You are likely aware of fish oil supplements’ health benefits for people, but this supplement enhances your pet’s health as well. Omega-3 fatty acids—which lower inflammation and boost the immune system—are abundant in fish oil. Read our Meridian Veterinary Care team’s guide to fish oil to learn how this supplement is beneficial to your pet’s health.

What is fish oil for pets?

Fish oil is an oral dietary supplement typically derived from cold-water fish—anchovies, salmon, mackerel, and herring. Although these fish are known to be smelly, the odor is not bothersome, because fish oil is available in convenient gel capsules or liquid, which you may drizzle over your pet’s food.

Fish oil benefits for pets

Our Meridian Veterinary Care team commonly recommends fish oil, which can enhance your pet’s health in many ways. This unassuming supplement may not sound appealing, but fish oil’s positive effects are irresistable. Fish oil is packed with omega-3 fatty acids, a powerful ingredient whose health benefits include:

  • Brain and eye development — Omega-3 fatty acids promote ocular and nerve health, especially crucial for puppies’ and kittens’ early development. Fatty acids help aging pets by slowing cognitive decline.
  • Skin and coat health — Omega-3 fatty acids nourish and strengthen pets’ skin barrier—creating soft, silky, and healthy coats.
  • Anti-inflammatory — Omega-3 fatty acids naturally decrease inflammation, making fish oil advantageous for pets with allergies, arthritis, and heart disease.
  • Immune support — Omega-3 fatty acids are important for the immune system’s activation, regulation, and health.

Why pets need omega-3 fatty acids

Omega-3 fatty acids—polyunsaturated, or good, fats—are responsible for hormone production that regulates blood flow and controls inflammation. Omega-3 fatty acids are categorized as the following:

  • Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)
  • Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)
  • Alpha lipoic acid (ALA)

EPA and DHA are the two most important omega-3 fatty acids for dogs and cats, especially for inflammation control, and for brain and eye development. Although ALA is an antioxidant, this fatty acid must be converted to EPA or DHA to be used by dogs.

Why your pet’s food is not enough

An essential fatty acid (EFA) is a fatty acid our pets’ body systems do not produce, and they must get EFAs from a supplement or their food. Unfortunately, commercial pet foods are low in omega-3 fatty acids but extremely high in omega-6 fatty acids—linoleic (i.e., arachidonic) acid—which cause chronic inflammation, and can lead to or worsen conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), cancer, arthritis, and cardiovascular disease.

For optimum health, your pet needs an omega-3 and omega-6 balance. Supplementing your pet’s commercial, raw, or home-cooked diet with high-quality fish oil ensures these fatty acids’ maximum bioavailability—meaning your pet is able to absorb and metabolize the ingredient—and your pet’s balanced fatty acid consumption for overall health.

Pet health conditions that benefit from fish oil

Fish oil is a great addition to any pet’s diet, as its anti-inflammatory properties may prevent or ease various adverse health conditions. We recommend fish oil for the following: 

  • Arthritis
  • Allergies
  • Skin and coat issues
  • Heart disease
  • Cancer
  • Kidney disease

Selecting the right fish oil for your pet

Fish oil’s quality and source are important for the supplement’s effectiveness. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not regulate human or animal supplements, so the product you purchase may not live up to its label’s claims. In addition, fish oil may not be sustainably sourced, and fish harvested from polluted waters may contain environmental toxins or heavy metals.

Your Meridian Veterinary Care veterinarian will recommend specific products to ensure your pet always receives the safest supplemental ingredients that have the highest purity standards, so you can be sure your pet is receiving the intended dose and all its benefits.

Fish oil side effects for pets

Always consult your veterinarian before adding fish oil—or any supplement or medication—to your pet’s care routine. Although fish oil is generally safe when administered to your pet appropriately, the supplement can be contraindicated for pets taking certain medications or supplements, or for those who have clotting disorders, diabetes, or current or past pancreatic conditions. Fish oil can cause some pets digestive upset, and high doses may cause your pet to gain weight. Follow your veterinarian’s fish oil supplement administration instructions, and contact our Meridian Veterinary Care team when you have questions or concerns. 

Fish oil storage and safety for pets

Store fish oil capsules in a cool, dry place in their original container, and out of your pet’s reach. Keep in mind that some pets find fish oil appealing, and may consume a toxic amount.

Many liquid fish oil preparations must be stored in the refrigerator to prevent oxidation, which can make the oil rancid. Read all fish oil product instructions before administering the supplement to your pet to ensure proper usage, storage, and disposal. 

Ready to take the plunge? Talk to your veterinarian

If your pet has an inflammatory condition, ask your Meridian Veterinary Care veterinarian if fish oil might help. Our team can recommend reputable brands, and ensure your pet receives the appropriate dose to suit their unique needs. Still feeling a little fishy about fish oil? That’s OK, too—send us your questions via email, or schedule an appointment to speak with our veterinary team about how supplements can enhance your pet’s health.