Fats add palatability and pleasurable texture to pet foods, improving the experience for your dog or cat. Whereas, in people, we worry about “good fats” and “bad fats”, the same is not such a concern in dog and cat food. Dogs and cats naturally have more good cholesterol then bad cholesterol no matter what they eat (Bauer, 2008). More than just making food more pleasurable for the dog or cat, the diet can be formulated to be a rich source of functional fats, some of which are essential, i.e. they must be included in the diet. Here, we are talking about ensuring the feeding of a diet with appropriate levels of the omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids, the so-called polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs). Combine these in a diet with the right levels of vitamin E, zinc (and a range of other vitamins and minerals) and the essential fatty acids add value to pet nutrition.
It is important that the diet contains both omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids in appropriate quantities and ratio. We know from scientific studies that diets boosted in the essential fatty acids can have a beneficial effect on pet health. These studies were designed to test a therapeutic response to nutrient supplementation; so it is logical to consider that a diet, suitably rich in these essential fatty acids would support normal body function and physiology and help prevent fatty acid deficiency.
These studies have shown:
- The importance of diet in the maintenance of healthy coat and skin; specifically, omega-3 fatty acids (Watson, 1998) and omega-6 fatty acids especially with appropriate levels of zinc in the diet (Marsh et al., 2008)
- Long chain omega-3 fatty acids, especially from fish or marine sources, are capable of modifying inflammatory responses (Bauer, 2008) and specific dietary omega-6 to omega-3 ratios are useful in the management of inflammatory diseases (Watson, 1998)
- While dogs and cats are not as susceptible to coronary artery disease as humans (Bauer, 2008), studies have shown that long chain omega-3 fatty acids had beneficial effects on dogs with heart failure (Freeman et al., 1998)
- Omega-3 fatty acids, including alpha-linolenic acid, EPA and DHA, when fed at elevated level in diets to dogs with osteoarthritis produced owner reported improvements in activity (Roush et al., 2010a) and improvements in veterinarian assessed signs of arthritis (Roush et al., 2010b)
In summary therefore, where fatty acids are concerned, a diet that provides a good source of mega-6 and omega-3 essential fatty acids can help support:
- A healthy skin and coat
- Joint mobility
- Cardiovascular function
Dr Colin Johnston BVMS(Hons) MACVSc