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The ultimate DOGS Essential Fatty Acid (Omega 3, 6) science nutrition guide

Omega 3 capsulesEssential Fatty Acids benefit almost every cell in a human and dog's body.

However the main reason that owners become aware of Omega 3 and Omega 6, is that they are included in the ingredient list of their pet food or they see them at the chemist. What most dog owners with dogs who have allergic reactions and skin problems don't know is that the Omega's can massively help with these conditions.

That saves your dog a lot of pain, and you a lot of money in vet visits.

This article looks at the best sources of Omega 6 and Omega 3. We also define the specific quantities required and the best ratio of the essential fatty acids for optimum health results in your dog.

We also recommend 100% meat, organic dog treats that are very high in Omega 3 !

"inflammatory skin disorders that are associated with immunoglobulin E (lgE) mediated type 1 hypersensitivity (allergic) responses are most likely to respond favourably to modification of dietary fatty acid concentrations." Specifically these include: (ref 1)atopic dermatitis (atopy) flea bite hyper sensitivity, and food hypersensitivity.

Since most dogs get flea preventative medication, the use of the Omega is concentrated on resolving control of atopic skin disease in dogs and cats.

From personal experience I can tell you that my spoodle used to lick his paws and scratch is face a lot from birth. He was classed as a 'face scrubber' which is a class of dogs (up to 10% of poodles) that have hypersensitive skin.

The first time I trialled Omega supplements, I did it for too short a time and too low a dose. The second time around I gave the doses daily to him for 4 months and at the right level, and found a massive skin improvement. In particular while his fur colour was blonde, his whole feet and mouth and eyes were always dark brown. I soon found out that this was not cute markings but caused by excessive licking because of skin itchiness.

When the feet go this colour, and the skin between the pads goes red raw, then the ears will often get infected. It seems that once this extreme level of skin irritation etc occurs, that the immunity system is massively compromised and inflammation occurs that increases the issues. When skin in the ear becomes inflamed, it allows bacterial and fungal populations to flourish, which leads to an expensive trip the vet several times a year and harsh cortisone courses to be prescribe. The dog and the owner suffer.

Now my dog's paws are mostly back to his general fur colour except between the toes and a redness between the pads. He is still a face scrubber but the trips to the vet for ear infections have almost stopped (down from 4 per year).

Dog treats that are high in Omega 3

Meat is the best way of getting omega 3 into your dog's body.  Flax seed Omega 3 doesn't convert as easy to the chemicals required to combine with Omega 6 in the dogs body.  We recommend the following high Omega 3,  organic, 100% meat dog treats:

Kangaroo Jerky, Sardine, Hoki (blue grenadier), Green Lipped Mussels.

Omega 3, Omega 6, Omega 9 ... what's the difference?

In general fats are used for energy in dogs. However the essential fatty acids (EFA's) can not be produced by the body and are vital for  maintaining the health and integrity of epithelial tissues in the body.

The number after the Omega refers to where the carbon double bond is in the fat. For instance Omega 6 (n-6)  has the first carbon double bond in the sixth position from the methyl end and the Omega 3 (n-3) has the first double bond located at the third carbon position. Omega 9 is not required by dogs.

Omega 6 "parental form" is linoleic acid (this is what you will see in the dog food ingredients lists)

Omega 3 parental form is alpha linoleic acid.

In the body both these EFA's are converted to other long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LCP-UFA).

The LCPUFA's of greatest importance to dogs are:

• Arachidonic acid (AA) from Linoleic acid (Omega 6)

• eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) (20:5n-3)  & docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) (22:6n-3) from Omega 3 (18:3n-3) oil sources.

There are several conversion that occur after this, but for supplement giving, this is as far as we need to know.

Flaxseed oil, hempseed oil, and soybean oil are rich in Omega-3 (see table further down), but in the form of ALA. Note, ALA can be used as a supplement, but it needs to be converted by the dog into DHA and EPA first. This is why many dog nutritionist suggest that fish sources (containing DHA and EPA) are a better source of Omega 3, than plant sources.

"Studies generally agree that whole body conversion of 18:3n-3 (Omega 3) to 22:6n-3 (DHA) is below 5% in humans, and depends on the concentration of n-6 fatty acids and long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids in the diet. Complete oxidation of dietary 18:3n-3 to CO2 accounts for about 25% of 18:3n-3 in the first 24 h, reaching 60% by 7 days. Much of the remaining 18:3n-3 serves as a source of acetate for synthesis of saturates and monounsaturates, with very little stored as 18:3n-3." Ref 4

This suggests that using flax seed in kibble to provide Omega 3 oil is also likely to be very inefficient. Anti-Oxidants are added to stop rancidity of the acid, however the underlying poor conversion of ALA to DHA is the main concern.

