Fish oil is one of the most popular supplements consumed by humans. It is considered a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids. Including the supplement in your diet may offer benefits such as boosting eye, bone, and heart health, glowing skin, support during pregnancy, and improvement in the symptoms of depression, among others.
Seeing the range of benefits a supplement may provide, it is natural for you to think if the supplement can do the same thing for your pet.
Like humans, canines cannot produce omega-3 fatty acids on their own. So, yes, it is true that nutrient needs to come from the diet. But is fish oil the right source of omega-3 fatty acids for dogs?
According to AKC, fish oil may be used to temporarily give the dog a nutritional boost or become a part of a long-term diet plan. But, AKC also cautions that long-term supplement use may cause vitamin E depletion.
‘I almost killed my dog with fish oil’ – you will find several such stories online. Such a situation can arise if you fail to consult the vet before including a new supplement in the dog’s diet, wrong supplement type, incorrect dosage, or ignore to add vitamin E supplements.
The article will look at fish oil as a supplement, its benefits, risks, and ways to safely include it in your pet’s routine. We will also look at alternatives to help meet the dog’s omega-3 nutritional quota.
What is Fish Oil?
Fish oil, as the name suggests, is oil that is extracted from fish tissue. The different fishes that are used for this extraction are tuna, anchovies, herring, salmon, mackerel, and cod liver.
There are typically four types of dietary fats found in fish oil. They are trans, saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated. The omega fatty acids in polyunsaturated fats may help improve your dog’s health.
The omega-3 types found in fish oil are eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Omega-3 types can also be found in other plant sources, but the ones in fish oil may provide greater benefits.
Does Your Dog Need Fish Oil?
About 30% of fish oil contains omega-3s while the rest 70% contains other types of fats. As mentioned above, your furry friend cannot produce omega-3 fatty acids on its own. So, yes, as fish oil is a rich source of omega-3, your dog may need fish oil in its diet.
If the dog is on a kibble-based diet, chances are it is getting high levels of omega-6. Excess omega-6 can cause issues like allergies, joint pain, and other chronic medical conditions. A healthy dose of omega-3 will help balance out the side effects of omega-6.
According to AKC, fish oil is a supplement that can help dogs in varying stages of their life. For example, the DHA in fish oil can helps puppies with brain and eye development. On the other hand, the same DHA can help senior dogs with cognitive issues.
Dogs that have a deficiency of omega-3 can have issues like:
- Kidney diseases
- Cardiovascular diseases
- Joint health
- Mental health concerns
- Certain cancers
Fish oil may be beneficial but should be included in the pet’s diet only after vet consultation.
What are the Benefits of Omega-3?
Here is how omega-3 helps boost your canine’s overall health.
- It supports brain development in puppies.
- It can help maintain good heart health by improving good cholesterol levels and reducing triglycerides and blood pressure.
- It can help reduce skin inflammation, itchiness, and flakiness. It can also improve coat texture.
- Omega-3 can strengthen the canine’s immune system.
- It may improve liver function.
- It can improve bone health and fight issues like joint pain and arthritis.
- In senior dogs, omega-3 may help improve cognitive function and reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s.
- It can help your pet fight canine cancer.
- Research has shown that omega-3 can aid dogs with chronic kidney diseases.
Is Fish Oil Bad for Dogs?
Fish oil is not toxic for your dog. Even AKC recommends adding the supplement to your dog’s diet. But there are rules to be followed when selecting a type of fish oil supplement and dosage. For example, you cannot pick the same fish oil supplement you take and recklessly give it to your pet.
The dog’s breed, size, weight, and health need to be considered before selecting a supplement. The vet can let you know if the supplement needs to be given on a short or long-term basis.
The dosage recommendation must be strictly followed. For example, a general safe dosage of omega-3 types, EPA and DHA, is between 20 and 55 mg. If you ignore the limit, then your dog could overdose on fish oil.
You should also be wary of long-term fish oil supplement administration. According to studies, omega-3 supplements increase the ratio of free radicals in your dog’s body. Free radicals are a result of energy production.
