Exploring the role of omega-3 supplementation in cats and dogs

This article is sponsored by Standard Process Veterinary FormulasTM.

Omega-3 fatty acids such as alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentanoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are needed for proper growth and development. In fact, studies have revealed that omega-3s have anti-inflammatory properties in many species and can be used to help manage canine osteoarthritis.

ALA can be considered an “essential” fatty acid as several of its long chain derivatives such as EPA and DHA have important metabolic consequences. Essential fatty acids are those the body cannot make in sufficient amounts— they must be provided through diet. EPA and DHA can be synthesized from ALA, however the conversion process is inefficient in dogs and nearly nonexistent in cats. Therefore, they both require and benefit from foods containing EPA and DHA.

This article will take a closer look at omega-3s including some key dietary sources, their mechanism of action, and much more! Let’s start with sources.

Key dietary sources of omega-3s Sources of omega-3s include fish, krill, calamari, green-lipped mussel, and algae. Fish do not produce omega-3 oils directly— omega-3s accumulate from their foods, either plant material or smaller prey. Active omega-3s in marine sources are DHA and EPA. Nuts and seeds also contain omega-3 fatty acids; however, they have a higher content of ALA. Only about 10% of ALA converts to the more active EPA and DHA; therefore, using marine sources is preferred.1-4

Understanding omega-3’s mechanism of action After digestion and absorption, omega-3s incorporate into body tissue and organ system cell membranes altering metabolic pathways and result in “inflammation resolving” activity.5

How much is enough? A closer look at dosing and dietary plans The Association of the American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) sets minimal requirements for DHA content in pet foods for growth (.08% ALA and .05% EPA/ DHA, Dry Matter Basis) and the ratio of total PUFAs to ALA, EPA, and DHA in adult maintenance diets (maximum 30:1). Typical over-the-counter pet foods have minimal amounts of EPA and DHA. Veterinary therapeutic diets for disease conditions offer higher levels and should be evaluated for the type and amount of omega-3 (ALA, EPA, and/or DHA).

Since each patient may have multiple and varying concerns, identifying a range of omega-3 intake for each pet and monitoring for adverse effects is highly recommended. Treatment may include both a therapeutic diet and a specific supplementation dose. Experts consider the combination of all supplements and medications given and the potential for interactions and dosing can be modified according to each pet’s tolerance and concerns. This plan will safely achieve the maximal benefits of omega-3s for pets to support their health.

Omega-3 supplementation: What you need to know While optimal dosing has not been determined for pets, general guidelines have been offered from a compilation of studies for many health conditions. Supplementation is considered safe when given at appropriate levels under veterinary supervision. Safe upper limits have also been established as higher dosing may infrequently cause adverse effects. Veterinary input is recommended to determine the optimal omega-3 fatty acid supplementation plan for your pet’s unique needs.

Standard Process Veterinary Formulas™ VF Omega-3 is a fish oil supplement providing long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA, to support canine and feline pet health. Through a combination of anchovy and sardine oil, VF omega-3 provides DHA and EPA in softgel form to bridge the nutritional gap and help support:

  • The pathways that regulate joint health
  • Heart health
  • Canine healthy skin and coat
  • The central nervous system
  • Brain development of puppies and kittens

As each patient is a unique individual and may have a combination of concerns, identifying a specific range of omega-3 intake for each dog or cat is best. This might include a combination of a therapeutic diet and a specific supplementation dose. Monitoring for adverse effects is very important. Experts recommend considering the combination of all supplements and/or medications being given and the potential for interactions. Dosing can be modified according to each pet’s tolerance and individual concerns. This plan will safely achieve maximal benefits of omega-3s for pets and support their health.


  1. Bauer JE. The essential nature of dietary omega-3 fatty acids in dogs. J Am Vet Med Assoc. 2016;249(11):1267-72.
  2. Bauer JE. Responses of dogs to dietary omega-3 fatty acids. J Am Vet Med Assoc. 2007;231(11):1657-61.
  3. Bauer JE. Metabolic basis for the essential nature of fatty acids and the unique dietary fatty acid requirements of cats. J Am Vet Med Assoc. 2006;229(11):1729-32.
  4. Bauer JE, Dunbar BL, Bigley KE. Dietary flaxseed in dogs can result in differential transport and metabolism of (n-3) polyunsaturated fatty acids. J Nutr. 1998;128(12 Suppl):2641s-4s.
  5. Bauer JE. Therapeutic use of fish oils in companion animals. J Am Vet Med Assoc. 2011;239(11):1441-51.
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