The reason that plant source Omega 3 is often used in dog food is that it is cheaper than fish sources and it is easy to add an anti-oxidant to stop the oil going rancid. That said, you still need to keep all your Omega oils out of sunlight and oxygen.

During metabolism of Omega 3 and Omega 6, the oils compete for the same enzymes to make the conversion. This is why getting the right amount of each, and the ratio between them is of vital importance.

Linoleic acid is essential for maintaining the epidermal water barrier of the skin. Alpha linoleic acid main effect seems to be as a 'sparing effect' for Omega 6, as a source of LCPUFA's.

Effects of oversupply and under supply of EFA

Modern pellet diets are said not to be an issue since Omega 3 and Omega 6 are usually in them. However (even disregarding the conversion efficiency) the levels may not be high enough. You will see that deficiencies can result in a dull or dry coat, hair loss, skin lesions, poor wound healing and worse.

In other species studies, deficiencies have been known to cause nervous system problems, decreased eyesight, retinal abnormalities and reduction in learning and memory.

The problem with pellet mixes is when they have been poorly formulated or stored. High temperatures and humidity for long periods will make the EFA's go rancid and have no value to your dog. Pellets stored improperly will also reduce the amount of Vitamin D, E and biotin.

That is why pellet makers put anti oxidants in their mixes. Be aware that they typically use flax seed as a source of EFA however the oils in flax needs to be converted to another form before a dog can use them (unlike marine sources of Omega acids). Humans are able to convert ALA to EPA and to DHA, but very inefficiently. As little as 5% of the ALA is turned into EPA and as little as 1% into DHA.

Excess EFA's can make your dog fat and give it diarrhoea which causes nutrition loss. Long term feeding of fatty food scraps or excess EFA supplements can lead to vitamin E deficiency and pansteatitis.

Omega 3 should not exceed 4 % of your dog’s daily caloric intake (ME), or 500mg/kg body weight.

When young, my dog was on a raw diet that didn't include enough EFA's. Because of this his skin became greasy and the water barrier was compromised. "A change in surface lipids in the skin compromises the permeability layer. alters the normal bacterial flora, and predisposes the dog to secondary bacterial infections."

As well as fungal infections.  Which appear most often on the feet pads and the dog ears. Poodle ears are very susceptable to infections because of the shape of the canal, the ear hanging over the opening, and the breeds general skin allergy issues.

DOG HEALTH: HOW MUCH OMEGA 3 and OMEGA 6?

While not seen as essential for every dog (my dog would disagree) EFA's play the lesser role as energy source, increasing food palatability (especially grains) and to assist the transport of fat soluble vitamins in the body.

AAFCO standards mentions that AAFCO tables say a minimum of 1% of total food weight of Omega 6 is required. And "many commercial pet foods, have Omega 6 contribute more than 4% (ME) of the foods energy."

Note because the main contribution of fat is as an energy source Omega 3 that is 0.044% DM (dry matter) = 0.09% ME (metabolising Energy).  That is the ratio of % weight to % ME is 1 to 2.  So 4% ME Omega 6 is approximately equivalent to 2% Dry Matter weight.

It is recommended by the ref that "a reasonable starting dose for a fatty acid supplement is one that supplies 175 mg of total omega 3 fatty acids per kg of body weight (BW) per day (EPA + DHA). (R1 p 395, Ref 3)  That means for a 20 kg dog, they would require 3,500 mg of EPA + DHA. Standard Fish oil 1000mg capsules contain EPA 180 + DHA 120. This would mean 3,500 / 300 =  11 capsules daily. But this is only the Omega 3.

Omega 3DOG HEALTH: OMEGA 6 to OMEGA 3 RATIO

Ref 1  Acknowledges that there is no complete agreement on Omega ratios of absolute amounts.

For example Eukanuba Adult chicken - Omega 6 to Omega 3 ratio  is (2.3% : 0.3%) or  7.6

Canidae All life stages Chicken has Omega 6 : Omega 3 ratio ( 3.7% : 0.5%) or  7.4

Some studies have suggested that two to ten times the recommend dose might be necessary in puritic dogs. (R1 p375)

Originally texts suggested that the ratio should between 5:1 and 10:1 however recent studies suggest that the highest effectiveness might occur for ratios as low as 3:1.

