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Omega-6 and Omega-3 Fatty Acids

We often hear about omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids as being healthy nutrients. But what are they exactly, what roles do they play in the body of cats and dogs, and what are some good sources of these nutrients?

Fats are a concentrated source of energy for cats and dogs. Fatty acids are the building blocks of fats and some are considered to be essential, meaning they must be included in the diet for the animal to thrive. Omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids are both considered essential nutrients. These fatty acids are involved in many important bodily functions and must be included in the right amount and balance for your pets’ health. 

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fatty acids. They are important for health as some omega-3 fatty acids are essential fatty acids, meaning cats and dogs can’t make it themselves. Three omega-3 fatty acids are particularly important for cats and dogs:

  • DHA (docosahexaenoic acid): this fatty acid is extremely important for normal brain development and function. It is also involved in immune system development as well as eye function in growing puppies and kittens. DHA can be found in salmon and fish oil. 
  • EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid): this fatty acid helps with inflammation, blood pressure regulation and blood clotting. EPA can also be found in salmon and fish oil.
  • ALA (alpha-linoleic acid): this plant-based omega-3 fatty acid can be found in flaxseed and canola oil. It can also further be converted into DHA and EPA.

Even though DHA and EPA can be made from ALA (and therefore are not considered essential), it is highly recommended to have all three in the diet as the conversion of ALA to DHA and EPA isn’t very efficient.

Omega-6 Fatty Acids

Omega-6 fatty acids are also polyunsaturated fatty acids that perform essential functions in the body. The most important and abundant one is linoleic acid; it is essential in both cats and dogs. A deficiency in this nutrient would result in poor skin and coat health, as well as a depressed immune system and abnormal growth in young animals. Other omega-6 fatty acids include linolenic acid as well as arachidonic acid, which is essential in cats, but not in dogs. Omega-6 fatty acids contribute to the structure and function of cell membranes and as such play a big role in skin health. Arachidonic acid and linolenic acid can be converted to prostaglandins, substances involved in inflammation, blood clotting, smooth muscle tone and other bodily functions. Linoleic acid can be found in the majority of plant and animal fats and oils, in ingredients like chicken fat or canola oil. Arachidonic acid can be found in animal fats such as in chicken, lamb or salmon.

Balancing Omega-3 and Omega-6 Fatty Acids in Pet Foods

Both omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are involved in inflammatory processes in the body. Omega-6 fatty acids have a higher tendency to be pro-inflammatory whereas omega-3 fatty acids tend to have anti-inflammatory properties. For this reason, it is very important to have the right balance of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acid. If too much omega-6 and not enough omega-3 fatty acids are consumed, this can result in a low-grade inflammatory state, which has been associated with certain diseases like cancer, obesity and diabetes.

When it comes to the balance of these two types of fatty acids, the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) dog and cat nutrient profiles include a maximum omega-6 to omega-3 ratio of 30:1 (1). More precisely, the National Research Council (NRC) recommends a ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 of 2.6:1 to 26:1 (2).

At Vetdiet®, we always list the omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acid levels in our guaranteed analysis and we make sure to provide these essential fatty acids in the right amounts and balance for the lifelong health of pets as well as to promote a healthy skin and coat. We use high-quality, natural ingredients like fish oil, flaxseed, canola oil, coconut oil and chicken fat to provide these essential fatty acids.

  1. Association of American Feed Control Officials. 2016 Official Publication. Oxford, IN
  2. Association of American Food Control Officials Inc.; 2016.National Research Council. Nutrient Requirements of Dogs and Cats. Washington, D.C.: The National Academies Press; 2006
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