coat
significant skin eruptions
greasy skin with itching and scratching
skin that won’t heal from wounds
liver and kidney degeneration
increased susceptibility to infections
heart and circulatory problems
stiff or painful joints
What are some good sources of EFAs for my cat or dog?*--
Good sources of EFAs for your cat or dog are shown in the below graphic.
Fish oils are considered by some to be the best way to supplement dogs and cats with omega-3 EFAs due to the difficulty dogs and cats have converting ALA to EPA and DHA.
As obligate carnivores, cats will better utilise EFA from animal sources rather than plant sources and therefore the best EFA sources for the feline are meat, fish, eggs and fish/seafood oils/powders.
However, there are a number of issues with fish and fish oils. They can be toxic due to contaminants, oxidation and they're not sustainable.
Our oceans are very contaminated. Think heavy metals like arsenic, lead and mercury. Then there's also dioxins, PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls from industrial products or chemicals that build up through the food chain, with highest amounts and worst effects seen in top predators like sharks and dolphins) and radioactive particles.
These contaminants bioaccumulate in marine organisms. A human or animal that consumes contaminated seafood can experience an adverse affect on their health eg issues relating to the skin, liver, kidneys, hormones, immune system, nervous system, cancers and so on.
Fish oils can become rancid when exposed to air or light. The fat particles oxidate creating free radicals. These free radicals can cause oxidative damage in the body. Oxidative damage can cause a number of health issues like gene mutations, cancer and inflammatory conditions.
Fish and fish oils are not sustainable. When fish are caught for consumption, other marine life can get caught by accident. It's estimated that fishery nets kill 300,000 whales, porpoises and dolphins each year! To give you some perspective, between 1997 and 2012, their population numbers were cut in half.
Menhaden fish is a very popular type of fish used in pet foods. It's estimated that half a billion menhaden are fished from our oceans every year, resulting in dead zones (areas with a lack of oxygen).
It is important to ensure that you only give fish/seafood oils or powders to your cat or dog that are pure and clean. Some seafood supplements I recommend to clients include Green Lipped Mussel Powder and HempPet. I also recommend microalgae and for dogs incorporating ground up flax/chia/hemp seeds in their diet.
You can feed fish to your pet but make sure it’s small oily fish only like sardines, mackerel and herring and keep it to a maximum of 10% of their diet.
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1. University of Maryland Medical Centre 2011, Omega-6 fatty acids, viewed 3 March 2014, https://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/supplement/omega6-fatty-acids.
2. Dym, M 2011, Recommended Omega-3 and Omega-6 Ratio for Pets, viewed 3 March 2014, http://blog.petmeds.com/ask-the-vet/omega-3-and-omega-6-acid-benefits-for-pets/#.UxQMKFwwJg0.
3. Billinghurst, I 1993, ‘Give Your Dog a Bone’, Warrigal Publishing Bathurst
4. Hofve, J 2010, Omega-3s are Essential for your Cat, Little Big Cat, viewed 10 March 2014, http://www.littlebigcat.com/nutrition/omega-3s-are-essential-for-your-cat/
5. Perea, S 2010, Q & A Omega-3 Fish Oils for Dogs and Cats, Nordic Naturals, viewed 10 March 2014, http://www.nordicnaturals.com/petRet/images/PetQ+A0310.pdf
6. petMD n.d, Cats are Different: How a Cat’s Nutritional Needs are Different from a Dog’s, viewed 10 March 2014, http://www.petmd.com/cat/nutrition/evr_ct_cat_nutritional_needs_different?page=3
7. Pitcairn, R 2005, ‘Dr Pitcairn’s Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs and Cats’, Rodale USA
8. ec.europa.eu. (n.d.). Seafood contaminants - Marine - Environment - European Commission. [online] Available at: https://ec.europa.eu/environment/marine/good-environmental-status/descriptor-9/index_en.htm.
9. Dogs Naturally. (2019). Fish Oil For Dogs: Safe Or Not? [online] Available at: https://www.dogsnaturallymagazine.com/fish-oil-omega-3-dogs-safe/ [Accessed 11 Aug. 2020].