A fresh cut of salmon lying on a table next to a cup of oil and two eggs.

Omega-6 and Omega-3 Benefits for Dogs

Pet food diets are formulated by animal and veterinary nutritionists to meet the nutritional requirements of pets. However, some of the ingredients in dog food, including some superfoods, can support a dog’s health beyond basic nutrition. These bonus benefits can come from fiber, antioxidants or omega fatty acids.

While “fatty acids” probably makes you think of an unhealthy diet — not bonus health benefits — we’re not talking about pet parents feeding their dog a cheeseburger or half a pizza (as much as your dog begs you for it). Some fats are actually good fats and help our canine companions stay healthy.

What Are Fatty Acids?

Nutrients — the parts of food necessary for life — are divided into six categories: water, carbohydrates, protein, fats, minerals and vitamins. Fats (also called lipids) provide an energy source for your dog, transport fat-soluble vitamins (vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin E and vitamin K) and protect your dog’s body by insulating against heat loss, cushioning vital organs and minimizing bacterial and viral invasion.

Fatty acids are components of fats that are key building blocks of cell membranes, concentrated energy sources and precursors of some hormones and chemical signals. The characteristics of fatty acids are used to assign them to groups — like the polyunsaturated essential fatty acids, omega-6 and omega-3. Omega-6 fatty acids are important for things like cell membrane structure and integrity, growth, reproduction and fat transport within blood. Omega-3 fatty acids support heart health, cell membrane flexibility, healthy skin, and brain and retina development and function.

Essential Fatty Acids Are Needed in Dog Food

Like amino acids, some fatty acids are considered essential. Essential nutrients need to be provided by the diet because they either can’t be synthesized by the body or can’t be synthesized in enough quantities to meet nutritional requirements. The omega-6 fatty acid linoleic acid is an essential fatty acid for dogs that’s found in ingredients like sunflower oil and millet.

The omega-3 fatty acid alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) is an essential fatty acid that is found in ingredients like flaxseed, chia seed and canola oil. Two other omega-3 fatty acids, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), are abundant in cold-water fish (salmon, mackerel, halibut) and their oil, and in krill oil and algae products. Fish oils are a better source of EPA and DHA for dogs than plant-based omega-3 fatty acid sources.

Are Omega-3 Fatty Acids Good for Dogs?

Yes! Both omega-6 fatty acids and omega-3 fatty acids help maintain the skin and coat health of dogs. In the epidermis (the outermost layer of the skin), linoleic acid is incorporated into ceramides, a family of naturally occurring waxy lipids found in cell membranes. Ceramides are part of the epidermal barrier matrix that helps control water loss and protects your dog’s body against environmental allergens and disease-causing microorganisms.

Arachidonic acid, EPA and DHA are all found in cell membranes that contribute to maintaining the structure of skin. EPA and DHA can also help with managing itchy skin conditions such as allergies and atopic dermatitis in dogs.

Fatty Acids Can Help Your Dog’s Immune System

Omega-3 fatty acids also have roles in inflammation and the immune response. For example, if omega-3 fatty acids are present when skin is injured, the compounds produced due to the cell membrane damage are less inflammatory and can reduce inflammation or an allergic condition.

Omega-3 Can Benefit Dogs with Kidney Disease

Some research suggests that omega-3 fatty acids from marine fish oil may be beneficial for dogs with kidney disease. Omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil may help lower pressure in the glomeruli (the kidney structures that filter blood in the process of making urine) and improve removal of creatinine (a key waste product), thereby improving kidney function.

By reducing inflammation, EPA and DHA can also help reduce the number of free radicals produced. Although they are a normal product of cell activity, free radicals can be harmful to cells and tissues if produced in excess. Synergistic benefits of omega-3 fatty acids with antioxidants — substances that neutralize free radicals — may be seen in cases of chronic kidney disease. Kidney-friendly diets with omega-3 fatty acids and increased levels of antioxidants are better at slowing chronic kidney disease progression than either omega-3 or antioxidants alone.

DHA Helps Brain and Vision Development

Studies have found that DHA is important for brain and vision development in young puppies. During nursing, DHA is passed from the mother to the puppy through the mother’s milk.

Omega-6 and Omega-3 Fatty Acid Sources in Your Dog’s Diet

Omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids can come from a number of different plant and animal ingredients in your dog’s diet. Below are some examples of ingredients in Diamond Pet Foods formulas that are a source of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.

  • Ancient grains – Chia seed, millet, quinoa
  • Animal products – Chicken fat, eggs, egg products
  • Fish products – Fish, fish meal, ocean fish meal, salmon, salmon meal, whitefish
  • Oils – Canola oil, flaxseed oil, menhaden fish oil, salmon oil, sunflower oil
  • Plants – Coconut, flaxseed, kale

Benefits of Fish Oil for Dogs

You may have read about dog owners giving their dogs fish oil as a supplement to their diet. Your dog may benefit from a fatty fish oil dietary supplement; however, you should always talk to your veterinarian before you change your pet’s diet, including feeding them supplements. Your vet can answer questions you may have about fish oil supplements, including “How much fish oil should I give my dog?”

Dogs of all ages, from puppies to senior dogs, can receive overall health benefits from the omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids in their diet. Looks like it’s not just cats that can benefit from some fish in their diet!

An interior graphic detailing the sources of omega fatty acids in Diamond Pet Foods.

The information in this blog has been developed with our veterinarian and is designed to help educate pet parents. If you have questions or concerns about your pet's health or nutrition, please talk with your veterinarian.


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