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.