Why do dog owners feed fish oil?
Well, there are several good reasons to give your dog this #1 best selling pet supplement. But the main reason is the omega-3 fats that fish oil contains. Or, more specifically, docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA).
These two omega-3 fats are an important addition to your dog’s diet. It’s hard to dispute their value.
The problem is, fish oil strains already over-fished oceans, as does squid and especially krill oil. These oils benefit your dog … but their impact on the planet is devastating.
Fortunately, there are alternatives to fish oil that carry the same healthy fats for your dog. In fact, some of them carry benefits and oils you won’t get from fish oil. It’s a win-win!
But before we talk about the alternatives, let’s quickly talk about why your dog needs EPA and DHA in his diet.
The Health Benefits Of EPA And DHA
EPA plays second fiddle to DHA. But together, these powerful fats deliver important health benefits to your dog including:
- Promotes brain health and delays brain diseases
- Fights inflammation
- Reduces the risk of heart disease
- Supports normal vision
- Supports brain and eye development in puppies
- Reduces the risk of some cancers
- Helps probiotics attach to intestinal cells
- Increases healthy bifidobacteria populations in the gut
Probiotics Double The Benefit
Probiotics and omega-3 fats work synergistically. EPA can increase the adhesion of probiotics to the intestinal cells and boost Bifidobacteria levels in mice. Probiotics can increase the absorption of omega-3 fats and increase their tissue amounts. They also increase the levels of EPA and DHA in the brain.
Clearly, there are a lot of healthy reasons to give your dog EPA and DHA. But it doesn’t have to come from fish oil!
Let’s look at other sources of EPA and DHA that will benefit your dog … and the planet.
Green Lipped Mussels
Green lipped mussels are an excellent source of EPA and DHA. Plus, they contain an additional anti-inflammatory omega-3 fat, ETA (eicosatetraenoic acid).
Green lipped mussels (Perna canaliculus) are native to pristine New Zealand. But most green lipped mussels used in supplements are grown in aquatic farms, which protects the ocean’s ecosystem.
Fish can be raised commercially, but farmed fish are fed a corn-based diet that’s high in omega-6 fatty acids. On the other hand, mussels survive by filtering phytoplankton from water, so even commercially raised mussels are safe for your dog and contain a healthy serving of EPA and DHA.
Green Lipped Mussel More Effective For Joint Pain
If you’re giving your dog fish oil to help his joints, green lipped mussels are a better choice.
The ETA in green lipped mussels is what makes them so effective for controlling inflammation.
A study on rats compared the effect of green lipped mussel to fish oil and other sources of omega-3 fats. The rats receiving the fish oil had a 31% decrease in arthritis scores, while the rats receiving green lipped mussel treatment saw a 42-75% reduction in score.
An additional benefit of green lipped mussel is SOD or Superoxide Dismutase. SOD is one of the most powerful antioxidants you can give your dog. Antioxidants help slow aging by preventing oxidative stress in your dog’s body and brain.
Both liquid and powdered green lipped mussels can be given to your dog. But be sure the fats aren’t removed … some manufacturers remove the Omega-3 fats from their powders. Stripping out these fats renders them useless to your dog, so look for a mussel powder that’s at least 5% fat.
If you’re giving your dog powdered green lipped mussel, give about 77mg per kg of your dog’s weight. That’s about 1,500mg for a 50 pound dog.
Phytoplankton are tiny marine plants that are full of EPA and DHA. In fact, it’s phytoplankton that delivers both green lipped mussel and fish their omega-3 fats. Phytoplankton is also rich in SOD.
Phytoplankton usually comes in a powder, and you only need a tiny amount. That’s because phytoplankton is a tiny, single cell. But the drawback is, it’s hard for your dog to get enough EPA and DHA from phytoplankton.
Check the ingredient label to make sure there are no fillers. If it’s pure phytoplankton powder, 1/8 tsp a day is the typical dose for any size dog.
Brains And Eyes
All offal and organ meats are a healthy addition to any dog’s diet. They’re packed with vitamins … especially B vitamins and natural vitamin D. And they’re brimming with minerals, antioxidants and other nutrients.
