Ever Wonder Why Dogs Need Omega-3 Fatty Acids? The Value of Pastured Meat, Chicken and Eggs in Your Dog’s Diet

by | Canine Health, Puppies, Senior Dogs

Vet nutritionists and onologists, top breeders, and now even dog food companies all recognize that dogs need Omega-3 Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs) in their diet. Just like people, dogs cannot manufacture these important nutrients so must get them from their food. Doesn’t it seem odd, however, that dogs need an ingredient that is found in cold-water wild fish? How could dogs have evolved to need Omega-3 EFAs in their diets if so few wild canids have access to wild cold-water fish?

Pasture-raised beef is high in the kinds of Omega-3 fatty acids that dogs need in their diets.

The answer lies in our food chain not canine evolution. Although nutritionists and dietitians recommend we eat fish or take fish oil supplements, another important source of EFAs are grass-fed meats and animal product. Yes, beef, lamb, chicken, eggs and milk are great sources of EFAs if they are raised on natural diets like grass (and insects in the case of chickens) not grain. Amazingly, simple grass not fish is the most important source of EFAs!! But as more food animals have been raised on or finished with grain, the amount of EFAs in our diet has plummeted. Add to that the rise of vegetable oils, which are high in Omega-6 EFAs, in all kinds of foods, we and our dogs have become deficient in Omega-3s.

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What are Omega-3 EFAs?

Omega-3 EFAs are polyunsaturated fatty acids that are critical to normal brain, eye, immune, and reproductive health. They play a key role in fetal and neonate development. They are thought to reduce cancer risks and inflammation and are very helpful in managing arthritis, dementia, anxiety and dental health. Pups who get Omega -3 EFAs through their dam’s milk and later through their own nutrition, are more trainable and are less likely to have skin allergies. Although there are many different kinds of Omega 3s, there are three important ones for people and dogs: shorter chain alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), and longer chain eicosapentaenoic (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). People can convert ALA to EPA and then EPA to DHA but dogs are far less efficient at this conversion so dogs do better if their food contains EPA and DHA rather than ALA. And in both species, the ability to convert shorter-chain EFAs to longer diminish with age so senior need access to more longer-chain EFAs from their diet. EFAs are made inside plants, in particular grasses and seaweed. Grasses are high in alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) so how do they help our dogs? Well, animals like cows and poultry convert ALA to EPA and DHA, which are then stored in their bodies. When dogs eat food made from these grass-fed animals, they get these critical long-chain EFAs. So there you go! Why have dogs evolved to need Omega-3s, which we think of as coming from fish? Because their original source was from the meats and eggs of their grass-fed prey!

How to Add Omega-3 EFAs to Your Dog’s Diet?

To ensure your dog is as healthy as possible, you should ensure to include EPA and DHA in his diet. We prefer to add these Omega 3s through fresh grass-fed meat or marine oil, rather than depend on the sprayed-on EFAs in some dried dog foods. If you choose to do the same, dietary sources of EPA and DHA include:

  • wild, cold-water, oily fish flesh and oil, such as salmon, herring, pollock, anchovies, and sardines, but heavy-metal poisoning is a risk with this source and these fish populations are at risk throughout the world
  • krill oil
  • calamari oil
  • eggs from pasture-raised chickens or those fed flax, algae or seaweed
  • meat from pastured animals
  • kangaroo meat
  • seal oil, available in Canada and some other countries
  • mammal brains, though most of us don’t plan to feed these
  • algae, though different species have different EFAs so investigate them thoroughly

There is a wide range of safe dosing for DHA for dogs, from 14 to 168 milligrams to pound body weight. We feed 15 mg/lb to all of our dogs, from weaning till the end of their lives. If you want to figure out how much DHA your dog needs, use this simple calculator below.

We recommend and use:

Many dog owners add ALA-rich flax or other plant sources of EFAs to their dogs diets. However, since dogs convert very little ALA to EPA and DHA, this is not a useful way to increase Omega 3s in a canine diet. Stick with animal sources and your dogs will thrive!



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