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DHA for dogs

The essentials

  • DHA is a type of omega-3 fatty acid — Omega-3s play a leading role in a puppy’s development, affecting its vision, attention, trainability, and memory. They may help ward off arthritis, heart disease, and certain cancers.
  • DHA matters at other life stages, too  — It promotes a shiny coat and prevents dry, flaky skin conditions such as dermatitis among other benefits. 
  • Low DHA levels may be harmful — It’s linked to impaired learning and lethargy in dogs.

What is DHA?

DHA is in human diets, including mackerel and salmon, because of its proven benefits on brain development in infants and healthy brain function in adults. It’s so important, every infant formula is now fortified with DHA. More recently, this fatty acid has been added to dog food to help develop the central nervous system and eye health in dogs, particularly puppies. 

Before weaning, puppies get DHA from their mother’s milk. After this, they need a high-protein, high-fat diet to ensure they get enough DHA. Many commercial pet foods contain DHA, but you may also need to add supplements or foods like ZipZyme™ Omega because dogs can’t synthesize this fatty acid on their own. ZipZyme™ is grown from ocean algae, a natural, safe, plant-based source of DHA. DHA is the most important omega-3 fatty acid and is vital for optimal health in canines.

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Benefits of DHA for dogs

Many studies have proven the benefits of giving DHA supplements to dogs to lower their risk of developing certain health conditions including osteoarthritis, cardiovascular disease , and various types of cancer. Other benefits of DHA include:

Reduced allergic reactions. Fatty acids such as DHA and, to a lesser degree, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) have anti-inflammatory properties that can help to soothe allergy symptoms in dogs, especially those caused by immunodeficiencies. 

Improved brain health. DHA is essential for healthy cognitive function in dogs. The correct amount of DHA in a dog’s diet can improve memory, attention span, and trainability. It may also help to control the symptoms associated with brain aging in older dogs, including canine cognitive dysfunction and dog dementia

Healthier vision. DHA plays a vital role in developing the light-sensitive lining at the back of the eye that sends messages to your brain to enable you to see.

A shinier coat. For dull dog coats, consider adding a DHA supplement to their diet to improve coat health and maintain a healthy sheen. Fatty acid supplements may also help with hair loss, depending on the cause. 

A more robust immune system.  The immune system protects your dog from invading pathogens and bacteria that can cause illness and disease. DHA boosts your dog’s immune system, increasing antibody production to improve immune response. 

Reduced inflammation. The increase in antibody production caused by DHA can also help with inflammation. Some studies have shown a link between DHA and a lower risk of heart disease because of its ability to decrease the effects of pro-inflammatory proteins, reducing pain and swelling.  

A healthier central nervous system. DHA is the most common fatty acid found in canine brains, accounting for 30% of the fat in the brain’s gray matter. It’s essential for optimum brain function and the development of the central nervous system in puppies. It’s especially important for nerve cell structure, which regulates vital body functions such as digestion and the effective pumping of the heart.  

Improved joint health. Veterinarians estimate that 20% of all dogs over the age of 1 suffer from some osteoarthritis. Common causes include hip dysplasia, an injury, and obesity. Supplements that contain DHA and EPA can aid cartilage development which helps protect the joints from damage. However, remember that regular exercise is still the best way to keep your dog’s joints healthy.

Potential side effects of DHA for dogs

DHA is essential for brain, bone, and retinal development in dogs. However, too much of this fatty acid can cause adverse side effects when relying on extracted oil supplements. These include: 

Acid reflux. This occurs when the contents of the stomach back up into the esophagus. Fish oil can produce this reaction in both humans and dogs. Symptoms to watch out for include vomiting of bile or undigested food, burping, and lip licking

Bleeding. Fish oil thins the blood because it’s a natural anticoagulant. This makes it a great supplement to reduce the risk of heart disease, but too much of it can prevent blood from clotting and cause bleeding. You should speak to a vet before using a DHA supplement, especially if your dog is on any blood-thinning medication. 