You might already feed your dog liver … and if you’re a more advanced raw feeder, you might feed kidneys, spleen, pancreas, testicles, sweetbreads, tongue or heart. But brains and eyes are organs you should add to your dog’s diet.
Since DHA is necessary for the function of both organs, eyes and brain are both a good source of EPA and DHA. In fact, 4 oz of brain has about 1g each of DHA and EPA. That’s twice as much DHA and more EPA than one teaspoon of fish oil.
Eyeballs are full of DHA and EPA, as well as vitamin A (or retinol). They’re good for vision … and they can stimulate brain cells and improve memory. But eyeballs can be hard to find.
If you buy your dog’s meat at an abattoir or old fashioned butcher, ask about eyeballs. If you can get them, you’ll want to add them to your dog’s diet.
Feed your dog as wide a variety of organ meats as you can. They’re quite rich … so if your dog’s not used to them, start out slowly to avoid tummy upset. But increase them gradually to about 15% of your dog’s diet.
BONUS: Sources Of GLA
I usually talk about how omega-6s are pro-inflammatory … but sometimes there are exceptions to the rules. GLA is one of those exceptions … it’s an omega-6 fatty acid that’s also an important anti-inflammatory. It also helps regulate hormones and keeps your dog’s skin and coat healthy. And studies show GLA can reduce pain associated with arthritis.
Unlike EPA and DHA, GLA only comes from plant sources. So I always recommend giving your dog both GLA-rich plant oils and EPA-rich marine oils. And if you skip the marine oils and use green lipped mussel instead, you’ll add ETA and a perfect hat trick of all three anti-inflammatory fats.
Here are two top sources of GLA …
Hempseed oil (which is different from hemp oil) is very sustainable. It has a healthy balance of omega-6s and omega-3s and is a good source of GLA.
Hempseed oil, used topically or internally, is also an excellent choice for skin problems. It hydrates and regulates oil production, which can help with dry or oily skin. It also soothes inflammation (thanks to the GLA) and helps with skin growth.
As an added bonus, hempseed oil is also a good source of SDA (stearidonic acid). SDA is good for the heart and easily converts to ETA and EPA.
To add hempseed oil to your dog’s diet, give him 1 tsp for each pound of food. If you’re already giving your dog hempseed oil, that’s great! But there’s one more oil that’s an even better source of GLA (and EPA).
Ahiflower oil comes from the seeds of the Buglossoides arvensis plant and is a newer addition to plant-based omega sources. It’s sustainably grown in North America and the UK and it’s arguably the best plant-based source of fatty acids. Here’s why …
Ahiflower oil has a better omega-6 to 3 ratio than hempseed oil. While hempseed has a 4:1 ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fats, ahiflower has 1:4. This makes it a better choice for balancing foods that are already too high in omega-6 fats.
But that doesn’t mean ahiflower contains less GLA … it contains 60% more than hempseed oil. It also contains 10 times more SDA than hempseed oil.
To give your dog ahiflower oil, add ¼ tsp for every 20 to 25 lbs of body weight to his meals. Keep in mind that plant oils like hempseed and ahiflower are not recommended for cats.
There are a few other sources of GLA, including borage, black current and evening primrose oil.
Love Dogs And The Oceans
Every dog needs a steady supply of healthy omega fats. But we can’t continue to pull millions of tonnes of fish out of the oceans each year when there are sustainable alternatives.
I hope you consider these earth-friendly alternatives to fish, krill and squid oil. Penguins, fish and whales need this food more than your dog does. We all rely on healthy oceans for a healthy and happy planet.
RELATED: 6 reasons to dump the fish oil …
Zurier RB, Rossetti RG, Jacobson EW, DeMarco DM, Liu NY, Temming JE, White BM, Laposata M. Gamma-Linolenic acid treatment of rheumatoid arthritis. A randomized, placebo-controlled trial. Arthritis Rheum. 1996 Nov;39(11):1808-17.
Whitehouse MW, Macrides TA, Kalafatis N, Betts WH, Haynes DR, Broadbent J. Anti-inflammatory activity of a lipid fraction (lyprinol) from the NZ green-lipped mussel. Inflammopharmacology. 1997;5(3):237-46.