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A black dog staring up at a fish oil supplement for dogs.

The essentials

  • There are many benefits of fish oil for dogs — Omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil can promote shiny, silky coats and improve cognitive function in dogs.
  • Natural fish oil supplements are best — Dogs have trouble absorbing the nutrients of synthetic fish oils.
  • Be aware of side effects — Too much fish oil can make dogs sick, as can heavy metal contamination in lower-quality products.

What is fish oil?

You may already be familiar with fish oil supplements, those yellow gel capsules you take for a boost of omega-3 fatty acids. As it turns out, fish oil is also available as a supplement for dogs and can provide your pup with important fatty acids that can be beneficial to your dog’s health. Fish oil supplements, like salmon oil, contain omega-3s to improve your dog’s coat and skin issues, like dry skin or dandruff. 

Fish oil for dogs can also help improve doggie joint health, relieve allergy symptoms, and may help with certain types of cancer. Like with humans, fish oil can also improve your dog’s heart health. 

Types of fish oil for dogs

There are three main types of fish oil for dogs: natural triglyceride oil, ethyl ester oil, and synthetic triglyceride oil. These range from naturally sourced to synthetic, and the type of fish oil will determine how easy or difficult it is for the dog’s body to absorb the nutrients. Another thing to keep in mind when looking at types of fish oil for dogs is contamination levels — even naturally-sourced oils may not be filtered for contaminants. 

  • Natural triglyceride oil. As the name suggests, natural triglyceride oil is the most naturally-sourced fish oil. While that means this type of oil is easier for a dog to absorb, it also goes through minimal processing, so natural triglyceride oil may contain contaminants like heavy metals.
  • Ethyl ester oil.  This type of fish oil is sourced naturally but is distilled to remove contaminants. Ethyl ester oil is a good source of two main types of omega-3 fatty acids, docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA).
  • Synthetic triglyceride oil. The synthetic version of triglyceride oil lacks bioavailability to dogs, meaning it is hard for a dog’s body to absorb this type of fish oil.

If you’re leaning toward a naturally or semi-naturally sourced fish oil, oils of high-quality products are typically sourced from wild-caught fish like salmon, cod, anchovies, sardines, and other types of non-threatened fish. Another great source of fish oil is the green-lipped mussel, a bivalve mollusc native to New Zealand. Many supplements for dogs, including joint supplements, use the fatty acids found in green-lipped mussels to promote health.

Alternatives to fish oil

Foods like ZipZyme Omega are grown from ocean algae, a natural, safe, plant-based source of DHA. Unlike fish oil that’s prone to oxidation, ZipZyme Omega is brined with sea salt, packaged in an individual oxygen barrier film, and shipped cold. 

Flaxseed oil and soy products may be viable alternatives to fish oil as well. With any new food or supplement, consult your vet before adding it to your pet’s diet.

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Benefits of fish oil for dogs

Dogs need omega-3 fatty acids in their diets from the time they are puppies until their golden years. From helping with proper development as young pups to easing joint inflammation or symptoms of osteoarthritis in senior dogs, fish oil has numerous benefits . Dogs may naturally get omega-3s in their diet, or they may need fish oil supplements recommended by a vet to help meet their needs. Fish oil may help:   

  • Alleviate allergies. The omega-3s in fish oil can help alleviate allergy symptoms, particularly itchy skin.
  • Relieve sore joints. Fish oil supplements can help reduce inflammation, leading to more relief from joint pain in dogs.
  • Improve coat and skin health. Fatty acids help restore both dry, flaky, or itchy skin and the shine in your dog’s coat.
  • Reduce cancer risk. Fish oil can help strengthen your dog’s immune system to inhibit cell growth or minimize metastasis of some types of canine cancer, including lymphoma.
  • Prevent kidney disease. Because fish oil can reduce inflammation, it may also help minimize pain related to or the progression of kidney disease.
  • Assist with cognitive function. From young pups to senior dogs, fish oil can help with cognitive development. In puppies, omega-3s may help young dogs learn and retain new skills quicker. For older dogs, fatty acids can help alleviate symptoms of cognitive decline.
  • Improve heart health. Fish oil supplements can help boost heart health by reducing inflammation.