Your dog can typically handle an appropriate amount of free radicals. But with increased omega-3 comes excessive free radicals. They can cause oxidation of cells which can further damage DNA and other vital components in the dog’s body.
Antioxidants are required to counter the effect of free radicals. But, fish oil does not contain antioxidants. So, you either add an antioxidant source to your dog’s diet or explore alternatives for fish oil.
What are the Symptoms of Fish Oil Overdose?
If you do not stick to the supplement dosage given by the vet or start the dog on a supplement without consulting the vet, there are high chances of the dog overdosing on fish oil.
If your dog overdoses on fish oil, it can show symptoms like:
- Joint pain
- Acid reflux
- Low blood pressure
- Wounds taking longer to heal
These symptoms indicate that the dog has excess omega-3 in its body. It would be best to visit the vet for a thorough check-up if your dog shows any of these signs.
I Almost Killed My Dog With Fish Oil – Is This Possible?
Before we get into how fish oil can adversely affect your dog, let us first take a look at vitamin E.
Vitamins are a nutrient type that animals need to grow and maintain their health. They are essential compounds to sustain life. Vitamin E is one such powerful compound.
It is an antioxidant that helps the dog’s body fight off oxidative damage caused by free radicals. It is one of the fat-soluble vitamins required for cell function and fat metabolism.
It is good for the dog’s skin and supports neurological functions. It can also keep the dog’s immune system in optimal health. So, it is safe to say that this vitamin has several responsibilities.
We touched on free radicals above; let us dig deeper here; an explanation provided by PetMD. Free radicals are atoms that include oxygen and electrons.
The chemical structure of these atoms is such that it steals electrons from nearby molecules. Then these molecules can often be also turned into free radicals.
Free radicals are already causing cellular damage. And this conversion accelerates the oxidative process. The answer to this problem is the antioxidant vitamin E. It helps by giving electrons to free radicals without turning them into free radicals themselves.
So, let us look at all this information from the fish oil perspective. Regular fish oil supplement means increased omega-3 levels. Omega-3 breaks down quickly, turning into free radicals.
To manage excess free radicals, the dog’s body uses vitamin E. The more free radicals, the more vitamin E will be used, leading to a deficiency.
Dogs with vitamin E deficiencies can show signs like:
- Poor vision
- Neurological issues
- Reproductive issues
- Muscle degeneration
- Impaired immune system
Oxidative stress in dogs with underlying medical conditions can be dangerous. Thus to avoid these side effects, you should complement an omega-3 source like fish oil with a vitamin E supplement.
How to Safely and Effectively Include Fish Oil in Your Dog’s Diet?
If you do not want to get into an ‘I almost killed my dog with fish oil’ situation, here are the best practices that can help.
1. Consult Vet
Your dog may show signs of omega-3 deficiencies, but the diagnosis is best left to the vet. Self-medication is not the way to go. Suddenly changing your pet’s diet or including new supplements may adversely affect the pet’s health. It is also possible that your dog could be allergic to fish, leading to unnecessary side effects.
So before adding a supplement like fish oil that can change nutrient levels in the pet’s body and cause deficiencies, please always consult the vet.
2. Select Made for Dogs Supplements
Follow this practice as a rule, not just for fish oil supplements but for other products your dog consumes and uses as well. The supplements that work well for you are not necessarily safe for your pet as well.
There is a difference between how your and your pet’s body is structured. So, the nutrient requirement will also vary. You risk overdosing by feeding the dog supplements meant for humans.
The product may also contain compounds that humans may be able to process, but the same cannot be said for dogs.
Thus, when selecting any supplement, please stick to products made especially for dogs.
3. Stick to Recommended Dosage
As we have explained in detail above, your dog can overdose on fish oil supplements. Instead of helping the dog, you will end up speeding its aging process with oxidative stress.
In the short term, your pet could get physically sick, displaying signs like vomiting and diarrhea.
