trout contains EPA and DHA for dogs

EPA and DHA for Dogs: What are they and what are the benefits?

In recent months, there has been a rise in the number of premium pet food products containing EPA and DHA for dogs. EPA and DHA are simply omega-3 fatty acids – already proving popular as a human supplement.

The importance of Omega-3 fatty acids, such as EPA and DHA, in our own diets has been subject of much research, with evidence suggesting that these fatty acids are indeed beneficial. The pet food market has a general tendency to follow the successes of the human food and supplement market, so it was only a matter of time before we began to see products emerging containing EPA and DHA for dogs.

What are EPA and DHA?

As mentioned earlier, EPA (Eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (Docosahexaenoic acid) are both Omega-3 fatty acids. The benefit these fatty acids have is that they are highly unsaturated. Being unsaturated is an advantage as it makes it easier for the body to break down and utilise these fatty acids.

Omega-3 fatty acids are an essential part of normal metabolism; however, they cannot actually be produced by the body, so they must be consumed through the diet. Because of this, they are referred to as essential fatty acids.

There is another type of omega-3 essential fatty acid, ALA (Alpha-linolenic acid). ALA is considered inactive however, meaning it must first be converted to an active form before it can be of benefit. This process requires specific enzymes, but not all animals produce the enzymes needed for this conversion – dogs are unable to produce the required enzymes.

Where are EPA and DHA Found?

EPA and DHA are found in their highest levels in fish oils. Coldwater fish such as trout or salmon are a great source of these Omega-3 essential fatty acids. Flax oil is rich in ALA, but as mentioned earlier, ALA requires enzymatic processing to become active.

It is possible to purchase Fish oil supplements, which will be rich in EPA and DHA or you may find some premium diets may be enriched with Omega-3 essential fatty acids. DHA and EPA can also be synthesised from microalgae – however, this is more commonly used by humans as a vegetarian alternative.

The Benefits of Supplementing EPA and DHA for Dogs

The reported benefits of omega-3 essential fatty acids are quite vast, however some can be considered more reputable than others:

  • Reduce inflammation caused by inflammatory diseases such as osteoarthritis or inflammatory bowel disease – It has been shown fish oils higher in DHA than EPA can reduce inflammatory cytokines, protein molecules that are responsible for causing inflammatory responses (pain, swelling, soreness, etc.)
  • Improve cognitive function – DHA is a primary structural component of the brain and multiple studies in humans have trialled DHA for controlling attention deficit. Results have been a mix of positive and negative however. See here for more information on Canine Cognitive Dysfunction.
  • Reduce dermatitis and allergies, improving coat health – Omega-3 essential fatty acids can alleviate the inflammation of the skin (dermatitis) caused by allergies, fleas, scratching, etc. as well as improve the ‘shine’ of the coat, leading to an overall healthier looking coat.
  • Healthy cardiovascular system – Omega-3 essential fatty acids can reduce cholesterol and triglycerides (fats) levels in the blood, which can help promote a healthy heart.
  • Slow cancer growth and improve response to treatment – One study in humans found DHA was able to inhibit the growth colonial cancer cells, EPA and DHA have also both been shown to improve the effectiveness of chemotherapy. Trials into the effect of omega-3 essential fatty acids on cancer are still relatively new however.

Supplementation of Omega-3 essential fatty acids is extremely safe and given their beneficial effects, supplementation is recommendable for all dogs. The Journal of Veterinary Research suggests for optimal results that 1.75g of EPA / 2.2g of DHA per kg of diet should be given.

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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  1. I’m getting some conflicting information regarding fish oils and dogs and I have a feeling that a number of things have happened:
    1) There is a large fish oil industry keen to push its products.
    2) Fish oild have been shown to have some benefits and many people take them regularly as supplements.
    3) People want the best for their pets.
    4) The industry sees an opening and starts to push fish oils for dogs.
    5) Dog food manufacturers, long the subject of criticism about the safety and balance of their products, like to add things to expand the ‘health’ additives, and fish oil along with echinacea [for joints] are both added to a variety of foods.

    This site has something interesting to say about giving fish oils to dogs. Not being a vet, or dietician, I’m not in a position to say whether there is a point or not made here, but I wish to be cautious where my dog is concenred and having been warned by one vet I spoke with about NEVER giving my dog fish oils [she also cited a cat who had been fed an oily fish diet being brought to her with a fused spine who had to be put to sleep. I don’t understand the science of why, but I am concerned that a giant nutritional experiment is being conducted on behalf of the fish oil industry.
    Further to the health of pets, the fish oil industry stands implicated in the increasing numbers of deaths of seabirds round the coast of the UK, attributed to tha huge quantities of small fish that are caught for oil production. This is often the result of man’s mania to have everything, to care nothing about sustainability as long as there is profit to be made.

  2. I should have added that there are alternative non fish sources for these oils, available for vegetarians.
    And a last thought: how did canines evolve needing oil from fish it could never have caught and eaten?

  3. Great comment Peter, I think the main issue raised by NaturesFarmacy is the level of heavy metals and other contaminants in Fish oils. This is a very valid point and even in the human diet, we are warned against consuming too much of certain kinds of fish (due to heavy metals such as mercury). The other points they raise seem interesting, and may be due to owners providing much higher than recommended dosages to their dogs.

    Despite this, research in to the benefits of DHA and EPA O3 fatty acids continues to thrive and is proving quite interesting particularly in aspects relating to cardiovascular health.

    A recent paper “Evaluation of cognitive learning, memory, psychomotor, immunologic, and retinal functions in healthy puppies fed foods fortified with docosahexaenoic acid-rich fish oil from 8 to 52 weeks of age.” Looks at a group of puppies fed a diet rich in DHA and the results are promising:

    The high-DHA group had significantly higher anti-rabies antibody titers 1 and 2 weeks after vaccination than did other groups. Peak b-wave amplitudes during scotopic electroretinography were positively correlated with serum DHA concentrations at all evaluated time points. Dietary fortification with fish oils rich in DHA and possibly other nutrients implicated in neurocognitive development following weaning improved cognitive, memory, psychomotor, immunologic, and retinal functions in growing dogs.

    Hopefully we’ll see more research conducted in to EPA/DHA omega acid supplementation, but for worried owners, there are (as suggested) vegetarian alternatives available (synthesised from microalgae).

    I’ll revisit this topic in the future as more results are published.

  4. Can you please provide a citation for the recommendation stating “for optimal results that 1.75g of EPA / 2.2g of DHA per kg of diet”? I am trying to research this and have been unable to find it. Many thanks.

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