Potential side effects of fish oil for dogs

As with any supplement, there are potential side effects and risks to giving your dog fish oil. Not every dog will tolerate fish oil, and these are some potential side effects of giving your pup fish oil, including:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Lethargy
  • Fishy smell from the breath or skin
  • Slow-healing wounds
  • Flaky, itchy skin
  • Oily coat
  • Upset stomach
  • Pancreatitis
  • Unusual bruising
  • Heavy metal toxicity may present as a loss of appetite, loss of coordination, or seizures

Natural supplements could be contaminated with heavy metals, which can be toxic to dogs. Always check with your vet for an appropriate dosages for your dog, as high levels of fish oil can cause a vitamin A overdose along with symptoms like vomiting or diarrhea in dogs. Dogs with a history of diabetes or pancreatitis may be more vulnerable to the side effects of fish oil supplements.

🚨 If your dog shows any of these side effects after consuming a fish oil supplement, discontinue use immediately and visit the veterinarian.

How to choose the right fish oil for your dog

Dogs can’t naturally produce omega-3s, so they need to get these essential fatty acids from their diet. But if their dog food isn’t providing as many nutrients as they need, you’ll need to work with your dog’s veterinarian to find the best fish oil supplement. Because fish oils can be contaminated with impurities or heavy metals, it’s important to find a high-quality supplement you can trust. As for dosage, you’ll also need vet recommendations based on your dog’s age, breed, and size. 

Here are four key points to consider when choosing a fish oil for your dog:

  1. Consider your dog’s breed, size, weight, and overall health
  2. Only use high-quality products from reputable companies
  3. Avoid fish oil that is made with synthetic ingredients or packed with preservatives and chemicals
  4. Consider alternatives

How to feed your dog fish oil

There are three ways to feed your pup fish oil:

  • Liquid. If you have trouble giving your dog pills, you may want to try a liquid fish oil supplement. The liquid can be added to their regular food for easier consumption. Liquid fish oil is more easily absorbed by the body as well.
  • Capsules. For less mess, consider fish oil capsules, which can be given to dogs like a treat or pill.
  • Chews. Most fish oil supplements are available as liquids or capsules, but you can also find omega-3 chews. Chews may be easier for dogs to eat and may seem more like a treat to your pup.

Check the product label for storage requirements, as some fish oil supplements may need to be refrigerated.

👉 Be sure to follow your vet’s instructions on how much to feed your dog based on their size and needs.

Frequently asked questions

Can you give a dog human fish oil?

Only give your dog fish oil supplements created specifically for dogs. Human fish oil capsules often contain added ingredients that can be toxic to dogs, like xylitol.

How much fish oil can I give to my dog?

For proper dosage, you should talk to your vet about your dog’s specific needs, as doses of omega-3s can range from 50 to 220 mg per kg of body weight. The exact amounts can depend on your dog’s breed, age, size, and overall health.

Can I give my dog fish oil every day?

Make sure to talk to your vet about how often to give your dog a fish oil supplement. While fatty acids in fish oil are beneficial to many dogs, too much fish oil can make your dog sick. However, if you are giving fish oil that is dog-specific at the appropriate dose, it is usually safe to give daily. 

What are the side effects of fish oil for dogs?

Giving your dog too much fish oil may lead to vomiting, diarrhea, sleepiness, and a fish-like smell coming from their mouth or skin. Contaminated fish oil supplements may contain heavy metals, which can cause serious side effects including appetite loss or seizures.

What kind of fish oil is best for dogs?

While your vet can offer the best recommendations for your specific dog, in general, it’s best to choose reputable brands with high-quality fish oil. Avoid synthetic fish oil supplements, which are difficult for dogs to absorb.