Friday, June 10, 2011

Fatty Acids

Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs) are a requirement in everyone's diet, for both human and animal. However, the body cannot produce EFAs on its own, so it must be added to the diet each day. The two most commonly known fatty acids are omega 3 (linoleic acid) and omega 6 (alpha-linoleic acid). The diets of our pets, like people, tend to include more omega 6 fatty acids rather than omega 3. This is an imbalance that needs to be improved upon.

Omega 3 fatty acids are essential as they help with the proper formation of cell membranes, cardiovascular functions, nourish the lining of the digestive tract, and work to keep your pet's skin and coat smooth, soft and shiny. Another essential function of omega 3 fatty acids is that they work to reduce inflammatory problems in the body. If you find your pet's coat is dull and brittle or if he/she tends to have dry skin and scratch a lot, it may be due to a lack of this particular fatty acid.

There are different types of essential fatty acid supplements that are available, however which kind you choose to supplement your dog or cat's diet can be a bit of a dilemma.

Pure plant oils such as flax oil, evening primrose oil, safflower oil or a blend of plant oils is a good alternative to fish omega-3 fats. These should be "cold-pressed" oils, as opposed to oils that are typically extracted with chemical solvents. The problem with plant oils is that animals have a harder time converting the fatty acids to a form best used by the animal's system. 

Fish oils, such as salmon oil, halibut liver oil, or cod liver oil are more easily converted and used by an animal's body. The downside is that fish oils often contain deadly toxins, including high levels of dangerous PCBs, dioxins and detectable levels of mercury. Farmed salmon is the worst for contamination and contains less omega 3 acids than wild salmon. At present nearly 30% of all fish are farmed, with salmon being in the 90% farmed range. As well, farmed salmon are often carriers of disease and parasites. When supplementing your pet's diet with fish oils, choose oils that come from wild sources, not farmed.

There are also blended fish and plant oil supplements available. These often include a mixture of salmon or cod liver oil and flax, safflower or other such oils that provide a mixture of 3 to 4 parts omega 3 oils to 1 part omega 6 oils. Giving your animal a combination fish/plant supplement may be a good alternative to consider, as they should contain fewer toxins since they are not strictly fish oils, yet still should be better assimilated by the animal's body than straight plant oils.

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