One of the most common reasons dogs are seen by their veterinarian is for skin and coat problems. From itchy skin, to hair loss, to rashes or dull hair coats, the skin is the largest organ in the body and, being on the outside, it is easy to see when there is a problem.
Naturally then, pet owners are always after ways to help make their dog’s coat glossy, shiny, and wonderfully healthy; and an effective way to do this can be through the use of a fish oil supplement. Understanding why it can help though, is essential to learning how to make the most of its effectiveness. So, here is why fish oil can help to make your dog’s coat glossy and healthy.
What is fish oil, and how can it help?
Fish oil contains omega 3 fatty acids, which are essential fatty acids critical to skin and coat health in dogs. The reason why is that fish oil, which has long been proven to have anti-inflammatory and anti-itching effects in dogs with allergic skin disease (atopic dermatitis), is vital for maintaining normal skin cells, and improving coat quality1.
Specifically, omega 3s can promote a healthy skin and coat by increasing the lipid content in the stratum corneum — the outermost layer of your dog’s skin. When levels of protein-bound lipids such as ceramides, cholesterol, and fatty acids are increased in the skin, the skin is better equipped to stay hydrated and defend itself against the daily assault of pathogens, pollutants, allergens, and free radicals.
Furthermore, studies have shown supplementing your dog’s diet with omega 3s resulted in thicker skin with better organised skin cells2. Omega 3s are critical in this defense, and a healthier, more hydrated skin makes for a shinier coat3. They have also been studied extensively in the treatment of canine atopic dermatitis (allergic skin disease) and, in combination with other therapies, have been found to be beneficial in this disease.
When promoting overall health and wellbeing in our animal companions, omega 3s can help reduce overall inflammation by competing with arachidonic acid — an omega 6 fatty acid that is part of inflammatory cascades4. The skin is the largest organ in the body, and if the body’s immunity is worn down fighting chronic inflammation in other systems (joints, heart, and kidneys for example) then the first place you will often see changes is in the skin and coat. This is because the body will shuttle nutrients away from the skin and coat to supply other systems as it deems necessary. For instance, the heart and brain trump the skin when it comes to competing for nutrients.
What you will see if your dog has poor immunity, therefore, is a dull, dry coat. By supplementing with a high quality fish oil supplement in conjunction with providing optimal nutrition for overall health and wellbeing, you can help promote a glossy coat.
Why are they considered essential?
Omega 3s are considered ‘essential’ because your dog cannot make them on their own: they must consume them from their diet. The prime components that make omega 3 fatty acids so beneficial are EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), which are proven to have multiple health benefits — including promoting skin and coat health. Vegetable oils, such as soybean, canola, or flaxseed oil contain ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), an omega 3 fatty acid that is a precursor to EPA and DHA. However, dogs are not very good at transforming ALA into EPA or DHA, therefore administering a high quality, pure fish oil containing high levels of EPA and DHA to your dog can be a very efficient way to supplement your dog’s diet.
What are the negatives to fish oil supplements?
The tricky thing about these beneficial little molecules is that they are very fragile, and can oxidise (go rancid) easily in the presence of light, heat, or oxygen. When these molecules oxidise, they go from being beneficial ‘cis’ fats, to the more harmful ‘trans’ fats5. They are bad for your health, and they are also bad for your dog’s health. To protect your fish oil supplements, keep them in a cool, dark place, such as your fridge or freezer, and keep the container sealed.
How do I choose an omega 3 supplement?
When choosing a omega 3 fatty acid supplement for your dog, it’s important to work with your veterinarian and make sure there are no other underlying conditions that are contributing to your dog’s coat quality. Many hormonal conditions, such as hypothyroidism, diabetes, and cushings (hyperadrenocorticism), are associated with a dull hair coat, for instance.
Skin infections with mites, yeast, or bacteria can also contribute to poor coat quality, skin odors, redness and itchiness, and stress your dog’s immune system. Genetic disorders, such as seborrhea in Cocker Spaniels, can clog pores, create flaky dandruff and also need to be ruled out as the root cause for your dog’s dry coat.
Furthermore, certain cancers can manifest as skin and coat abnormalities. So work with your veterinarian to eliminate the possibility of these conditions. Even if your dog is diagnosed with an underlying condition, he or she can still benefit from supplementation with a high-quality omega- fatty acid.
Omega-3 fatty acids are not intended to cure disease, but there is promising research in this field on the effect of omega-3s found in fish oil on glossy hair coat, healthy skin, and overall health and well- being.
1 Watson, Tim DG. "Diet and skin disease in dogs and cats." The Journal of nutrition 128.12 (1998): 2783S-2789S. 2 Cerrato, Santiago et al. "Effects of essential oils and polyunsaturated fatty acids on canine skin equivalents: skin lipid assessment and morphological evaluation." Journal of veterinary medicine 2013 (2013). 3 Popa, Iuliana et al. "Analysis of epidermal lipids in normal and atopic dogs, before and after administration of an oral omega-6/omega-3 fatty acid feed supplement. A pilot study." Veterinary research communications 35.8 (2011): 501-509. 4 LeBlanc, CJ. "Effects of dietary supplementation with fish oil on in vivo ... - NCBI." 2008. 5 "Cis Fat vs Trans Fat - Difference and Comparison | Diffen." 2012. 19 May. 2016
Author info: Sarah Wooten is a small animal veterinarian and certified veterinary journalist. She is a 2002 graduate of the prestigious School of Veterinary Medicine at University of California in Davis. She practices in Greeley, Colorado part time at Sheep Draw Veterinary Hospital and writes for multiple online and print publications.