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Essential Fatty Acids: Can Omega Fish Oils Improve Canine Osteoarthritis?

We’ve touched on looking after our pet’s joints before, we looked at how the most common type of joint supplement (glucosamine and chondroitin) can have beneficial effects towards osteoarthritis, a type of degenerative joint disease.

New research is now looking in to the possibilities of other supplements to aid the joint health of our beloved pets, and this time around, omega fish oils are the centre of that research.

We’re all probably familiar with omega fish oils as they have been sold as a human supplement for quite some time, to aid cognitive function and improve our general health, but now omega fish oils (particularly omega-3) have been shown to improve joint health too.

Canine Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis is a degenerative joint disorder, meaning the disease become progressively worse over time. It can affect the health and well-being of our dogs, making everyday life difficuly for them as they find moving increasingly difficult and painful.

Over 20% of dogs aged 1 or older are believed to be affected by osteoarthritis, unfortunately there is no ‘cure’ but the disease can be managed by providing a diet that is beneficial towards joint health. As the disease progresses and becomes more severe, many owners turn to pharmaceuticals to treat the disease under the recommendation of their vet.

NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) are the most commonly used drug to treat osteoarthritis, and although these drugs are becoming increasingly effective with time, they can still cause unwanted side effects with long term usage – including potentially fatal gastric ulcers. This is why many pet owners prefer a natural alternative, such as dietary supplementation, to manage their pet’s osteoarthritis.

Omega-3 Shows Potential as an Alternative to Traditional Joint Supplements and Pharmaceuticals

Omega-3 is a type of fatty acid, which the body uses to create eicosanoids – a family of signalling molecules used by the body. One function of eicosanoids is to mediate inflammation, it is this role that is an important factor in the pain associated with osteoarthritis.

Eicosanoids derived from omega-3 fatty acids are less potent inducers of inflammation, reducing the pain associated with osteoarthritis.

Omega-6 fatty acid concentration is suppressed by omega-3 fatty acids. Because, omega-6 fatty acids produce more potent inflammatory mediators, this is another beneficial effect of omega-3 supplementation.

The Typical Goals of a Joint-Health Diet

Every diet with the goal of managing osteoarthritis does so by trying to achieve the following:

  • Support overall health
  • Maintain a healthy body weight (as obesity is a contributing factor to osteoarthritis)
  • Improve joint and cartilage health
  • Decrease the pain and inflammation associated with osteoarthritis and joint disease
  • Increase mobility by addressing the above
  • Tackle any underlying contributing factors such as nutritional imbalances

Does Omega-3 Show Potential for Joint Health?

A recent study fed a group of dogs with mild osteoarthritis an omega-3 oil and asked the owners how their pets had improved in terms of mobility and other aspects commonly associated with joint disease. The results were compared to a control group of dogs who were fed a corn oil as a placebo (containing 0% omega-3).

The results showed the dogs were 7 times as likely to have improved weight bearing on joints compared to the control group. The owners detailed over the course of the study how the dogs had improved in numerous other areas and the results were good. In terms of efficacy, omega-3 was found to be clinically viable as a method of treating mild osteoarthritis.

Severe osteoarthritis will still need treatment with more potent pharmaceuticals as the damage and inflammation caused by the degenerative joint disease is often too painful to rely on lengthy management through the diet.

Sources of Omega-3 for Your Dog

There are a number of omega-3 rich diets on the market already, such as this Salmon & Potato complete feed. However, these type of diets are aimed towards maintaining a healthy coat (another role of omega-3). Whilst they will still provide benefit to the joints, I imagine it will only be a few months before we start seeing omega-3 rich diets specifically formulated for healthy joints.

There are also a number of omega-3 supplements for dogs such as this Yumega supplement, however, this is again geared towards maintaining a healthy coat.

Adapted from: Evaluation of the effects of dietary supplementation with fish oil omega-3 fatty acids on weight bearing in dogs with osteoarthritis, 2010, JK Roush et al. JAVMA, Vol 236, No. 1

About James Watts

BSc Bioveterinary Science. Editor of PetSci. When I'm not writing, learning, discussing, or reading about animals, you know it's the weekend! Currently developing PetSci HealthTrak, the fast and easy way to monitor your pet's weight and calorie intake. HealthTrak offers a simple way to track your pet's progress, helping them achieve a healthy weight and a long, happy life.

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