Diarrhea. Omega-3 fatty acids such as DHA and EPA have been reported to cause diarrhea in some dogs. If fatty acids are not digested properly, they can pass into the upper gastrointestinal tract (esophagus, stomach, and duodenum), resulting in uncomfortable diarrhea

Stinky breath. Do you know the feeling when you wake up in the morning with a case of bad breath? Dogs can suffer from this, too. Fish oil doesn’t exactly smell pleasant, so too much of it can cause bad breath

Increased blood sugar. Diabetic dogs should be careful about using DHA or EPA supplements, as they can cause high blood sugar levels. Diabetes medications reduce glucose levels — too many fatty acid supplements can reverse their effects. 

Weight gain. Fatty acids are high in fat, as the name suggests, so large amounts can cause weight gain, leading to obesity, arthritis, and other canine health conditions.   

👉 The side effects above can be avoided when you choose a natural alternative to fish oils and other popular omega-3 products. ZipZyme™ Omega is grown directly from ocean algae that has the special enzymes that work to multiply the amount of DHA in the body and convert sugar to healthy fats.

DHA dosage

As a general guide, the recommended daily DHA dose should be 25 milligrams (mg) per kilogram (kg) of body weight. The recommended daily EPA dose is 40mg per kg of body weight. Speak to your vet for accurate dosage guidelines, especially if your dog is suffering from a health condition or if they are taking certain medications, such as blood thinners.

Where to get DHA for dogs

You have two choices when purchasing DHA or EPA for your dog: natural sources and supplements. Natural sources of omega-3 fatty acids include coldwater fish such as salmon and rainbow trout. However, there are also plenty of other sustainable options to choose from such as:

  • Phytoplankton. These microscopic plant organisms are one reason coldwater fish are full of DHA and EPA. They can be purchased in powder form with only a small amount needed per day. Products like ZipZyme™ Omega are a fresh food source of omega-3 DHA that can be added to your dog’s daily meals.
  • Green-lipped mussels. Native to New Zealand, they’re available in health and pet stores in powder and capsule form worldwide.  Green-lipped mussels are particularly effective at reducing joint pain and stiffness in dogs. 
  • Chia seeds. These are a great sustainable vegan source of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) omega-3 fatty acids for dogs. Sprinkle them onto your dog’s food, but make sure you only offer a few at a time because they are high in fat.  
  • Flax seeds. Sprinkle these onto your dog’s food too, for a boost of ALA. Like chia seeds, they should be given in small amounts because they contain high levels of alpha-lipoic acid, which dogs can’t metabolize. 

If your dog isn’t a fan of fresh fish, there are other ways to add DHA to its diet. The most common ingredient in omega-3 supplements include salmon oil, which is oil extracted from salmon, so it contains plenty of DHA and EPA, to promote optimum health in your canine. Salmon is one of the most omega-3-rich fish alongside sardines, herring, and white fish like halibut. Omega-3 supplements also often contain B vitamins, vitamin E,  and other antioxidants for an added health boost. But an even better alternative to ensure your pet gets the most health benefits from their omega-3 nutrition is to choose the fresh food source of omega-3 DHA found in ZipZyme™ Omega.

👉 Omega-3 supplements are for sale at various pet stores and online. Because there is no organization that oversees the quality of these products, stick to reputable retailers and focus on vet-recommended supplements.

Frequently asked questions

Can you give DHA to dogs?

Yes, it is perfectly safe to give DHA to dogs. It’s an essential omega-3 fatty acid with many benefits for dogs, such as aiding brain and retinal development. DHA supplements can also boost skin and coat health and lower the risk of certain cancers and heart conditions.

Can dogs have too much DHA?

Yes. Refer to the specific amounts given on DHA supplement packaging or speak to your vet for advice. Too much DHA can cause acid reflux, diarrhea, weight gain, and increased blood sugar levels in dogs. Docosahexaenoic acid is also a natural blood thinner, so you should be wary about giving it to dogs on blood-thinning medication.  

What are the best sources of DHA for dogs?

Good sources of DHA include coldwater fish such as salmon, trout, and sardines. These can be offered cooked (just be careful of bones). Avoid fish species high in mercury, such as tuna, as these can cause toxicity in large amounts. DHA can also be found in flax seeds, chia seeds, and algae powders. Omega-3 supplements are another option that comes in a variety of forms including soft gels and liquid form.