Omega 3s and Inflammation
Omega 3 Fatty acid supplementation can be a natural method of decreasing inflammation and pain associated with arthritis. Omega 3 supplementation has been shown in humans to maintain muscle mass, improve muscle strength and endurance, and enhance the effects of physical training.
Omega 3s can be provided through diets enriched with EPA and DHA, by giving natural sources (i.e. anchovies or sardines), or with fish oil supplements. The evidence for Omega 3 supplementation in dogs primarily comes from studies of therapeutic diets with high levels of supplementation, and results are generally positive.
These diets have been shown to improve weight-bearing, functional activity, and reduce the amount of NSAIDs needed. There is currently limited evidence with fish oil supplements, and no evidence with natural sources, so it is uncertain whether the same clinical results will be seen with fish/ fish oil supplements as with “joint” diets.
What are Omega 3s?
Omega 3s are one of several poly-unsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) that have physiologic roles in the body. Omega 3 and Omega 6 are “essential” PUFAs that are required for numerous functions in mammals, but they must be consumed through the diet. Omega 7 and 9 PUFAs can be formed endogenously. The distinction of 3, 6, 7, and 9 are based on the location of the final double bond in the chemical structure.
Omega 3s include EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid), DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), and Alpha Lipoic Acid (ALA). Omega 6 PUFAs include linoleic acid (LA) and arachidonic acid (AA); this is the same AA that we are familiar with in the mechanism of action of NSAIDs (LINK).
Metabolism of AA leads to the production of “inflammatory” eicosanoids (series 2 prostaglandins, PG, and thromboxanes and series 4 leukotrienes, LT), including prostaglandin E2 (PGE2). The metabolism of Omega 3 produces different forms of PGs and LTs that are less inflammatory (series 3 PG and series 5 LT).
Thus, increasing the amount of Omega 3s in the body leads to the replacement of AA in the cell membrane and decreased the production of inflammatory mediators. (Of note, Omega 6 is still an essential nutrient that must still be consumed, the goal of Omega 3 supplementation is to change the ratio of Omega 6 to 3. The ideal ratio is not fully known).
What is the best source of Omega 3s for dogs?
Dogs specifically need EPA and DHA to decrease inflammation associated with OA. The most potent source of EPA and DHA is fish oil. Dogs cannot metabolize ALA (flaxseed, linseed or canola oil) sufficiently to be helpful for treating OA.
Therefore, it is important that you recommend sources of EPA/DHA that can be effective. Omega 3s can be given in the form of fish or krill oil supplements, whole fish (anchovies, sardines), and prescription foods supplemented with fish oil.
Fish oil vs. Krill oil
Krill are tiny shrimp-like creatures and krill oil contains EPA and DHA, though less concentrated than fish oil. Purported benefits of krill oil over fish oil in humans includes potentially improved absorption as well as improved anti-oxidant properties due to the presence of astaxanthin. Astaxanthin is a powerful anti-oxidant and makes the fatty acids in krill oil more stable. When giving fish oil, it is important to be sure the product contains anti-oxidants (typically vitamin E) to protect the lipids from oxidation.
Studies have not been done in dogs comparing fish oil and krill oil, and a dose of krill oil has not been determined in dogs. There are studies in rats and humans that show krill oil is absorbed, but there are mixed results when comparing krill and fish oil. Some studies show that in humans, almost twice as much krill oil needs to be taken to get the same effects as fish oil.
Krill are sourced from the waters of Antarctica, where it is the primary food source for many animals. The krill fishing industry is rapidly growing and there is a legitimate concern for the impact that this will have on the Antarctic environment (as well as the world). There are some producers of krill oil products that claim to follow very high standards for fishing and environmental sustainability. However, some environmental protection groups have raised concerns that the krill fishing industry is causing a serious environmental threat. At this time, CARE is not recommending krill oil based on the environmental concerns and lack of clear evidence in dogs.
What is the recommended dose of Omega 3’s?
