By TB Thompson, Doctor of Veterinarian Medicine
You’d probably know a healthy dog or cat if you saw one, right? They’re the ones with a lean body, a shiny coat and a sparkle in their eye.
Good nutrition goes a long way toward supporting this picture of excellent health. A very important component of good nutrition is the right amounts and kinds of fats.
What Are Essential Fatty Acids?
Dogs and cats must have fat in their diets. They use fat for energy, cell building, hormone synthesis, and insulation, among other things.
Fats are made up of smaller components called fatty acids which are classified based on their carbon structure. You may be familiar with the term omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, but did you know there are also omega-7’s and omega-9’s?
Dogs and cats need many different kinds of fatty acids to thrive. They can make some of them in their bodies from other components. There are a few fatty acids that dogs and cats cannot synthesize from other fatty acids.
These are called essential fatty acids. Essential fatty acids must come from the diet since pets cannot form them from other components.
Essential fatty acids required by dogs and cats (NRC, 2006):
- Linoleic acid (omega-6)
- Arachidonic acid (cats only)(omega-6)
- Alpha-linolenic acid (omega-3)
- Eicosapentaenoic acid (omega-3)
- Docosahexaenoic acid (omega-3)
Additionally, the ratio of omega-6 and omega-3 essential fatty acids in the diet has an effect on overall health. Too much omega-6 tips the scales toward inflammation. Many pet foods have a lot of omega-6 EFA’s and less omega-3 EFA’s.
Flaxseed’s Beneficial Component: ALA
Flaxseed is a natural source of the omega-3 EFA alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). Other foods have significant ALA, including chia seeds, walnuts and rapeseeds (canola oil). But flaxseeds have a much higher ALA level than almost any other food source!
ALA happens to be a delicate fatty acid that can break down easily under storage conditions. Adding extra to the diet helps make sure your pet is getting enough. Including flaxseed as part of a pet food’s ingredients provides a constant source of ALA.
How Flaxseed and ALA Can Help Your Pet
Flaxseed supplementation has been the subject of many scientific studies. It has some clear benefits...
- Dogs with skin allergy symptoms showed improvement in clinical scores when they were supplemented with flaxseed oil (Mueller et al., 2004).
- Flaxseed oil supplementation alters the expression of inflammatory-related genes in dogs (Purushothaman et al., 2014).
- Cats had a reduced skin inflammation response when their diet was supplemented with flaxseed (Park et al., 2011).
- Flaxseeds improve the omega-6 to omega-3 ratio since they contain more than three times as much omega-3 as omega-6 fatty acids (Adolphe et al., 2016).
- Dogs (and cats at a lower rate) can convert some ALA to other anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) (Bauer, 2006).
- Flaxseeds are a source of dietary fiber, potentially benefitting pets prone to stress-induced diarrhea. Increased fiber can also aid in maintaining your pet’s healthy weight (German et al., 2010).
With their high ALA and fiber content, flaxseeds can benefit dogs and cats in many ways...
- Promote healthy skin and coat
- Decrease inflammation in the body
- Improve some digestive problems
- Help pets maintain a healthy weight
Adolphe, J., PhD, RD, & Fitzpatrick, K., MSc. (2016, October). FLAXSEED: Nutrition Benefits for Dogs and Cats. Retrieved November 5, 2018, from https://flaxcouncil.ca/wp-content/uploads/2016/10...
Bauer, J. E. (2006). Metabolic basis for the essential nature of fatty acids and the unique dietary fatty acid requirements of cats. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 229(11), 1729-1732.
German, A. J., Holden, S. L., Bissot, T., Morris, P. J., & Biourge, V. (2010). A high protein high fibre diet improves weight loss in obese dogs. The Veterinary Journal, 183(3), 294-297.
Mueller, R. S., Fieseler, K. V., Fettman, M. J., Zabel, S., Rosychuk, R. A. W., Ogilvie, G. K., & Greenwalt, T. L. (2004). Effect of omega‐3 fatty acids on canine atopic dermatitis. Journal of small animal practice, 45(6), 293-297.
National Research Council (NRC). (2006). Nutrient requirements of dogs and cats. National Academies Press.
Park, H. J., Park, J. S., Hayek, M. G., Reinhart, G. A., & Chew, B. P. (2011). Dietary fish oil and flaxseed oil suppress inflammation and immunity in cats. Veterinary immunology and immunopathology, 141(3-4), 301-306.
Purushothaman, D., Brown, W. Y., Vanselow, B. A., Quinn, K., & Wu, S. B. (2014). Flaxseed oil supplementation alters the expression of inflammatory-related genes in dogs. Genetics and Molecular Research, 13(3), 5322-5332.
Dec 6th 2018