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    Essential Fatty Acids
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    Essential Fatty Acids (EFA’s), ‘the most integral components of the cell membrane of every cell in the body.’ (9).

    What are the benefits? EFA’s have an enormous influence and impact on the strength of the immune system. As a result, EFA’s play a very important role when putting together a well-rounded diet for a healthy mind and body. Essential fatty acids may be the most important supplement to add to a pets food.’ (Brown 2006) Apart from being an essential part of the cell membrane making it one of the most important nutrients we can add to our pet’s diet:

    - they assist the smooth muscles of the gut
    - relax the muscles in the walls of blood vessels (3)
    - they improve the skin and coat
    - improve joint health
    - treat and prevent hotspots
    - treat inflammatory bowel disease
    - help to prevent diabetes
    - decreases severity of asthma attacks, sinusitus and other respiratory diseases.
    - assist to stabilize hormone imbalances
    The good news, according to Dr Messonnier, author of ‘The Allergy Solution for Dogs,’ says its not just holistic practitioners who are prescribing EFA’s but also many Veterinarians too. EFA’s most popular use is for treatment and relief of allergies. However they are now being prescribed for kidney and heart disease and a variety of other problems such as the combat against cancer (Messonnier 2000).


    The types of EFA’s required by cats and dogs There are two types of EFA’s which are essential for good health in the cat and dog, they are Omega 3 and Omega 6.

    Omega 3
    Examples of food, which contain varying amounts of omega 3, are in two categories, plant and animal based. Plant based sources of Omega 3 are:
    Rolled oats, mushrooms, spinach, bananas, linseed oil, rapeseed oil, soya bean oil, corn oil, linseed oil, hempseed oil, walnuts, canola oil, spirulina, blue green algae, wheat germ oil, flaxseed oil.
    Plant sources of Omega 3 are valid but require conversion into EPA and DHA to be useful in the body. (Schenk 2010) The more valuable sources of Omega 3 are derived from animals.
    Animal based sources of Omega 3:
    Lamb and rabbit liver, beef and chicken meat, fish oils, raw egg yolk, sardines, herring, trout, mackerel, pork and poultry fat.

    Omega 6
    Omega 6, which is also essential for cats and dogs, also has plant and animal derived sources, which are: Plant derived Omega 6:
    Safflower oil, sunflower oil, soya bean oil, corn oil, corn oil, cottonseed oil, hempseed oil, evening primrose oil, borage oil and blackcurrant oil. Animal derived Omega 6:
    Poultry, pork fat and egg yolk. From the above lists we can see that some foods contain both Omega 3 and Omega 6. However, not all sources are useable forms of EFA’s for our pets. For example flaxseed is a great source of EFA’s, however it contains a form of Omega 3 called Alpha Linolenic Acid (ALA) which most cats and dogs cannot convert to the more useable form, Eicosapentaenoic Acid (EPA). As a result, flaxseed; whilst being a great Omega 6 source is not a suitable supplement for obtaining essential Omega 3 (Arora 2006). Ground flaxseeds are actually a great source of dietry fibre, which can be added to any diet. In order to bring clarity to the types of Omega 3 and 6, both EFA’s exist in different forms depending on the food source.

    Forms of Omega 3
    Omega 3 sources in a useable and beneficial form are:
    1) Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) which is only found in animal sources eg: fish oils 2) Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), mainly found in fish, eggs and raw meat. Both cats and dogs require these EFA’s for optimal health. Alpha Linolenic acid (ALA) is another source of Omega 3, however it is poorly utilised in both cats and dogs due to ALA’s short chains of fatty acids not being converted into EPA.

    At this point it’s important to note that pet foods may rightly advertise that their product contains Omega 3, however if it’s in the form of ALA it is of no benefit to our pets.
    Cheap, low quality ALA usually comes from vegetable oils. Whilst the pet food’s claim is not wrong, it is very misleading to the average trusting, caring pet owner. (Omega-3 Learning 2007) In summary the best forms of Omega 3 that are useable in both cats and dogs are the fish oil supplements or better still, fish such as mackerel and salmon (Arora 2006).

    The most popular Omega 3 oil for cats and dogs

    Cod liver oil, is an excellent EFA, which also contains Vitamins A and D. It is advisable that when supplementing with cod liver oil that Vitamin E is also added to thr diet. Vitamin E prevents the fatty acids from becoming rancid. (3)
    When fats become rancid they have a definite odour, as a result it’s a good idea to smell the oil before supplementing our pets food with it (Pitcairn 2005). Oils should be refrigerated, stored in a dark bottle, organic if possible, ‘cold pressed’ and the less exposure to oxidation the better. (Brown 2006)
    Salmon oil is also popular and highly beneficial Omega 3 oil.

    Forms of Omega 6 Omega 6 sources in a useable and beneficial form are:
    1) Linoleic acid (LA), suitable for dogs (note: cats cannot utilise this EFA very well) 2) Gamma Linolenic acid (GLA) acts as a natural anti-inflammatory for both cats and dogs. It is contained in evening primrose oil, borage seed oil and blackcurrant seed oil. These oils are excellent when treating inflammation in the body such as arthritis and digestive problems. 3) Arachidonic acid (AA) Found mainly in fish, eggs and raw meat, is good for dogs and essential for cats.

    If you are feeding your pet a raw food diet with lots of meat and bones, they will already be getting most of the required Omega 6.


