Omega 3 is the one our pets' diets tends to miss; it's only found in substantial quantities in oily fish, although there are varying amounts in eggs, meat and dairy products. The fatty acids in omega 3 (and omega 6) are 'essential', meaning that our bodies cannot manufacture them and we must consume them in our diets. Conventional dog foods, however, tend to be lacking in omega-3 fatty acids, so supplements can be a useful boost.
The two most important fatty acids that make up omega 3 are EPA and DHA, which have anti-inflammatory and anti-coagulant properties. EPA is beneficial in helping any condition that causes inflammation of the heart, kidneys, skin (due to allergies) and joints (such as arthritis), while DHA is important for brain and eye health.
If your pet suffers from environmental allergies (pollen is a common one), a dull coat or dry skin, omega-3 fats can help to lessen the symptoms. This is because omega-3 fatty acids play a vital role in maintaining the skin's natural barrier (which keeps out harmful irritants and infections) and helps to reduce itchy skin, dandruff and moulting, as well as promoting a shiny, healthy coat.
Top tip! When shopping for omega-3 supplements, look for formulas that also contain vitamin E and zinc, which are known to increase the extent to which omega-3 fatty acids can be used by the body.
One of the most important things about omega 6 is its ratio to omega 3. Current research suggests that the ideal ratio of omega 3 to omega 6 for pets is between 10:1 and 5:1. An excessive ratio of omega 6 can cause issues rather than solve them, which is why many experts advise a combined, balanced omega supplement rather than one omega in isolation.
Omega 6 is, however, vital to your pet, playing an important role in growth and immunity as well as skin and coat health. Deficiency will show up externally as a dull, brittle coat, which tends to fall out more than is usual, and excessive itching (if your pet suffers from 'hot spots', omega 6 can help). You might also notice poor immunity and slow recovery from infections. In younger animals, symptoms of omega-6 deficiency include poor overall development, neurological issues and a lack of weight gain, while older pets may suffer liver and kidney degeneration.
Probably the least well-known out of the three, omega 9 is the only one of these three omegas which the body can produce itself (although it does rely on the presence of omega 3 and 6 to do so).
Omega 9 has benefits for heart and brain health as well as immune function, and it is extremely valuable for senior cats and dogs. Omega 9’s brain health benefits can also result in a positive impact on trainability and behaviour in pets young and old.
With their contribution to the normal function of the heart and brain, plus multiple skin, coat and joint benefits, it's no wonder the omegas have a reputation as multitaskers. If you think your pet could benefit in any of these areas, choose a supplement which respects the delicate balance between omegas 3 and 6 (as a reminder, that's between 5:1 and 10:1) and always speak to your vet first.