There is a lot of confusion about omega fatty acids. All too often they are referred to as “essential fatty acids”. However, “essential” should only be used when discussing alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) (an omega-3 fatty acid) and linoleic acid (LA) (an omega-6 fatty acid). These two fatty acids are referred to as “essential” because they must be ingested as the body can not synthesize them itself.
Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) is found in vegetable oils and nuts (especially walnuts), flax seeds, leafy vegetables, and some animal fat, especially in grass-fed animals. The body generally uses ALA for energy while also benefitting the skin, cardiovascular system and helping to reduce inflammation. ALA is then converted into eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) by the body. This process is believed to be limited, but sufficient, in healthy humans, dogs and cats. It is even better when dogs and cats ingest organs and glands from grass-fed animals rich in EPA and DHA.
Linoleic acid (LA) is primarily found in vegetable oils and the vegetables and seeds associated with these oils such as corn. The body converts this EFA into Gamma-Linolenic Acid (GLA), then Dihomo-Gamma-Linolenic Acid (DGLA) and then further into arachidonic acid (AA) (found in meat and dairy products). This cascade is generally pro-inflammatory. However, improving the ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids in the diet, by providing ALA, will help the GLA to become more anti-inflammatory and help to limit the effects of the pro-inflammatory arachidonic acid.
What Should I Do?
Both omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are important for the normal function of the body. However, because the diet of humans, dogs and cats is generally high in processed foods and/or meat from animals fed an inflammatory feed like corn, every one of us can benefit from supplementation with omega-3 fatty acids. We recommend Chia Seed Oil (the plant kingdoms best source of the essential omega-3 fatty acid ALA) because there are organic sources available and it is an environmentally sustainable choice. For healthy individuals, natural conversion of ALA to the longer chain omega-3s, DHA and EPA, is generally sufficient to maintain healthy tissue function. If EPA and DHA are your primary focus then a fish oil supplement can be added.
Have you ever heard the term Biological Value? It is a very important term that everyone should be aware of because it pertains to how the proteins your dog or cat eats are utilized by the body. Not all proteins are the same when it comes to your animal, but they are considered the same when listed on a pet food nutrition panel. Feeding your animal a diet with a majority of protein that has a lower Biological Value, unless expertly combined as with a vegetarian diet for people, is not optimal because deficiencies will occur due to essential amino acids that are missing or present in low numbers. Most animal protein sources have high Biological Values and are considered to be complete proteins because they contain all essential amino acids in a balanced profile, while most plant sources have to be properly combined to attain this status and often require additional supplementation as well.
Consumers are now more aware than ever to look for a meat source on the pet food ingredient panel. But many are still fooled into thinking that a pet food is a good choice when seeing a meat source listed first in the ingredient listing. If you look further you will often find more inexpensive, lower Biological Value sources of protein like pea, beans and rice that actually make up the bulk of the protein for that pet food. Like this example from Nutro®: Deboned Lamb, Lamb Meal, Brewers Rice, Rice Bran, Split Peas, Chickpeas, Whole Brown Rice, Whole Grain Oatmeal, Pea Protein.
Taking Biological Value into consideration when choosing a diet for your animal is very important because meat based protein sources contain essential amino acids in a proportion similar to that required by a canine (10) or feline (11 - taurine). This is why we highly recommend you feed your animal a raw or cooked whole food diet utilizing a meat protein source. If budget or other factors make it necessary for you to feed a processed kibble diet, consider adding a pasture raised egg (BV 94) or our Whey Protein Isolate (BV 104!) to boost the essential amino acid profile of your dog or cat’s food.
If you have a dog or cat as a family member, then chances are you are familiar with corticosteroid drugs. This class of drugs were historically used to relieve life-threatening inflammation such as that which may occur with serious brain or spinal cord injuries.
However, in modern veterinary medicine the use of steroid drugs in a practice has become the “cure all”. They are used when your pet has discomfort, itches, sneezes, has diarrhea or even a skin rash. Steroids have become so over-used they are considered to be the most over-prescribed pharmaceutical by many including well known holistic practitioners.
Can steroids work? Sure they can. If your dog is itching, providing a steroid like prednisone, cortisone or hydrocortisone can suppress the immune system enough to reduce the immune response and the release of inflammatory chemicals. However, what many pet parents don’t understand is that the use of a steroid drug for longer than 10 days or so can produce side-effects that can leave your animal with chronic, and often more severe, health issues down the road. This is largely due to injury to the adrenal glands themselves because a steroid drug replaces the activity of the adrenal glands causing them to atrophy. This can be very problematic for all animals because adrenal hormones help the body control blood sugar, burn protein and fat, react to stressors like a major illness or injury, and regulate blood pressure.
If you’re concerned that your animal’s adrenal glands have atrophied to some degree due to the use of a steroid drug some glandular therapy can be implemented to support them. Our Adrenal Tonic can be very helpful along with the Adrenal Glandular. Use for at least three to four months. Pets who are on steroids long term can be kept on a lifelong regimen (use a five days on/two days off schedule) if you so desire. These two adrenal supplements will help to promote normal function of the adrenal glands that is so important to the long term health of your dog or cat.
Autoimmune conditions in animals occur when a dog or cat’s immune system produce antibodies (called autoantibodies when they cause autoimmune disease) that attack the body’s own tissue. Autoreactive (act against their own tissue) white blood cells can cause chronic conditions like rheumatoid arthritis and in other cases severe tissue damage that can result in a life-threatening condition as occurs when the body attacks its own red blood cells in immune mediated hemolytic anemia.
Milk thistle for dogs and cats uses, dosages, safety and alternatives are found in our herbal monograph. Milk thistle (Silybum marianum), sometimes also called St. Mary’s thistle, is a popular herb for liver complaints in pets.
Fish oil is often recommended for dogs and cats for the omega 3 fatty acids it contains. Omega 3 fatty acids possess anti-inflammatory properties that can be useful for inflammatory conditions like allergies, arthritis and heart disease. However, there is more to this story than just ‘fish oil = healthy, anti-inflammatory qualities’, and our discussion on this topic will help to educate you and support our evolving, less than enthusiastic position on fish oil for general use as a supplement.
We are whole food proponents and have been for quite some time... but weren’t always. For a period of time, like most people, our supplement regimen consisted of a popular multivitamin supplement along with a variety of additional supplements that were “in the news”. I was quite happy with that regimen until I started to educate myself and realize that those educational articles in the monthly “health” magazine were not truly educational articles written for my benefit, but instead primarily advertisements.