This article originally appeared in the March 2020 issue of Schutzhund USA Magazine.
As probably the best source of omega-3 fatty acids, fish oil is often recommended for dogs. Since dogs aren’t able to produce the required omega-3 fatty acids, they have to be sourced through the normal diet or added as a pill or supplement. We often hear that omega-3 fatty acids are essential but why they’re essential isn’t always very well communicated. Here are the top five reasons that working and sporting dogs, in particular, should have plenty of fish oil in their diet.
Of the two essential fatty acids in fish oil, DHA and EPA, DHA is the one that really applies to puppy development. DHA has a wide range of benefits to developing puppies including eye, heart and brain development. A diet high in fish oil can literally give you a smarter dog. We recommend feeding it to pregnant and whelping females to give puppies a head start even before birth.
Due to the rigors of work, controlling inflammation is even more important to working dogs than the general dog population. EPA is the fatty acid that can have a significant impact on inflammation. We’re not just talking joint health either. EPA helps fight inflammation throughout the body, both internal and external, including key area like skin, heart and kidneys.
Antioxidants are the natural disease fighters in the body. While omega-3 fatty acids aren’t antioxidants, they greatly enhance antioxidant activity and effectiveness. Basically, fish oil can help supercharge the antioxidants your dog uses to fight diseases like cancer, heart disease and others. For dogs under a lot of working stress, any advantage they can get to boost immune function is important.
Clean Source of Endurance Energy
Fish oil is a highly digestible fat source and fat is the endurance fuel for working dogs. They burn fat for endurance much the way humans will use carbohydrates. When performance and endurance matter, it’s very difficult to find a better source of fat energy than fish oil.
Skin and Coat Health
For active working dogs dealing with tough conditions, a rugged exterior is a must. The skin and coat benefits of fish oil are well known and long proven. A diet high in fish oil results in a thick, vibrant coat and health, smooth and supple skin. It also cuts way down on shedding.
Food or Supplements?
Our experience is that both food and supplements work very well. We’re not big proponents of the pills simply for convenience and cost reasons. Even with multiple dogs in the house, you should see only modest shedding on our food products which contain both fish meal and fish oil. With new puppies, we recommend introducing them to an additional fish oil source, like our Mass 34K supplement, as soon as they are eating dry kibble. The stool benefits (solid puppy stools are a blessing) and near elimination of shedding may make you a believer in ongoing supplementation. Many find that they prefer to use it daily with all their dogs and saving enough on time and energy from less vacuuming to mitigate the cost of the supplements.