It is a scientifically documented fact that Omega-3 fatty acids (also referred to as essential acids), are vital for maintaining good health in humans. What many people do not realize is that they are equally important for pets also. In fact, they are the most frequently utilized additives in veterinary medicine. The expression “essential” signifies the fact that these nutrients cannot be manufactured by the body, hence must be acquired in the diet. They are employed in every cell membrane of the body in addition to being the forerunners to some very important hormones.
Most commonly, derivatives of human food industry and surplus stock is employed in producing pet food. Pet foods which use excessive amounts of animal fat and vegetable oils house considerable amounts of Omega-6s and minimal amounts of Omega-3 fatty acids. Since Omega-6 is by nature inflammation causing, excessive amounts of it in the body is the basis of a host of diseases. Omega-3 fatty acids, on the other hand, are anti-inflammatory and counter the effects of Omega-6s.1
Fish oil is a good source of Omega-3 fatty acids and is commonly used for treatment of allergies. In cats the essential fatty acids are vital for a healthy skin and fur. Some other ailments for which it is now used include treatment of cardiac arrhythmias, autoimmune diseases, epilepsy control, and diabetic neuropathy.2
Fish oil supplements need to be used for a period of nine to twelve weeks before their effect can be observed. This is because the fatty acid has to first be incorporated into the cell membrane of the cat before the result is noticeable and that takes time. Skin conditions like miliary dermatitis and eosinophilic granuloma are particularly responsive to fish oil supplements, with a 40 to 66% rate of success.3
Use of fish oil supplements is fairly safe with minimal side effects. The only major, yet rare condition is pancreatitis. This condition where the pancreas becomes inflamed and painful results in vomiting, diarrhoea and dehydration. Weight gain is another issue cat owners may experience when they use fish oil supplements. However, this can easily be countered by offering the pet fewer treats. Some cats may develop diarrhoea with supplements that is why it is advisable to start the supplements with low doses and build up gradually. Some vets also recommend adopting low fat diets for your pet to increase the efficiency of the supplements. Lastly, due to the excessive amounts of fish oils found in the supplements, some cats may get “fishy” breath.
- Mooney, MA; Vaughn DM; Reinhart, GA; et. al. Evaluation of the effects of omega-3 fatty acid-containing diets on the inflammatory stage of wound healing in dogs. American Journal of Veterinary Research. 1998;59:859-863.
- Ackerman, L. Selecting fatty acid supplements for use in small animal dermatology. Supplement to the Compendium on Continuing Education for the Practicing Veterinarian. 1997;19(3):93-96.