What is Fish Oil
Fish oil is the oil derived from the tissues of oily fish. The oil is rich in omega-3 fats that have proved to be very important for the body and brain.
However, as more and more information emerges, experts are finding that fish oil may not be all that it's talked up to be. In fact, fish oil may actually be causing more harm than good.
So why are so many people still purchasing the product? Is there another way to get the benefits of fish oil and those necessary omega-3 fats??
Let's get started!
What are Essential Fatty Acids
From cod liver oil to salmon oil, fish oil itself has been a craze that gained a lot of popularity in the 1990s due to the overwhelming desire for low-fat diets (which we know now wasn't the best trend to follow).
In fact, scientists quickly discovered that low-fat diets can be very detrimental to our health. We need healthy fats to survive.
There are two types of fats: facilitative and functional fats. Facilitative fats (also known as saturated fats) are known to enhance the taste of pet food, convert to energy, aid in digestion, and help with vitamin absorption.
Facilitative fats often get a bad rap but in truth are only dangerous if the dog is overweight or obese.
Functional fats are exactly what they would seem: fats needed in order for the body to function. Pets are unable to produce these fats on their own, which is where dog owners come into play.
There are two types of essential fatty acids: Omega-3s and Omega-6s. It is important for your pup to have certain amounts of both in order to maintain a healthy life.
Omega 3 for Dogs
The following are omega-3 fatty acids:
- Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA)
- Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)
- Eicosapentaenoic (EPA)
Omega 6 for Dogs
The following are omega-6 fats:
- Arachidonic acid (AA)
- Dihomo-gamma-linolenic acid (DGLA)
- Gamma linolenic acid (GLA)
- Linolenic acid (LA)
While both omega 3 fatty acids and omega 6 fats play important roles in your dog's diet, we are going to take a deeper look at omega-3s, since that's where fish oil comes into the picture.
Omega 3 Fish Oil Benefits
Before we get into the cautionary tales of fish oil, it is important to recognize why the craze started to begin with.
Omega-3 truly is important and fish oil does contain high amounts of it. Here are a number of ways that fish oil can benefit your beloved four-legged friend.
Fight Cardiovascular Disorders
Research has found that omega-3 fatty acids can help combat cardiovascular disorders.
They can also help with inflammation around the heart and vital organs as well as reduce muscle loss and damage.
Neurological Health & Cognitive Function
A number of studies proved that puppies given omega-3 fish oil supplements had significantly stronger abilities to learn new tricks and commands than puppies that we not given the supplement.
Inflammatory Skin Disorders
The omega-3s of fish oil are also known for their anti-inflammatory effects and can improve itchiness and hair loss associated with skin allergies and other skin disorders.
Omega-3s are an important factor in kidney health and function for both dogs and cats alike.
An important study of omega-3s in cats showed that those who were given the fish oil supplement had improved joint function and were in much less associated pain than those who didn't receive the supplement.
Finally, research shows that omega-3s can slow the growth of yeast (thus preventing yeast infections), support the proper development of the retina and visual cortex, control and prevent blood clotting, and reduce the development of cancer.
Fish Oil Side Effects
The troubling fact about fish oil supplements is that while they do have their fair share of benefits, they also come with some very worrisome side effects that pet parents must be aware of.
Premature Aging and Disease
The omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil are extremely susceptible to oxidative damage.
This is troubling because every single time that the fish oil is opened, oxygen causes the fat particles to break down into smaller compounds such as malondialdehyde (MDA).
These compounds then create oxygen-containing molecules called free radicals. Both free radicals as well as MDA cause premature aging as well as significant damage to essential proteins and other vital cellular structures.
All of the damage ultimately leads to disease, oftentimes irreversible disease.
We can't deny that the fats stored in fish are chock full of omega-3. However, the fats are also loaded with toxins.
It's a horrifically sad fact that our oceans are becoming more and more polluted with every passing day.
Arsenic, cadmium, lead, and mercury are chemicals that are unfortunately contaminating our oceans at a rapid pace due to our industrial lifestyles.
These chemicals are not broken down easily and end up invading the environments of fish, and subsequently, fish oil.
It's important for pet parents to know about the dangers of our oceans and how it is affecting us on a daily basis whether we choose to acknowledge it or not.