The recommended dose of fish oil is 75-100 mg/ kg total EPA/DHA. (The dose range reported for dogs is 50-220 mg/kg, but we typically recommend staying around 100 mg/kg)
The maximum daily dose is 310 x (BW in kg)0.75
For example, a 22.7 kg (50 lb) dog would need about 2,000 mg (2 grams) of fish oil per day. The maximum dose for a 50 lb dog would be 3,200 mg/ day.
Too much math? Here are charts for recommended dosages by bodyweight:
Omega 3 Dosing (for dogs under 50 lbs)
|Body weight (lbs)||Body weight (Kg)||Recommended Daily Dose (100 mg/kg)||Maximum Daily Dose|
|5||2.3||230 mg||574 mg|
|10||4.5||450 mg||965 mg|
|15||6.8||680 mg||1308 mg|
|20||9.1||910 mg||1623 mg|
|25||11.4||1140 mg||1919 mg|
|30||13.6||1360 mg||2200 mg|
|35||15.9||1590 mg||2469 mg|
|40||18.2||1820 mg||2730 mg|
|45||20.5||2050 mg||2982 mg|
Omega 3 Dosing (51-100 lbs)
|Bodyweight (lbs)||Bodyweight (Kg)||Recommended Daily Dose (100 mg/kg)||Maximum Daily Dose|
|50 lbs||22.7||2270 mg||3227 mg|
|55||25||2500 mg||3466 mg|
|60||27.3||2730 mg||3700 mg|
|65||29.5||2950 mg||3924 mg|
|70||31.8||3180 mg||4153 mg|
|75||34.1||3410 mg||4374 mg|
|80||36.4||3640 mg||4590 mg|
|85||38.6||3860 mg||4804 mg|
|90||41||4100 mg||5014 mg|
|95||43.2||4320 mg||5222 mg|
|100||45.5||4550 mg||5427 mg|
Omega 3 Dosing (101-150 lbs)
|Bodyweight (lbs)||Bodyweight (Kg)||Recommended Daily Dose (100 mg/kg)||Maximum Daily Dose|
|100 lbs||45.5||4550 mg||5427 mg|
|105||47.7||4770 mg||5629 mg|
|110||50||5000 mg||5829 mg|
|115||52.3||5230 mg||6027 mg|
|120||54.5||5450 mg||6222 mg|
|125||56.8||5680 mg||6415 mg|
|130||59.1||5910 mg||6607 mg|
|135||61.3||6130 mg||6797 mg|
|140||63.6||6360 mg||6985 mg|
|145||65.9||6590 mg||7171 mg|
|150||68.2||6820 mg||7356 mg|
What is the best way to supplement Omega 3s?
Omega 3s can be administered either by fish oil supplements, natural sources or in prescription foods. Prescription foods will typically have the highest concentration of EPA/DHA, though it is often hard to decipher the amount being fed on the food label and the source of EPA/DHA is not always clear in terms of sourcing sustainability.
The benefits of prescription diets are that these foods have research to support their efficacy and they are the easiest/ most practical method of supplementation. However, there will be times that these diets are not the right choice for the individual dog or client. Fish oil capsules or liquid or natural sources (fish) can be used instead. There is limited research looking at using these sources of EPA/DHA for treating OA in dogs.
You will find variation in the listed amount of Omega 3’s in various different products vs. the USDA Food Data Base. The following are examples of Omega 3 values in one commercially available brand of canned fish. (CARE has no affiliation with this brand but appreciates their focus on sustainable fishing practices).
- Anchovies, 4.4 oz can, 800 mg EPA/DHA per 3 oz serving size
- Sardines, 4.4 oz can, 1,800 mg EPA/DHA per 3 oz serving size
- Salmon (Sockeye), 6 oz can, 709 mg EPA/DHA per 3 oz serving size
- NOTE: CARE does not recommend using salmon or salmon oil as a daily source of Omega 3s in dogs as it is not the most environmentally sustainable source
Most products will list the amount of EPA, DHA and total Omega 3s. The total number will be larger than the sum of EPA and DHA due to “other” Omega 3s. The ideal dose should be the total of EPA + DHA, not necessarily the total Omega 3 content. However, since a dose range for Omega 3s exists, it is OK to determine the dose using the total Omega 3 content.
