Everything you need to know about Essential Fatty Acids for your dog
In society, fats tend to have a negative connotation surrounding them, thanks to junk human foods that are often loaded with trans fats. The reality is that fats are one of the most important macronutrients in your dog’s diet. The right types of fats, Essential Fatty Acids, are critical to optimise your dog’s bodily functions.
Essential fatty acids for dogs
Dietary fatty acids are grouped into three types, based on the location of the first double bond in their molecular structure: omega 3s, omega 6s and omega 9s.
Fatty acids can be then further classified into essential or non-essential. Dogs can synthesise omega 9s in their body, therefore they aren’t considered essential in a dog’s diet. On the other hand, dogs aren’t capable of synthesising certain omega 3s or omega 6s in their body, hence must be provided as part of your dog’s diet. These fats are known as Essential Fatty Acids.
The following fatty acids are considered Essential Fatty Acids for dogs:
- Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA)
- Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)
- Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)
For dogs to use ALA, their bodies must convert it to EPA & DHA, a highly inefficient function. Hence a dog’s diet should maximise EPA & DHA, rather than ALA.
- Linoleic acid (LA)
Arachidonic acid (AA) is another omega 6 fatty acid, that is essential for cats, but not for dogs. As opposed to cats, dogs can efficiently convert LA to AA in their bodies due to an enzyme in their digestive systems. Therefore AA is not considered an Essential Fatty Acid in dogs.
The benefits of dietary fats for your dog
Fats are an excellent source of energy and convert 2.25 times more energy than protein or carbohydrates. Fats are also necessary for your dog to absorb some vitamins in their diet including Vitamin A, D, E and K. Healthy joints and a shiny and healthy coat is another benefit your dog will reap.
To achieve these benefits, it is important to consider not only the amount of fat in your dog’s diet but also the ratio of fats. Omega 6s and omega 3s have different properties and work together to provide their nutritional value. If not balanced correctly, consumption can lead to one dangerous side-effect in your dog’s body: inflammation.
Omega 6s stimulate hormones that promote inflammation in your dog’s body. Omega 3s balance this by producing hormones that reduce inflammation and regulate the immune system. If your dog consumes too much omega 6 without enough omega 3, this can lead to a state of chronic inflammation in a dog’s body. This may lead to diseases such as cardiovascular disease, cancers, arthritis, bowel diseases, skin conditions and a general unbalance in their immune system.
The optimal ratio of Essential Fatty Acids
So, what is the optimal ratio of omega 6s: omega 3s for your dog? Unfortunately, studies on this topic are ongoing and there is still no conclusive answer.
AAFCO, the USA body that sets recommendations and regulates animal foods, recommends an omega 6: omega ratio of 30:1 or less. In many commercial pet foods, the ratio is hence close to this figure.
In contrast, your dog’s ancestors’ diet had a low omega 6: omega 3 ratio and many studies suggest that a lower ratio, in line with the ancestral diet, is better. Research by Dr. Gregory Reinhart suggests a ratio between 5:1-10:1 is more appropriate. Leading global omega 3 expert Dr. Doug Bibus, recommends an even lower ratio of 2:1 – 4:1.
At Lyka, we mimic the ancestral diet, all of our recipes contain an omega 6: omega 3 ratio between 3:1 to 5:1.
Food sources of essential fatty acids
- EPAs are found in fish, fish oils and seafood sources such as oysters and mussels
- DHAs are found in fish, fish oils and seafood sources such as oysters and mussels, and eggs
- ALAs are found in eggs, walnuts and flaxseed oils, canola oils and algae such as spirulina.
- LAs are found in animal meats and plant-based oils such as corn, safflower or soybean oils
Some controversial sources of essential fatty acids
Fish oil is a common ingredient in some dog foods, but is it the best source of omega 3? Unfortunately, once fish oil is added to food, it interacts with oxygen, and unless counterbalanced with antioxidants, can become highly unstable and rancid. Once rancid, it loses its omega 3’s benefits, and can also be detrimental by releasing free radicals into your dog’s body. Not to mention, producing fish oil is harmful to the environment as it drives overfishing and ecosystem disequilibrium in our oceans.
A better omega 3 alternative is seafood or fish itself, rather than fish oil. Fish and seafood have a much lower tendency to oxidise and become rancid. Plus they’re more sustainable for our oceans when compared to fish oil.
At Lyka, we use mackerel and oysters as our omega 3 source, and never fish oil.
Grain Fed Meats
Grains such as corn and soy have higher omega 6: omega 3 levels that grass and leafy vegetation. This translates to meat from grain-eating livestock having a higher omega 6: omega 3 ratio than the meat from grass-fed livestock.
Our dog’s ancestors used to eat prey that grazed on leaves and other vegetation, and therefore the prey’s meat also had low omega 6: omega 3 ratio. We can mimic this in our dog’s diet by feeding them grass-fed and free-range meats. For example, grain-fed beef typically has an omega 6: omega 3 ratio of 5:1 – 10:1, while grass-fed beef has a ratio of 1:1 – 3:1.
At Lyka, we use 100% grass-fed beef in our beef bowls and 100% free-range chicken in our chicken bowls.