    Omega 3 and 6 in heavily processed commercial pet food Commercial pet foods usually use plant sources of Omega 3 in their processed pet food because the superior fish based omega 3 is unstable and is easily destroyed by the heating process. Plant sources of Omega 3 are less vulnerable, but unfortunately are no comparison to the health benefits of Omega 3 gained from fish oil (9). Omega 6 being far more robust than Omega 3 is usually added to commercial pet food in high quantities. When there is an abundance of Omega 6 in relation to the poor quantity and quality of Omega 3 it can lead to an over responsive immune system, causing inflammation and atopic dermatitis (5). If you feed your pet processed commercial pet food it’s a good idea to check the EFA content. The most recommended forms of Omega 6 are raw meat and eggs, pork and chicken fat. However if the pet is being fed a home cooked or heavily processed commercial diet they will require for example: safflower oil, borage oil or evening primrose oil. Note: Soybean oil, whilst being a good source of Omega 6 can cause gastric bloat in dogs (4)


    EFA deficiencies Pets with EFA deficiencies may have a whole variety of symptoms and health issues. Some of these problems are seen as: allergies, hyperactivity, depression, learning difficulties, slow healing wounds, aching joints, poor digestion, high blood pressure and obesity.
    Obvious signs of an EFA deficiency are very poor coat and dry flaky skin (4). There may also be issues with reproductive ability, degenerative diseases such as kidney and heart problems and poor growth especially in the puppy (3).
    This unfortunately all leads to more trips to the Vets, drugs to mask the symptoms, side effects from the drugs, and as a result, an on going problem all due to a poor diet usually consisting of too much processed food with low quality EFA’s (Brown 2006). Interestingly Dr Syme from ‘Vets All Natural’ explains why deficiencies of EFA’s lead to such serious problems. When there is an excess of Omega 6 and deficiency in Omega 3 (which is usually the case with commercial pet food) the immune system being overstimulated pours out an abundance of histamines causing inflammation. This inflammation may show itself in the form of allergies such as hay fever, asthma, and itchy hot spots on the skin. The skin being the most common sign of EFA deficiency is due to its constant need to reamin supple, waterproof, impermeable and to be the first line of defence against pathogens.
    Deficient in Omega 3, the skin will loose its resistance and as a result will become flaky, dry and brittle. This condition then leads to itching and hot spots. Scratching the area opens the skin and as a result may lead to secondary infections. (Syme 2010) The skin, once vulnerable, can lead to an array of infections and a great deal of discomfort for your pet.

    Research carried out by Dr Messonier, author of ‘
    The Allergy Solution for Dogs,’ concluded that supplementing diets with fish oil reduces inflammation and itching in cats by 50% and in dogs, 11-27%. However these results depend on variables such as dosage, frequency, lifestyle of the pet and the overall diet. In order to obtain optimum results from supplementing with EFA’s, Dr Messonier suggests looking into other areas of the diet and improving the quality of fresh, raw produce given to the pet. He also suggests that when presented with a pet that has allergies and signs of atopic dermatitis, a high dose of EFA’s are recommended, up to 4 times the regular dosage in order to calm down an over reactive immune system. (5)

    Dosage

    The dosage of supplements depends on variables such as the overall diet, cooked or raw food, processed or unprocessed, health and age of the pet.
    Advice on ratios of Omega 6: Omega 3 appears to be a grey area amongst animal nutritionists, which ranges from a ratio of 2:1 to a 10:1
    Typically, if you are already feeding a raw food diet then the amount of Omega 6 can be lowered to a ratio of 2:1. However a cooked or heavily processed diet will require more Omega 6 so a ratio of 5:1 is advisable.
    As no one knows the exact ratio of EFA’s, manufacturers produce a blend of oils that usually consist of 1 part fish body oil to approximately 5 parts of mixed omega 6 plant based oils (1) Whatever you decide to supplement with such as highly nutritious foods and supplements from the health food shop, it will surely be better than the EFA’s provided in heavily processed pet food.

    Plan of Action

    Two great supplement oils to get started with are Omega 3 Salmon Oil and Omega 6 Borage Seed Oil. Most pets will have no problem if you add these oils to their normal diet. However, to get the most benefits from EFA’s they are best when added to a raw food diet.
    Observe your pet over a period of 3-4 weeks and notice the differences in overall health. The results will impress you!


    References:
    1. Allegretti, J. & Sommers, K D.V.M. 2003, ‘The Complete Holistic Dog Book, Home Health Care for our Canine Companions.’ Celestial Arts, USA 2. Arora, S 2006, ‘Whole Health for Happy Cats.’ Quarry Books USA 3. Billinghurst, I 1993, ‘Give your dog a bone,’ Warrigal Publishing, Australia. 4. Brown, A 2006, ‘The Whole Pet Diet, Eight weeks to a Great Health for Dogs and Cats. Celestial Arts, USA. 5. Messonnier, S, 2000. ‘The Allergy Solution for Dogs.’ Prima Publications 6. Pitcairn, R. H. & Pitcairn, S. H, 2005, ‘Dr. Pitcairn’s guide to Natural Health for Dogs and Cats.’ Rodale Inc, USA. 7. Schenck, P. 2010, ‘Home Prepared Dog and Cat Diets Second Edition.’ Blackwell Publishing, USA. Internet website references:
    8. Omega 3 Learning for Health and Medicine 2007, Article, ‘Are Omega 3 fatty acids essential for my dog and cat?’ http://www.omega3learning.uconn.edu/diet-health/view/pet-owners/articles/are-omega-3-fatty-acids-essential-for-my-dog-and-cat/ 9. Vets All Natural by Dr Bruce Syme 2010. Article, ‘Importance of Omega 3.’ Viewev 18th August 2011 http://www.vetsallnatural.com.au/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=96&Itemid=106
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