• Michelle Chen
  • Dog Nutrition and Member Service Specialist

  • 4 mins read time
  • Omega Fats: The Secret to Healthy Skin and Coat

    One of the easiest indicators for assessing our dog’s health is examining their skin and coat. Is their coat strong and shiny or dry and dull? Is their skin hydrated and clean or itchy and flaky? These warning signs are all examples of inflammation, a natural response from the immune system to tell us that something’s wrong. Fats are the secret to helping us understand our dog’s health!

    Why is Fat Important?

    Protein, fat, and carbohydrates make up the diet. But fat is special in that it provides the highest amount of energy (9 kcal/g), double that of protein and carbohydrates! Dietary fat is incredibly important for good health because fat is a major component of every cell in the body. Healthy cells are the foundation for healthy organs! Fat is crucial for the absorption of fat soluble vitamins like Vitamin A, D, E, and K and also necessary to manufacture hormones, which help to keep nutrients in and waste out.

    There are different types of fat depending on their chemical structure. Fatty acids are the building blocks of fat. Saturated fatty acids are straight so they can pack tightly together, they usually form solids at room temperature like butter. Unsaturated fats have kinks in them. They are usually liquid at room temperature like vegetable oil. Both serve different purposes but polyunsaturated fatty acids require more attention for dog owners.

    Omega Fats AKA Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids (PUFAs)

    You may know polyunsaturated fats or PUFAs from their more recognizable names: omega 3s and 6s. Their role is to produce hormones. Hormones are essential chemical messengers in your body that send signals to organs for growth, reproduction, mood, and metabolism. For dogs, AAFCO determines five PUFAs to be essential for dogs, meaning their bodies cannot manufacture them or that they are difficult to source, so they must be consumed through food.

    Linoleic Acid

    Omega 6

    Poultry, corn, soy

    Arachidonic Acid

    Omega 6

    Poultry, lean meat, egg yolk

    alpha-Linoleic Acid

    Omega 3

    Flaxseed, fish oil, canola, soy

    Eicosapentaenoic Acid (EPA)

    Omega 3

    Cold water fish oil, phytoplankton

    Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA)

    Omega 3

    Cold water fish oil, phytoplankton

     

    For Omega 3s, a lack of linoleic acid has shown to produce skin and coat issues and a study on golden retrievers found that supplementing omega 3s can reduce the risk of lymphoma. Skin is the body’s largest organ and first line of defense so it is incredibly important that our dogs are getting a solid source of omega 3s. DHA is essential for healthy brain and eye development. EPA is anti-arthritic. Dogs can actually manufacture arachidonic acid from linoleic acid and EPA/DHA from alpha-linoleic acid. Therefore, the body can function with one of the three in adequate amounts.

    Omega 6s which are found in... produce inflammatory hormones which are important for immune response and omega 3s found in foods like...decrease inflammation. They work together, antagonistically by binding to the same enzyme. Too much inflammation and the body develops diseases like arthritis, IBD, and heart disease, and cancer while an inadequate inflammation response by the dog’s body leads to illness from harmful bacteria and viruses. The exact required amounts have not been determined yet due to lack of research. Although we don’t know how much our dogs need, we do know that a balance of the inflammatory omega 6s and anti-inflammatory omega 3s (both necessary for hormone function) is required. Unfortunately due to modern farming practices, the typical dog diet is not always well balanced so it’s up to us to balance the ratio for our dogs.

    The Ideal Omega 6:3 Ratio

    AAFCO suggests an omega 6:3 ratio to be no higher than 30:1. This means for every 30 units of inflammatory omega 6, there must be 1 unit of anti-inflammatory omega 3! The range is so huge that many commercial pet foods will try to meet the bare minimum of 30:1 which is far too high and inflammatory and can lead to chronic disease gone unbalanced - fortunately, this ratio can be offset by supplementing these foods. Although more research needs to be done, generally a low omega 6:3 ratio is best at 2:1 or 1:1 or the lower the better.

    Food Sources to Balance the Omega Ratio

    Knowing which foods are high in omega 3s and 6s will help us decide when and what to feed or supplement for our dog’s food. Foods high in omega 3s include oily fish, flaxseed, chia seed, and walnuts. Foods high in omega 6s include corn oil, sunflower oil, meat, poultry, and eggs. Poultry tends to be higher in omega 6s than beef and grain-fed animals are extremely high in omega 6s. Although whole fresh fish is best, fish oil is a popular go-to supplement for adding omegas. If opting for a fish oil then choose a sustainably sourced oil, made from small fish (low in toxins and high in omega 3s) and produced in Norway, where the most reputable fish oil processing plants are.

    Itchy, dry, and red skin are extremely common concerns which is no surprise as the majority of dogs are eating highly processed kibble. As mentioned, these commercial pet foods are usually too inflammatory with a high omega 6:3 ratio that isn’t balanced appropriately. This can cause our dogs to get itchy, leading to inflamed skin and hair loss. An unhealthy coat and skin can lead to further infection since skin is our body’s first line of defense against pathogens! Adding omega 3s to help balance the inflammatory ratio of most commercial pet diets can help produce a healthier skin and coat!

    As pet owners, it’s important to remember that we are in control of our dog’s diet! If you choose commercially balanced foods, take a look at the omega 6:3 ratio on the back of the bag too see how close it is to a 1:1 ratio. If feeding homemade, remember to add variety because different proteins have different fatty acid profiles. Add whole food sources of omega 6s or omega 3s depending on what you need to balance it out. By making sure your dog gets a balanced ratio, your dog will have the necessary fats for healthy cells, leading to healthy organs and an overall healthy body!