I can still remember the first time I heard that “fatty acid” supplementation could possibly help pets with allergic skin disease. I was at a conference in Indianapolis and a dermatology specialist stated that it may help with allergies. She stated that it may help about one third of allergy patients and it was very safe and cheap to try. Because controlling allergies can be very challenging and some medicines can be expensive or have undesirable side effects, I have tried it on many of my patients. I have seen it help some, but I don’t think I have seen even close to one third of patients get relief from fatty acid supplementation.

Many pet owners often have already tried fatty acid supplementation for their allergic pets before I even mention it to them. Often as soon as I mention fatty acids, pet owners will stop me mid-sentence and inform me they already are giving a “fish oil” capsule. Thru the years it seems to have become common knowledge that “fish oils” can help itchy skin, even though when tried it seems to only help a small percentage of pets. It is at least something that can be tried safely and relatively inexpensively.

Over the last couple years, I have still heard specialists talk about the benefits of fatty acid supplementation. They have been recommended for allergies, arthritis and kidney problems at various conferences I have attended. Several of these speakers made a point of saying that for fatty acids supplementation to work, the correct ratio of fatty acids must be used and at an appropriate dose. The recommended dose for most of our supplements is not high enough to see the improvement we are wanting to achieve.

The optimal ratio needed to help with inflammation is somewhere between a 5:1 to 10:1 ratio of omega 6 : omega 3 fatty acids. Most foods are much higher in omega 6 fatty acids than omega 3. In order to achieve this desired ratio, a food must be fed that has a reduced fat content and then the pet must be supplemented with an omega 3 supplement. There are a few dog diets that provide the correct ratio of these fatty acids such as Eukanuba Senior Plus and Hills Sensitive Skin. Feeding these diets might make supplementation unnecessary for allergic dogs. Your veterinarian may also have prescription diets that could be fed instead of having to give a supplement. Otherwise, a pet would need to be on a low fat diet and a supplement given.

One of the omega 3 fatty acids, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), is considered to be an anti-inflammatory on its own. Supplementation with EPA decreases the inflammatory cascade, and because it is also stored selectively in cartilage cells, it can make a big difference in inflammation associated with osteoarthritis. While the previously mentioned ratios should still be considered, some specialists recommend paying most attention to the dose of EPA given to help with inflammation. The dose of EPA recommended for allergic skin disease is 180 mg/10 pounds of body weight. The dose of EPA recommended for osteoarthritis varies quite a bit between specialists, but in general appears to be about double the dose, or 360 mg/ 10 pounds of body weight. Lower doses may be effective, but these are the dose I have found to be the most effective.

When shopping for omega 3 fatty acids, look for EPA and DHA. Often the bottle will boldly state the total milligrams of fish oil in one capsule, but you need to look at how many milligrams of omega 3 fatty acids are present. The few I looked at would mean you would need to give one capsule per 10-15 pounds of body weight. Next, try to figure out how you will get your pet to take one of those large capsules before purchasing the bottle. Those capsule are HUGE!

I have recently started recommending a product called Welactin. It is extremely concentrated and has been very well accepted by pets. Because the omega 3 fatty acids have been taken out of the fish oils in this product, there is very minimal fish smell with Welactin. I would recommend contacting your veterinarian to see what fatty acid supplement they recommend. There are several good ones that are very concentrated and can often be applied directly onto the pet’s food.

Chad Higgins, DVM has owned Amanda Animal Hospital for 19 years and sees dogs, cats, ferrets, and other little furry critters.