Heavy metals are known to directly lead to dysfunction of the nervous system, blindness, certain cancers, liver and kidney damage (often irreversible), and even death.
We must recognize that this is the reality that we are living in and act appropriately and accordingly in order to do what's best for ourselves, our pets, and our oceans.
In 2011, a tsunami collided with the Fukushima nuclear power plant. This collision caused its reactors to melt down and lead to radioactive water seeping into the Pacific Ocean.
This is so troubling due to the fact that every single day a staggering 300 tons of the radioactive water continues to seep into the ocean.
Today, 7 years later, the radioactive waters have reached the west coast of North America and have infected most marine life. It's an incredibly sad fact to think about.
However, pet parents must be aware of these troubling facts. It is extremely important to ask for a Certificate of Analysis (COA) if you choose to include fish oil in your dog's life.
Harming the Oceans
Have you stopped to think about just how the fish become fish oil? The fish are vacuumed up from the ocean by nets and through a by-product of fisheries.
The process is something referred to as by-catch. The term also refers to the other marine life that is caught in the process such as dolphins, sea turtles, and whales.
Experts have estimated that approximately 300,000 whales, porpoises, and dolphins are killed each year due to fishery nets.
Additionally, one of the fish highly sought after for fish oil is called the menhaden fish due to its high sources of omega-3 fats.
However, the menhaden fish is important for the ocean. The menhaden fish eat algae blooms and help to keep the ocean waters clean and full of oxygen.
However, with the rise in popularity of fish oils, an estimated half a billion menhaden fish are removed from our oceans every year.
This is troublesome for a slew of reasons including the fact that there are now dead zones developing due to the lack of oxygen in our waters.
You may be wondering if krill oil is a better way to go. Sadly, the answer is no. Krill is the main source of food for whales.
Experts have estimated that krill populations have dropped by 80% since the mid-1970s.
How to Choose the Best Fish Oil Supplement
If you choose to give your dog a fish oil supplement, there are several things you should do in order to ensure its quality.
Types of Fish Oil
Before we begin, it is important for dog owners to know that there are three types of fish oil that are currently on the market.
Natural Triglyceride Oil
Natural triglyceride oil is the most natural and easiest for the body to absorb. With that being said, since the oil isn’t purified, it may contain contaminants, such as PCBs.
Ethyl Ester Oil
Ethyl ester oil is concentrated and distilled. This process removes impurities. Ethyl ester oil is therefore semi-natural with substantial levels of important components such as omega-3, docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA).
Synthetic Triglyceride Oil
Synthetic triglyceride oil is (you guessed it) synthetic and therefore absorbs the least easily of the three. We highly recommend avoiding this type of fish oil.
Certificate of Analysis
First, dog owners should always ask for a Certificate of Analysis (COA) from the manufacturer. Any reputable company should easily be able to provide one.
The Certificate of Analysis is a document issued by Quality Assurance. The information included shows the results of all of the necessary testing performed as part of quality control.
This will help pet parents know that they are getting the best fish oil as possible.
Wild Caught Fish
Another thing to look for is whether the fish are farm raised or wild caught. You always want to purchase fish oil that was derived from wild caught fish.
Studies have found time and time again that farm-raised fish contain hazardous levels of PCBs, dioxins and the insecticides, dieldrin, and toxaphene. Not to mention, the quality of life and living conditions of the fish is often horrendous.
If you do choose to give your dog a fish oil supplement, we recommend seeking a product like veterinary grade Wild Alaskan Salmon Oil.
You can also look for oil derived from other wild caught fish from the Pacific Ocean off the coast of South America.
Finally, dog owners must ensure that they are avoiding fish oil that was processed using ethanol.
Ethanol is a cheap method of processing and can cause your pup to have some very serious issues. Luckily, there are ways to check the ethanol levels at home.
Simply pour a small amount of the fish oil into a styrofoam cup. If the oil eats through the cup in less than 30 minutes, it's likely that it contains an ethanol content.
Knowledge is Power
The best advice we feel that we can give is urging our readers to do their homework.
By understanding what makes one product better than the next, you can feel confident in what you are purchasing and giving to Fido.