The supplement will come with a recommended dosage instruction, but it would still be best to stick to what your vet recommends. This is because the omega-3 needs of dogs can vary depending on their breed, size, and overall health.
Also, when introducing a new supplement, start with a small dosage instead of jumping to the highest dosage limit. See how your pet reacts and if it shows any signs of physical or mental distress.
If the dog’s body takes well to the supplement, you can slowly, over time, increase the dosage to the recommended limit.
4. Store the Supplement the Right Way
According to AKC, buying fish oil supplements in dark bottles is best. In addition, you should keep the supplement away from light, heat, and air.
Fish oil supplements can become rancid, meaning the product can become old and give off a foul smell.
Thus, a refrigerator would be a good storage place. However, if the supplement starts smelling off, it would be best to throw it away.
5. Add Vitamin E
Vitamin E is an essential nutrient required for cell function. To reiterate, high or long-term use of fish oil supplements may lead to vitamin E deficiencies in pets.
Fish oil is not toxic or bad for dogs when given right. However, over long-term use, the dog’s body can deal with an increase in free radicals, which need to be countered with antioxidants.
Thus, if your dog needs fish oil in its routine, talk to the vet about adding a vitamin E supplement as well to prevent any side effects.
6. Keep the Supplement Away from the Pet
Always ensure the supplement is kept well away from the pet’s reach. Some supplements may smell like fish, and this is an attraction for dogs. Some canines love the smell of fish. It is like they are naturally attracted to the smell of protein.
You do not want the pet to get into the fish oil supplement container and down the product in one go. Store the bottle at a height and preferably to the back of the refrigerator or cupboard to avoid any overdosing accidents.
What Are Alternatives to Fish Oil?
When it comes to omega-3, fish oil is one of the most potent supplements available on the market. But, if you are looking for alternatives, the below list will help you get started.
1. Phytoplankton Supplements
These supplements are made from ingredients like algae, zooplankton, and photosynthetic bacteria, among others. The ingredients are essentially from where the fish gets its omega-3 quota from.
It contains nutrients like omega-3, antioxidants, protein, vitamins, minerals, and other essential fatty acids.
The two types of omega-3s in fish oil, EPA and DHA, can also be found in phytoplankton. In fact, it contains double the amount of omega-3s by weight. In addition, as the supplement contains antioxidants, the free radicals are also kept in check.
2. Natural Sources
If your dog likes eating fish, you can include fish in its diet. Fishes like salmon, anchovies, and sardines can make for tasty treats.
Do not go overboard with the fish servings, though. Instead, stick to a couple of servings during the week.
If your dog does not like fish-based products or is allergic to them, you can try flaxseed oil. They are a good source of omega-3 and dietary fiber.
The concern with flaxseed is that it contains high levels of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which is not as effective as the EPA and DHA found in fish oil.
The APA can be converted into EPA and DHA, but its effectiveness is limited. Please talk to the vet to know more.
I almost killed my dog with fish oil – This is a scenario no pet parent wants to be in.
Fish oil is not toxic or bad for dogs. Apart from allergic dogs, it is generally a safe supplement when given correctly.
The omega-3 found in fish oil can help your dog’s heart and kidney health, ensure proper brain development in puppies, relieve bone and joint pain issues in senior dogs, improve cognitive function and eye health, and make the dog’s coat silky smooth.
Fish oil can become a problem if you go above the recommended dosage. Also, long-term use without adding vitamin E can lead to oxidative stress.
So, before including fish oil supplements, please consult the vet, choose pet-friendly products, follow dosage instructions and store the supplement safely away from the dog’s reach.
Heather Abraham is a professional blogger who owns two dogs, a cat, a parrot, and a leopard gecko. She has a connection with animals since she was a child. She shares her love for all pet breeds and provides information on pet food, toys, medications, beds, and everything else.
She is committed to learning about the internal workings of animals. Her work permits her to work closely with knowledgeable vets and obtain practical expertise in animal care. When she is not working, her love of animals continues in her writing. Her goal is to educate and uplift readers who also have a passion for animals through her writing.