How to choose a safe omega-3 oil for your dog and avoid heavy metals, toxins, and GMOs
Why is fish oil no longer a safe and sustainable source of omega-3 fatty acids for dogs? I must say, I never expected a simple task like finding and sourcing a safe, balanced and sustainable omega oil supplement for dogs would be so difficult. From the outside, sourcing a relatively simple product might seem easy, but sourcing the right and safe omega is like looking for a needle in a haystack.
As a result, many dog lovers make serious mistakes when it comes to choosing the right omega-3 source for their dogs, which results in heavy metal toxicity, disease, epilepsy, and a shorter lifespan.
What are Omega oils?
Omega oils, are also known as essential fatty acids (EFAs), can be divided into three main groups: Omega-3, 6 and 9.
The word essential clearly shows that EFAs are vital to your dog’s health. In medicine, the term essential also means the body can't produce the nutrient on its own.
Perhaps you have memories of your parents holding a bottle of fishy-smelling cod liver oil or sardine oil that made you gasp for air and run the other way. However, research has now confirmed EFA's are crucial for maintaining good health.
Omegas are also a source of many online discussions because people seem to be unclear on what omegas to give, what ratios are the best, and what source is safe.
A closer look at Omega-3, 6 and 9
Omega-6 EFAs, such as linoleic acid (LA), are relatively common in food and usually come from vegetable oils. The main sources of omega-6 for dogs are meat and eggs for those that eat raw or cooked grain-free food. Omega-6 is also heavily represented in grain, nuts, and seeds.
Omega-9 EFA's are common components of animal fat and vegetable oils. This group of fatty acids is not essential because the body can create them.
When compared to ancient diets of canines and humans, the current diet has much higher proportions of omega-6 and 9 to omega-3.
This is partially because most farm animals are fed grain and do not eat as much grass as in the wild. Increased intake of omega-6 and 9 leads to inflammation, slower healing, and faster aging.
This group of omega fatty acids is the most valuable from the point of maintaining good health.
Omega-3 EFA's have a potent anti-inflammatory effect, and they are the key nutrients required for a healthy healing response. Most dogs are deficient in omega-3 EFAs and they need additional supplementation.
Omega-3 is essential for optimum health in canines and people
Knowing all of the above, you have two important tasks when it comes to keeping your dog healthy and living a long life: give omega-3 supplements and find a safe omega source.
The Source is Everything
Omega-3 can be sourced from either plants or marine animals. Nutritionally, the most valuable omega oils are Eicosapentaenoic (EPA) and Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).
Coconut oil is NOT a good source of EPA and DHA because it contains medium-chain fatty acids which are very different from omega-3.
There is another omega-3 EFA, alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which is abundant in flaxseed, hemp seed, and other plant oils.
Humans are capable of converting a small fraction of ALA to EPA and DHA. That is why flaxseed oil can at least partially replace fish oils for humans. However, most scientists agree that dogs lack the metabolic pathways for such conversion.
Algae oil disappointment
When I started searching for the best source of omega oils for dogs, I was convinced algae would be the right source. It is plant-based, does not accumulate heavy metals, and is rich and well-balanced in DHA and EPA.
As we dug deeper and tried to find a quality supply of algae oil, we came to a shocking discovery. Almost all the algae oil on the market is made of GMO (genetically modified organisms). We also learned most algae oil production was linked to Monsanto’s patents and these GMO oils were present in a variety of natural brands including baby formula!
In other words, the journey of looking for the perfect algae oil started with excitement but ended with disappointment and concern. Algae omega oil was off the list.
Fish oil quandary
When I was in elementary school in the 70s, I remember one of our teachers saying that the oceans of the world contain an infinite source of food and fish. For many centuries, fish was a healthy and cheap source of food and omega-3. Unfortunately, fish is not what it used to be. Most people are unaware there are several problems with fish and fish oils.
Mercury in fish
A few years ago, I started using hair testing as one of the most reliable, accurate and inexpensive ways of determining the toxin levels of dogs. As I received hundreds and thousands of test results, I started to see the connection of elevated mercury levels with fish-based dog food and fish oils.
I also learned dogs with elevated mercury levels are more vulnerable to epilepsy and chronic health problems. Click here to read more.
Fish that live for longer and larger fish that are higher up on the food chain accumulate more mercury. This removes mackerel, marlin, orange roughy, shark, swordfish, tilefish, tuna, groupers and other larger ocean fish off the list of viable sources of omega oils.
And even if this fish didn’t contain high levels of mercury, the problem of overfishing is very serious and makes fish oils environmentally unsustainable.
If you use or have used fish oil for your dog, I suggest you hair test your dog and avoid any large fish or mixed fish oil blends in the future.
Is salmon oil ok?
I have seen very few problems with salmon oil. It has a perfect balance of EPA and EFA, and it is relatively low in mercury.
However, even salmon oil production has not escaped the effects of human ignorance. Salmon overfishing is a serious problem, and salmon farming threatens the wild salmon stock by spreading diseases when farmed salmon escapes into areas where they are not native.
Sardine and herring oil
As a kid, I loved eating sardines and most dogs love them too.
Sardines and herring used to be a perfect source of omegas and many oil companies use them to produce EFA supplements. Small fish in general, are lower on the food chain and their mercury content is low.
Until a few years ago, I had no problem giving sardine and herring oil to my patients, but that has changed. Hair testing brought me another interesting discovery.
Many dogs that eat small fish and sardine and herring oil appear to have elevated levels of strontium, a radioactive element that has been released in large quantities from the nuclear power plant involved in the Fukushima disaster, which is still going on. Click here to read more.
Why is strontium a bigger problem in small fish?
Strontium is an element very similar to calcium and replaces calcium in bones. Small fish are usually processed and eaten with bones, so more strontium gets in the body when you eat products made from small fish. Large fish are usually not eaten with bones, therefore there is less risk of strontium contamination.
That is why I do not recommend oils made from sardines and small fish for dogs and why I no longer eat sardines.
Is krill oil ok?
Those of you who are familiar with omega oils may have been using krill oil, made from the largest protein biomass on the planet. However, the latest research shows that krill overfishing seriously threatens this important food source for fish, penguins, and whales. Additionally, krill also appear to be sensitive to the effect of climate change.
A winner among the losers
There is not a day where we do not hear about the negative impacts on the environment, fish and wild animal populations. Ocean overfishing is a serious problem, and we need to be responsible by reducing fish consumption.
However, there is one group that can be considered a winner: cephalopods like octopus and squid.
Research has shown that their population has been on the rise since the 1950s, and scientists suspect this increase may be a result of climate change and a decrease in the number of squid-eating fish.
*We found squid met all of our criteria for a quality Omega-3 source: It has a great balance of EPA and DHA with extremely low toxin levels and a steady population rise for over 50 years.
Squid live only about one to two years and their short lifespan makes them super-adaptable to changing ocean conditions.
Squid is also an incredibly rich source of EPA and DHA, and, because it lacks bones and is low on the food chain, tests have shown squid to be free of any detectable levels of toxins.
These are the reasons that calamari (squid oil) is the omega-3 source I use and recommend for my patients.
The oil has about double the amount of DHA than EPA, which is different than in fish. DHA is great for the skin and coat as well as the nervous system function, which can be super beneficial for young, developing puppies, adult dogs, and senior dogs for preventing senior dog dementia.
EPA is the anti-inflammatory component of omega oils, so if your dog has joint issues, all you need to do is to increase the overall dose.
Calamari oil is not only one of the best and purest sources of omega-3 for animals and people, but it is also environmentally sustainable.
© Dr. Peter Dobias, DVM