Omega 3 fatty acids are important to supplement in your pet’s diet. Whether they are eating kibble, canned, home cooked, or raw diets, chances are their food alone does not have enough omega 3 fatty acids. Giving your dog or cat fish oil can promote better skin and coat, heart, brain, eye, and kidney health.
The best way for dogs and cats to get their omega 3s are in fish oil, because it is the most bioavailable option for them. That’s because fish oil contains eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Other sources of omega 3s like chia seed, flaxseed, or walnut contain alpha-linoliec acid (ALA), which must first be converted into EPA and DHA in order for the body to utilize it. But since fish oil contains EPA and DHA, the body doesn’t have to go through any extra effort converting anything.
EPA and DHA come with many benefits, but there is also one major drawback. Since they are polyunsaturated fats, that means they are highly unstable and quick to oxidize. In other words, fish oil goes rancid quickly when exposed to oxygen, and it can result in cell oxidation after your dog or cat consumes it. Cell oxidation results in free radicals in the body. Too many free radicals in the body have been associated with many degenerative conditions, including accelerated aging, inflammation, damaged nerve cells in the brain, and damaged cell DNA.
Preventing oxidation before feeding
Fish oil that is manufactured and stored correctly will have less of a chance to oxidize. The best way to prevent oxidation is to feed fish oil that comes in capsules, which prevents exposure to oxygen… or if you feed a fish oil that comes in a bottle with a pump, you should store the bottle in the refrigerator.
Fighting cell oxidation with antioxidants
We can help our pet’s bodies fight off cell oxidation and prevent free radicals by feeding more antioxidants. Antioxidants like vitamin E are free radical scavengers, protecting cells from oxidation. This is why adding dietary fats to the diet can cause a deficiency of vitamin E. Raw diets can be low in vitamin E, and adding fish oil to your pet’s diet can decrease their vitamin E levels too. For this reason, you should consider adding a vitamin E supplement to your pet’s diet.
What is vitamin E?
Beyond its role as an antioxidant, vitamin E plays a role in the formation of cell membranes, cell respiration, and in the metabolism of fats. Vitamin E is essential for proper function of the body; deficiencies of Vitamin E can cause cell damage, affecting skeletal muscle, heart, liver, testes, and nerve cells. Symptoms of vitamin E deficiency include muscle weakness and/or infertility.
Natural sources of vitamin E are primarily plant based, so raw diets are typically low in vitamin E unless it is supplemented. On top of that, fish oil or other polyunsaturated fats further increase the need for adequate vitamin E in the diet.
Vitamin E is a term that refers to eight different compounds. There are two types of these compounds: tocopherols and tocotrienols. Both of these types are divided into four categories: alpha (α), beta (β), gamma (γ), and delta (δ). These compounds work together in the body; you can read more about this here.
Adding vitamin E to your pet’s diet
Alpha-tocopherol is the most commonly found in supplements. If you see dl-alpha-tocopherol on the label, that means it is synthetic, while d-alpha-tocopherol is not. Non synthetic d-alpha-tocopherol is more bioavailable.
However, alpha-tocopherol is just one piece of the puzzle when it comes to vitamin E. Finding a supplement that contains “mixed” tocopherols and tocotrienols has been shown to be more beneficial than just alpha-tocopherol alone. Some good vitamin E products to consider include NOW Gamma E Complex, Solgar vitamin E, or BlueBonnet vitamin E.
Most vitamin E supplements are derived from soy or vegetable oils like soybean oil, sunflower oil, or safflower oil. Wheat germ oil has the highest vitamin E content; one teaspoon of wheat germ oil provides 10 IU of vitamin E.
Vitamin E capsules usually come in high doses – 400 IU per capsule is common. But your pet only needs about 2 IU per pound of body weight daily. Solgar offers a 100 IU capsule (which you can find here); one 100 IU capsule per day would be great for a 50 pound dog. If you buy a 400 IU per capsule supplement, or if you have a smaller pet, don’t worry – just calculate how much your pet will need weekly instead.
Vitamin E overdoses are extremely rare – there are no known toxicity levels of vitamin E in dogs and cats, and fed even at huge levels, no interruption of bodily functions has been demonstrated [source] – so feeding more than 2 IU per pound of body weight isn’t a big deal. This is just a general guideline – exceeding it isn’t an issue. For example, a 25 pound dog would need 350 IU weekly based on the 2 IU per pound of body weight guideline. Feeding one 400 IU capsule per week would be fine, or two 200 IU capsules per week, or one 100 IU capsule every other day.
There are also liquid vitamin E supplements, which are easier to dose in smaller amounts. Here is a link to a liquid Solgar vitamin E.
Fish oil products that contain vitamin E
For many pet owners, choosing a fish oil that already contains enough vitamin E is easier than buying two separate supplements. There are many brands that list vitamin E as an ingredient, but they only add enough to be used as a preservative in their oil, not enough for your pet to utilize as an antioxidant.
I know of two good brands that include enough vitamin E for your pet to utilize in their fish oil: Bonnie and Clyde Wild Omega-3 and SeaPet Omega products. SeaPet does bulk/wholesale orders with some raw feeding co-ops, so check with your local co-op to see if they organize any SeaPet orders on a regular basis. (But remember, don’t buy too much at once – you don’t want the oil to oxidize before you can use it all!) I get Bonnie and Clyde fish oil on a monthly auto-shipment from Amazon Prime.