If your dog is suffering the effects of lack of EFA's then potentially the 5:1  ratio might be a good ratio to aim for.

It is suggested that the Omega 6 content of a supplement should be between 1 and 4% of the metabolisable energy (ME) calories.

Energy requirements of dogs vary depending on age, sex (if pregnant) activity level, breed type (propensity to gain weight) etc.

A basic set of equations exist for energy requirement determination (Ref 1 p 66 )

Inactive kg dogs ME requirement = 95 x Wkg (power 0.75)

Active or working dogs ME = 130 x W Kg (power 0.75)

My adult dog receives two off lead walks per day. Then at 20Kg (ideal weight) ME = 105 x 20 (power 0.75)

= 105 x 9.457 = 993 kcal ME/ day

This value can then be used to determine the amount of food to feed your dog. For instance on pellet packets they will tell you the kcal/ kg value. If a pellet pack is 3800 kcal/kg  Then my dog would require  993 / 3800 Kg of pellets = 261 g of dog pellets.

For a 20 kg adult male dog on a ratio of Omega 6 to Omega 3 of 5:1  and using 3.5% Omega 6 DM (such as Canidae does). My dog would require 3.5% of 261g = 7.3g Omega 6.   Remember to increase the mg of Omega 6 oil to allow for the percentage of linoleic acid in it (see table below)

At a ratio of 5:1 means Omega 3 = 7.3 g / 5 = 1.47g. Regular 1000 mg fish oil (Omega 3) capsules have 180 mg  EPA + 120 mg DHA or 300 mg Omega 3. Using this as a source of Omega 3 we would need 1470 / 300 = 5 capsules.

Note the amount of meat and offal  in a raw diet can also be calculated using this energy calculation. Because meat has such a high percentage of water, the total volume of food will be larger, but the mg values of the EFA's will be the same (ie EFA amounts are based on total dry weight of the food).

SOURCES OF Essential Fatty Acids (EFA)

There are many sources however these are the main ones used in pet foods: Ref 1, p 387

Omega 6 EFA

OMEGA 3 EFA

Corn Oil (70% linoleic acid)

Coldwater fish oils (12-15% EPA)

Safflower Oil  (78% linoleic acid)

Flaxseed (57% alpha linoleic acid)

Sunflower Oil (69% linoleic acid)

Canola Oil (57% alpha linoleic acid)

Cottonseed Oil (54% linoleic acid)

Soybean oil (57% alpha linoleic acid)

Soybean Oil (54% linoleic acid)

 

Poor sources of Omega 3 and Omega 6 are:  Lard, mutton fat, coconut oil, olive oil.

Assuming that you use Omega 3 from marine sources, then the only issue you have to face, once you have decided on absolute amounts and ratios is your Omega 6 source.

The above table provides a good snapshot but the table below is required for practical application (ref 2)

Omega 6 Sources High Omega 6 Foods: OILS

Omega-6 Fat (% of total fat)

Linoleic Acid (milligrams)

Ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3 Fats

(Per Tablespoon)

 

 

 

Safflower Oil

75

10,149

77:1

Grapeseed Oil

70

9,470

947:1

Wheat Germ Oil

55

7,450

8:1

Corn Oil

54

7,280

46:1

Walnut Oil

53

7,190

5:1

Cottonseed Oil

52

7,020

234:1

Soybean Oil

51

6,940

8:1

Vegetable Oil

58

7,850

8:1

Sunflower Oil

66

5,410

180:1

 

For instance one tablespoon = 14.28 grams

That is why one tablespoon of safflower oil that is composed of 75% Omega 6, has 14.28 x 0.75 = 10.7 g Omega 6. Note it also has low Omega 3, so you are not having to consider the Omega 3 addition if using that oil (ie wont affect the ratio).

Thus to get 7.3g Omega 6.  I would need to use 1/0.75 x 7.3 g =  9.7g of Safflower oil.

The Sunflower Oil I just bought says it has 58% Omega 6, so to get 7.3g of Omega 6 I need 1/.58 x 7.3g = 12.6 g.  NOTE the lower the amount of Omega 6 in an oil, the more you have to give, and the more "empty" calories you are giving (ie you have to sacrifice meat product and its higher nutrient content) to achieve the same total energy amount in your dog's diet.

The good thing about Safflower Oil is that it has 34 mg Vitamin E per 100g of Safflower oil, thus while EFA's can diminish the value of Vitamin E, this oil actually comes with some thus neutralising the affect of degradation of Vitamin E.

