The fish oil fatty acids, EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), have so much research showing their value for both people and their pets, so much, that its important for you to know more about how these oils can help both your pet’s health and your own. These long-chain polyunsaturated omega three fatty acids are found in standard fish oil extracts, but also can be found in algal oil and krill oil. Its important to understand how to use these fatty acids to utilize their good qualities of reducing inflammation, and helping with the nervous, immune and dermatologic systems. Its also important to know what to look for in a good oil. Many people are concerned, with good reason, for the purity of fish oils that are sourced from the oceans because of the degree of contamination with heavy metals such as lead and mercury in our seafood today. So much contamination that it’s recommended to not eat canned tuna fish more than once weekly due to the high levels of mercury in this commonly-eaten fish.
In general, with fish oil, its better to buy oils that are derived from the lower members of the fish food chain: The plankton (krill), sardines and anchovies. The larger fish like salmon, pollack and tuna all eat these smaller fish and then they eat slightly larger and larger fish, and in so doing they concentrate all of the mercury and lead and other heavy metals the farther up the food chain. Thus, salmon or cod liver oil tend to have higher residues of mercury and lead in them than oils derived from sardines and anchovies. Its also good to find fish oil that has been molecularly-distilled, which is a process that allows for the purification and removal of the heavy metals and other contaminants in the fish oil.
Krill oil has been touted as having better intestinal absorption than regular fish oil because krill contains naturally-occurring phospholipids such as phosphatidylcholine. One fish oil product, UltraEFA, designed by myself and manufactured by RxVitamins, contains molecularly-distilled fish oil from anchovies and sardines and has added phospholipids in the form of liquid lecithin to aid in the absorption of its fish oil fatty acids. This product is available from your veterinarian or on-line at the Well-Pet Dispensary.
Some people recommend EPA and DHA that have been derived from algae sources. This type of oil is very pure, and is mostly DHA. Because they grow this oil in stainless steel tanks they eliminate any contamination with heavy metals or pesticide residues. The oil tends to be a bit more expensive than the really good oil from fish, but that is because it costs a lot to manufacture it is so purely.
Once you have identified the brand of oil that you wish to give to your pet, you then need to look at how much you need to give them in order for them to benefit from the all the great things that fish oils and EPA and DHA are known to help with. In general, we dose these fatty acids in several different ways. Dr. John Bauer, DVM a Board-certified Veterinary Nutritionist, wrote a great review article in the December 2011 issue of the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association under the header: “Timely Topics in Nutrition”. In this article Dr. Bauer describes all of the research efforts that prove that fish oils help a number of different conditions in the dog and cat, and he gives the specific dosages of the fish oil that are needed to have a substantial benefit to our pets.
Dr. Bauer takes the amount of EPA and DHA as stated on the label, and he adds these two values together. There is a variation from product to product in terms of the amount of EPA and DHA each brand contains. Bauer doses fish oil based on that sum of EPA+DHA. There can be variation between products in terms of the amount of EPA or DHA, so this helps to standardize the dosing procedure.
The most common dosage recommended is for general inflammation, which can help with a variety of different diseases, such as skin allergies, inflammatory bowel disease, hepatitis, epilepsy, and asthma to name a few. He suggests giving 100 mg of EPA+DHA for each kilogram of body weight daily (2.2 pounds of body weight per kilogram). He also mentions that studies in the dog and humans show that it takes about 3-4 months for the body to appreciate the full anti-inflammatory effect of the fish oil. For cancer, its generally understood that we dose based on the DHA content of the oil. We give 30 mg/kg of body weight daily of the DHA. If the oil formula also contains EPA, then however much EPA is given in order to achieve those levels of DHA is fine, no problem.
For conditions like arthritis, often you need to give higher doses, as much as 300% higher doses in order to help with arthritis. This is the same principle that Hills uses with their Prescription Diet formulation: J/D or Joint Diet, which has extremely high levels of EPA and DHA in it from Menhaden fish meal.
For conditions like epilepsy, the use of high doses of EPA+DHA combined with the addition of phospholipids may give better control over the seizures. Phosphatidylcholine, a phospholipid found in lecithin as well as in krill oil, is known to protect the liver from the toxicity of anti-seizure pharmaceuticals at the same time as it helps to raise the seizure threshold, making it harder for neurons to fire, thus increasing the level at which seizures will “spark.” Basically it makes those nerves less easy to fire. This has the potential to reduce the severity or frequency of epileptic episodes. The same kind of benefit is seen when you add the amino acid taurine to your epileptic’s program.
Dr. Rob Silver