- Omega-3s are a family of essential fatty acids — Dogs can’t synthesize fatty acids, so omega-3s must be included in your pup’s diet.
- They’re essential to your pup’s health, from head to tail — Every cell structure in your dog’s body depends on omega-3s. Your dog’s brain and heart also wouldn’t function without them.
- They can improve Fido’s skin — As an added bonus, omega-3s have been proven to help combat joint pain and improve skin issues in dogs — from itchy skin and dandruff to hair loss.
What are omega-3s?
Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of polyunsaturated fat that dogs (and humans) get from their diets. These fatty acids are found in foods like fish, flaxseeds, chia seeds, and even fortified commercial pet foods.
The 3 types of omega-3s
The term “omega-3” is often used as a catch-all to describe the entire family of fatty acids. That said, there are actually three main types of omega-3s, which can be broken down as follows:
- Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). This is the type of omega-3 fatty acid that has anti-inflammatory properties. If you’re giving your dog a supplement to combat inflammation, you’ll need to ensure it has a high concentration of EPA.
- Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). If you have a young puppy or a senior dog and you’re looking to help them learn or keep their brain sharp, you’ll want to make sure their diet contains plenty of DHA. This is the omega-3 that provides your pup’s brain with a boost.
- Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). Dogs can’t metabolize ALAs enough to experience benefits from this type of omega-3.
Five benefits of omega-3s for dogs
- Healthier skin and coat. Fish oil supplements, which are high in omega-3s, can make your dog’s coat shinier and their skin healthier. If you notice that your dog’s coat is looking dull or their skin is dry and flaky, chat with your vet about adding fish oil to their diet. It can take about 6-8 weeks to see results, so you’ll want to have a little patience while you monitor your dog’s progress. If your pup is experiencing hair loss, adding fish oil may help with that, too.
- Improved brain health. Widely known as a “brain food,” fish oil has been proven to help puppies pick up new skills. In one study cited by the American Kennel Club (AKC), puppies provided with DHA were able to learn new skills faster than those that weren’t.
- Reduced inflammation and joint pain. If your pup is dealing with joint pain from arthritis or chronic inflammation, your vet may recommend adding a high-quality omega-3 supplement to their diet. Fish oil has been shown to reduce inflammation and pain related to issues like osteoarthritis and kidney disease in dogs. In an AVMA trial, the majority of dog owners whose pets were fed the supplement noticed improved agility and mobility in their pup.
- Prevents cardiovascular issues. Another benefit to giving your pup omega-3s is that it helps keep them heart-healthy. If your dog has cardiovascular disease, your vet may recommend an omega-3 supplement, which can help fight both inflammation and abnormal heart rhythms.
- Helps treat both environmental and seasonal allergies. Environmental and seasonal allergies can cause skin issues that make your pup itch and, in some cases, even lose some of their hair. Omega-3s can help manage these symptoms, especially when used in conjunction with other allergy treatments.
Dog-safe sources of omega-3 fatty acids
- Whole fish. Sardines, anchovies, and larger fish like mackerel or salmon are great options that you can find and prepare for your pup quite easily. If you’re interested in adding fish to your dog’s diet, talk to your vet about portion sizes and how to ensure your dog’s meals are as balanced as possible.
- Fish oil. Packed with omega-3s, fish oil is the most potent option for your pup. Of the types of fish oil, cod and krill oil offer the highest amounts of omega-3s, but salmon oil can be another high-quality option. If you don’t want to add fish oil directly to your dog’s food, you can always try a capsule or even a dietary supplement that looks like a treat (sometimes called a chew).
- Flaxseed. Fish isn’t the only way to get omega-3s, so don’t despair if your dog can’t have fish (or won’t eat it). Flaxseed is another good source of omega-3s. One thing to note, though, is that flaxseed is fairly high in ALAs, which dogs can’t metabolize.
- Chia seeds. Like flaxseeds, chia seeds are another good plant-based source of omega-3s for your dog. These seeds are also surprisingly high in protein; when adding them to your dog’s diet, be mindful of how much you give them.
Our vet-preferred products containing omega-3s
Best if used with your dog’s dry food
Best for picky pups
Immune system booster
Zesty Paws Allergy Immune Supplement
A note on supplements
If your dog suffers from allergies, cardiac issues, or joint pain, adding an omega-3 fatty acid supplement may only be one part of their treatment plan. The AKC notes that there has been some research into the effectiveness of using fish oil to treat these and other conditions, but the results of these studies have been mixed.
👉 Always make sure to check in with your vet before incorporating an omega-3 supplement into your dog’s diet.
How much omega-3 is enough for your dog?
It depends. The AKC suggests choosing supplements that provide approximately 25 mg/kg body weight of DHA and 40 mg/kg body weight of EPA per day. But exact amounts will always depend on your dog’s age, condition, size, and more.
When to say “when” with omega-3
Like any other healthy food or supplement, it’s possible to overdo it. Although side effects are generally rare, dogs with too much omega-3s in their diets can experience:
- Weight gain
- Altered immune function
- Altered platelet function
- Delayed wound healing
- Exposure to toxins or heavy metals (like mercury poisoning)
- Adverse drug interactions when combined with other supplements or medications
🚨 If your pet is experiencing any of these adverse effects, you’ll need to take them to the vet right away.
Frequently asked questions
What does omega-3 do for dogs?
Omega-3 fatty acids have many health benefits for dogs including fighting inflammation and joint pain and helping to keep your pup’s skin, coat, brain, and heart healthy.
What kind of omega-3 is best for dogs?
The best omega-3s for dogs are long-chain fatty acids like DHAs and EPAs. Shorter-chain fatty acids, like ALAs, are harder for dogs to absorb and benefit from.
How much omega-3 should I give my dog?
The answer to this question will depend on a number of factors, but general guidance is approximately 25 mg/kg body weight of DHA and 40 mg/kg body weight of EPA per day.
Can dogs have human omega-3 pills?
It depends. Some fish oil pills for humans contain flavorings and sweeteners to mask the fishy taste, making them unsafe for dogs. A human dose of fish oil may also be different from what a dog needs, so it’s best not to share.
Is EPA or DHA better for dogs?
It depends on why your dog is taking an omega-3 supplement. DHAs are best if you’re looking to help keep your dog’s brain healthy, while EPAs are great for fighting inflammation.
Does fish oil upset dogs’ stomachs?
It can. If your dog hasn’t taken fish oil before, introduce it into their diet slowly. Also, make sure to keep an eye out for diarrhea or signs of gastrointestinal distress.
What’s the right age to give my dog an omega-3 supplement?
In some research studies, dogs started taking omega-3 supplements after being weaned. Talk with your dog’s veterinarian about the right time to introduce omega-3s into your pup’s diet.