Should I be feeding fish oil to my dogs and cats?

5th May 2021
Beryl Shuttleworth
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Why feed fish oil?

The main reason that most of us feed fish oil to our pets is to provide omega 3 fatty acids, which have a wide range of health benefits. Amongst these – joint health, heart health, brain health, skin health.

There are three main omega 3 fatty acids – Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). The useful, therapeutic and therefore most important ones are EPA and DHA.

ALA is common in many plants, such as Chia and Flax seeds. It is also the precursor to the other two. But the problem is, our pets aren’t very efficient at converting ALA into EPA and DHA. The conversion rate is estimated at about 10% or less. This means that plant sources of omega 3 aren’t ideal for dogs and cats.

So, fish oil has always been the ‘go to’ supplement for EPA/DHA. This has started to change.

Problems with fish oil

Sadly, our oceans have become so heavily polluted, that our fish are absorbing this pollution. There are three main types of pollutants effecting our oceans and hence our fish:

Persistent organic pollutants – dioxins, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), organochlorine pesticides (OCs), polybrominated diphenyl ethers.

Heavy metals – methylmercury, lead, cadmium

Microplastics – tiny pieces of plastic. These are a double edged sword, because they are problematic in themselves, plus they soak up the toxins.

I’m not going to go into details here, but none of these are nice things. These pollutants are found in fish and in fish oil.

Salmon oil used to be the gold standard of all fish oils. 1000mg supplied about 180mg EPA and 120mg DHA. But this was when salmon farmers were using mashed up dead fish to feed the living fish. This had the result of concentrating the EPA/DHA concentration, but also had the effect of concentrating the toxins. Most salmon farmers, because of this, have changed back to a more normal diet. This has had the effect of reducing the concentration of EPA and DHA to 30mg and 40mg per 1000mg oil respectively.

What is the alternative?

We talked earlier about plant sources of omega 3. It does provide, but it is not ideal, because of the lack of conversion from ALA to EPA and DHA. The alternative that I’m going to put forward here is phytoplankton.

Phytoplankton are mostly unicellular water dwelling plants who consume carbon dioxide and release oxygen. They contain chlorophyll and produce energy via photosynthesis, in the process of which, they remove about 10 gigatonnes of carbon from our atmosphere. They form a massive biomass in our oceans and are critically important for the health of our planet.

This is the important part, for the purposes of this article:  phytoplankton are the very bottom of the food chain.  They are consumed by many sea creatures, including some whales, zooplankton (animal-like unicellular organisms), small fish and invertebrates.  The smaller animals are then eaten by the bigger ones, and so on.

At every stage of the food chain, just like in the salmon we spoke about earlier, the toxin level is compounded. Bottom line: the bottom of the food chain is way less toxic than the top.

Is phytoplankton as good as fish oil?

If you are looking exclusively at EPA/DHA levels, phytoplankton falls short. The phytoplankton that we use in our products (Nannochloropsis) contains 23mg/1000mg EPA. (DHA is not measured – not a problem as EPA and DHA are easily converted if necessary.) So, comparing directly to the new salmon oil, it provides far less.

But, there are two reasons that phytoplankton is better than fish oil. Firstly, and most importantly, it is the cleanest source of omega 3 that you can get from the ocean. Not only is it the bottom of the food chain, as discussed above, but the Nannochloropsis we use is farmed in clean, filtered sea water.

The second reason is that phytoplankton contains other extremely valuable nutrients. Amongst other things, it contains, in an extremely digestible form:

  • essential fatty acids
  • trace minerals
  • chlorophyll
  • antioxidants
  • essential amino acids
  • protein
  • carotenoids
  • vitamins
  • bioflavonoids

Also, I’ve been trying to pin down the exact amount of EPA/DHA we should be feeding to our dogs. And the water is very muddy. After reading many, many papers, I haven’t found one that does a dose response study. They all arbitrarily pick a number, dose the dogs and measure the effect. So we don’t actually know if a lower dose would be as effective or if a higher dose would be better. Some molecules even have a bell shaped curve where higher doses are less effective than lower doses. There is so much that we don’t know.

How our product fits in

Our product, Omega 3 Formula, contains 10% phytoplankton (Nannochloropsis) and 20% chia seeds. The medium dog dose of 1 level teaspoon (3.5g), provides at least 8mg EPA. The large dog dose of a heaped teaspoon (5g) provides 12mg EPA.

I’m being completely transparent here. This is not nearly as rich in EPA/DHA as fish oil. But I hope I’ve shown you that there is more to the story than one line on a certificate of analysis. And that there is an alternative to the often contaminated fish oil and fish.

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