This is also true for fish oil (and all products) that you purchase for your own use. Make sure you are buying from a reputable company and that you are getting the best product available.
Furthermore, with the rise in popularity of products considered to be all natural, such as fish oil, you'll find many brands and companies offering their oils at a much lower price point.
We want to warn our readers that with fish oil (among most things) you truly get what you pay for. Avoid going with the cheapest route as it can likely cause Fido more harm than good.
A good rule of thumb to follow is that if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.
Fish Oil Dosage
Luckily, if you choose to add a fish oil supplement to your dog's diet you will likely no longer have to pry their mouth open and force them to swallow a pill.
Most companies got the memo that fish oil capsules and dogs typically don't go hand in hand. Fish oil is now available in an easy to use liquid form. The oil can easily be added to your dog's food bowl.
The dosage of fish oil will ultimately depend on your dog's weight and the type of fish oil that you purchase. Many experts agree that instead of following the guidelines listed on the container, instead ask your vet how much fish oil is necessary for your dog's individual health needs.
Additionally, we recommend easing your dog into the new supplement. Start off slowly, there's no need to rush adding any new supplement, including fish oil.
Pet owners should also keep an eye on their dog when any new product is introduced. Knowing your dog's "normal" is imperative in being able to recognize when anything changes.
Storing Fish Oil
It is important that fish oil is protected from heat, light, and air. If you do choose to purchase fish oil, we recommend buying a product that comes in a dark, airtight container and storing it in the fridge.
Additionally, due to its susceptibility to oxidation, fish oil can become very rancid if not stored properly. If the fish oil has any sort of "off" smell, throw it away.
We told you about the benefits of fish oil for dogs and that it provides necessary essential fatty acids and omegas that Fido needs. In particular, fish oil provides your dog with omega 3's which help reduce inflammation and reduce the risk of health issues.
Luckily, fish oil isn't the only way that you can integrate these benefits into your pup's life.
It may surprise pet owners to learn that fish aren't naturally born with high levels of omega-3. Instead, they get it through their food source which provides them with the necessary nutrients.
That source is none other than phytoplankton. Phytoplankton are the tiny bundles of algae and bacteria that help sustain the entire ocean.
Zooplankton consumes the phytoplankton and then fish eat the phytoplankton by eating the zooplankton.
This is how omega-3 travels through the food-chain and reaches the fish which we turn into fish oil supplements.
Here's why phytoplankton is so great.
Phytoplankton molecules are so tiny that they don’t even need to be digested. In fact, phytoplankton has the ability to travel right to your dog’s cells and provide immediate, direct benefits and support.
This also differs phytoplankton from plant sources of omega-3 fats which are much harder for your dog to convert and digest. Additionally, phytoplankton can grow in controlled, filtered water farm environments.
Typically we don't promote farm raising, however, in term of phytoplankton this means that the omega 3 source doesn't contain heavy metals, radiation, or toxins and you don't have to worry about a negative effect that it may have on our oceans.
Finally, phytoplankton contains a powerful antioxidant that is known as Superoxide dismutase (aka SOD). SOD is considered the king of all antioxidants.
As you can see, we are big fans of phytoplankton and highly recommend our readers to check it out as an alternative to fish oil supplementation.
Fish Oil for Dogs: The Bottom Line
Your dog's health and well-being mean the world to you. We understand. Here at Honest Paws, we are all dog owners and lovers of all living creatures. That's why we can honestly say that we know how important your pup's happiness is to you.
The internet can be a remarkable thing. We have so much information right at the tips of our fingers. As always, we recommend our readers to do their research.
Before hopping on the latest trend, know the pros and cons (if any). A supplement like fish oil may have been something we believed we needed a handful of years ago.
However, now, there is loads of evidence proving that we may be better off without it. Furthermore, a supplement like CBD has been proving to be effective in pets for over 3 decades. Again, a simple Google search can truly shed light on so much.
Finally, we aren't trying to scare our readers into throwing out their fish oil supplements. However, it is critical to know as much as you can about the product.
Where does it come from? Were the fish farm raised or wild caught? What about the absorbability?
Doing your homework and researching every new product is a simple way to ensure that you are doing the very best for Fido. Isn't that what we all ultimately want?