100g of Safflower Oil has 3701 kJ of energy. Thus 9.7 g of Safflower Oil has 360 Kj of energy which should be accounted for by a decrease in a dogs total dietary energy intake.

I show how to calculate EFA values into a dogs total dietary energy intake in a future raw dog diet article.

You will notice that most human EFA supplements are often Omega 3 only, or Omega 3+6+9 (in the wrong ratio). Omega 9 is not necessary for dogs and can actually add to inflammations.

Be aware that land animals (this is important for a raw diet feeder) have higher concentrations of Omega 6 in their tissues because the plants the animals digest are usually Omega 6 biased. For instance beef meat contains around 0.44% Omega 6 which is about half of the minimum affco requirement. So on a raw meat diet you can use slightly less additional Omega 6 oil.

Lesser used sources of Omega 6 (GLA form gamma linolenic acid) are borage, black current and evening primrose oil.

A US company called 'balanceit' recommends 11.8g of Canola oil for a healthy 22 kg dog fed on a carnivore diet. 'nutritiondata' states that 14g (a tablespoon) of Canola provides 2610mg Omega 6 and 1279g Omega 3, Which would provide a Omega 6 to Omega 3 ratio of 2.  Like flax see it is likely that the canola oil Omega 3 is high in ALA version, and so is less suitable for a dog.

PAW brand has an Omega 3 Omega six solution of "pure & fresh fish oil and linseed (flaxseed) oil that is stabilised using vitamin E"  They sell this in a 200g bottle and recommend  1 ml per 7 Kg dog.  No concentrations are given.

CONCLUSIONS

If you are feeding your dogs on a pellet diet that says that it is complete and balanced. Then it means that it abides by the 1% minimum Omega 6 value. It does not have to state its Omega 3 value.

If your dog has dry coat or has skin allergies, it might be worthwhile supplementing its EFA amounts.

If you are feeding your dog a home-made raw or otherwise diet. They are likely to not be gaining sufficient EFA's.  From the above information it appears that an Omega 6 value somewhere between 1- 4% of the total weight of your dogs daily diet (dry weight of food) is required, and the Omega 6 to Omega 3 value should be somewhere between 5 to 1 and 10 to 1, in extreme allergy cases this may be as low as 3:1

If you feed your dog a manufactured dog food diet, the Omega 3 is most likely from vegetable sources and in quantities too low to make a significant health benefit. This means you should consider supplementing your dogs Omega 6 and Omega 3 intake.

Be aware that it takes up to 12 weeks when starting Omega supplementation to see benefits to skin dermatitis (if at all - some dogs don't respond).  The ratio of Omega 6 to Omega 3 is believed to be just as important as the absolute amount of EFA's used.

Fish sources of Omega 3 are more useful to dogs than plant based sources because they don't have to go through another conversion step to be used.

Omega 6 sources can be from any of the ones shown in the tables in this article.

Remember that EFA's when exposed to light and heat eventually become rancid, even a few hours will diminish their strength. I personally have poured my Omega 6 rich oil into a glass bottle that I keep in a dark cupboard, and I use a vacuum pump to seal the cap to reduce oxidation.

If buying a ready-made Essential Fatty Acids formula for either humans or dogs, ensure that you know the sources and the amount of mg used in the formula. Vitamin E may be sacrificed if too high a level of Omega 3 is used. Deficiencies in Vitamin E can cause reproductive failure in dogs. An excess of EFA's may also increase vitamin A and D requirements.

Get your vet to check this information over before you use it with your dog. AND make sure that they can provide genuine referenced counter evidence if they doubt any of this information. At the end of the day, you are solely responsible for your dogs health.

 

Article by Bruce Dwyer. If you wish to use any of this information please refer to the article as a reference and provide a link tohttp://www.healthydogtreats.com.au

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References

Ref 1  Canine and Feline Nutrition 3rd edition  Case Et al

Ref 2   www.genesmart.com/pages/high_omega_6_foods__omega_6_sources/222.php

Ref 3   The (n-3) Fatty Acid Dose, Independent of the (n-6) to (n-3) Fatty Acid Ratio, Affects the Plasma Fatty Acid Profile of Normal Dogs    Jean A. Hall2, et al  2006

Ref 4  Efficiency of conversion of alpha-linolenic acid to long chain n-3 fatty acids in man. Brenna JT.  Division of Nutritional Sciences, Savage Hall, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York 14853, USA.

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