The Fish Oil product that CARE currently recommends is:
- Nordic Naturals Omega-3 Pet
Things to keep in mind
You can use human versions of Nordic Naturals products but be sure to choose a product that does not include Vitamin D. Other flavorings, such as rosemary and lemon, may not be harmful but may be off-putting to dogs.
Use caution when buying fish oil products from pet stores. ConsumerLab.com has tested several pet products and found that the actual product only contained a fraction of what was listed on the label. Buyer beware when it comes to supplements!
Drug interactions: Aspirin– when combined, may cause blood thinning (decreased platelet function). Aspirin is NOT recommended for dogs.
Side effects: Diarrhea at higher doses (increase slowly to prevent); some concern with delayed wound healing at high doses. May not be advised with chemotherapy—consult the attending oncologist.
- Fish oils are highly prone to oxidation, so they need to be protected from light and need adequate levels of Vitamin E or other antioxidants to preserve them.
- Flaxseed (and other Omega 3 fatty acids) are not readily converted to the active forms EPA & DHA in pets.
- There is CONSIDERABLE variability in supplements in terms of the amount of EPA & DHA per capsule or ml of liquid in both human and pet products. Dosing is critical to achieving the desired effects.
- DHA is more important in cats (specifically related to bladder & joint disease), and cognitive issues in both older dogs & puppies. It’s common to see DHA added to puppy foods to help to increase learning.
- There are several prescription pet foods that contain high levels of Omega 3s and therefore you would not need to add further supplements.
- It will take about 2 months for omega 3s to incorporate the lipid bilayer of cells, therefore, clinical results should not be expected before this time.
Prescription Dog Foods with high level Omega 3s:
Purina JM ® Dry
- 287 mg EPA/cup; 445 mg DHA/cup = total 732/ cup
Purina JM® Canned
- 410 mg EPA/can; 380 mg DHA/can = total 790/can
Science Diet Metabolic + Mobility®
Science Diet J/D ® Canned
- 1,080 EPA/ can
Science Diet J/D ® Dry
- 409 mg EPA/cup
Blue Buffalo W +M ® Dry
- 552 mg EPA /cup; 552 mg DHA /cup = total 1104
Bauer JE. Responses of dogs to dietary omega-3 fatty acids. J Am Vet Med Assoc 2007;231:1657-1661.
Bauer JE. Therapeutic use of fish oils in companion animals. J Am Vet Med Assoc 2011;239:1441-1451.
Lenox CE. An overview of fatty acids in companion animal medicine. J Am Vet Med Assoc 2015;246:1198-1202.
Roush JK, Cross AR, Renberg WC, et al. Evaluation of the effects of dietary supplementation with fish oil omega-3 fatty acids on weight bearing in dogs with osteoarthritis. J Am Vet Med Assoc 2010;236:67-73.
Roush JK, Dodd CE, Fritsch DA, et al. Multicenter veterinary practice assessment of the effects of omega-3 fatty acids on osteoarthritis in dogs. J Am Vet Med Assoc 2010;236:59-66.
Fritsch DA, Allen TA, Dodd CE, et al. A multicenter study of the effect of dietary supplementation with fish oil omega-3 fatty acids on carprofen dosage in dogs with osteoarthritis. J Am Vet Med Assoc 2010;236:535-539.
Mazaki-Tovi M, Abood SK, Schenck PA. Effect of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids and body condition on serum concentrations of adipokines in healthy dogs. Am J Vet Res 2012;73:1273-1281.
Moreau M, Troncy E, del Castillo JRE, et al. Effects of feeding a high omega-3 fatty acids diet in dogs with naturally occurring osteoarthritis. J An Physiol An Nutrition 2013;97:830-837.
Lenox CE, Bauer JE. Potential adverse effects of omega-3 fatty acids in dogs and cats. J Vet Intern Med 2013;27:217-226.