the scientific study of pet nutrition by veterinary nutrition specialists and experts.

Should I give fish oil to my pet?

Should I give fish oil to my pet?
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As supplements are gaining in popularity and more research is being performed, many pet owners wonder if a supplement is right for their pet. We are commonly asked about supplementing omega-3 fatty acids using fish oil. Fish oil is readily available for purchase in the form of capsules or a liquid that can be added to food at mealtimes. There is a lot of interest in the use of fish oil because of potential benefits for dogs or cats from omega-3 fatty acids, including helping to ease joint pain, heart disease, and kidney disease, for example. Here are some times when fish oil may be helpful for your pet:

Joint disease:

Joint disease is often associated with inflammation and reduced mobility, which can be helped with omega-3 fatty acids. Two types of omega-3 fatty acids that help reduce inflammation with joint pain are EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), both of which are found in fish oil. While patients with more severe joint pain may need additional medications from your veterinarian, supplementing pets with the proper dose of omega-3 fatty acids has been shown to help alleviate some joint pain (although if your pet is at all overweight, getting him down to a nice trim weight can have even larger benefits in terms of reducing pain!).

Heart disease:

The supplementation of omega-3 fatty acids for dogs and cats with heart disease can help reduce the inflammation associated with heart failure and may help to reduce muscle loss (cachexia) that is associated with heart failure. In addition to their anti-inflammatory effects, there is also evidence that omega-3 fatty acids help to reduce abnormal heart rhythms (arrhythmia) as well. See our heart disease website for more information.

Kidney disease:

Some pets with kidney disease may also benefit from omega-3 supplementation. In some studies, dogs supplemented with omega-3 fatty acids had clinical benefits such as reduced protein in their urine though we need more studies before we know the exact mechanism and benefits. Less information is currently known about supplementing cats that have kidney disease, although there is some support suggesting that cats with kidney disease may live longer when fed a therapeutic diet with higher levels of EPA.


How much and what kind to give?

Remember to always consult with your veterinarian before giving omega-3 fatty acids (or any supplement) to your pet. This is to ensure they are receiving the correct dose (there are different recommended doses depending on the disease you’re trying to help) and a brand with good quality control. Many pet foods have some omega-3 fatty acids already in them, so your veterinarian can help you determine if and how much you should supplement. Also, omega-3 fatty acid supplementation may not be appropriate for every pet, such as those with gastrointestinal or bleeding disorders. This supplement is not a cure-all, and pets with the serious diseases mentioned above need medical evaluation and usually medications to manage the underlying diseases. However, if deemed appropriate by your veterinarian, supplementation with omega-3 fatty acids may have benefits for your beloved pet.



Blog written by veterinary student Clarissa Spadanuta with editing by Dr. Linder.


Dr. Deborah Linder, a board-certified veterinary nutritionist, is the head of the Tufts Obesity Clinic for Animals and has had articles appear in Eating Well, the Boston Globe, AARP, SHAPE, and XM Sirius Radio Doctor Channel. She has spoken at national and international conferences and a Capitol Hill briefing, and is an expert in pet obesity, nutrition communication, and in the human-animal bond. 

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