Omega-3 Fatty Acids For Dogs With Allergies
Updated: Apr 4
By Rachele Baker, DVM – My golden retriever Savanna had atopy (allergies to environmental allergens). Atopic dermatitis is a skin disease seen in both humans and dogs that is characterized by inflammation of the skin and itchiness due to allergies to environmental allergens. Savanna used to constantly chew and lick her belly. She would get red, raised bumps on her belly and secondary skin infections. I remembered reading about the potential benefits of omega-3 fatty acids for dogs with allergies, so I thought it was worth a try. I started putting a liquid omega-3 fatty acid supplement (fish oil) on Savanna’s dry kibble. After a few weeks, I noticed some improvement in the amount of Savanna’s scratching and chewing.
Then I changed Savanna’s dog food to a salmon-based veterinary prescription diet and I noticed even more improvement. So I decided to try to find a dog food containing even higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids. I searched online for the dog food containing the highest level of omega-3 fatty acids that I could find and then I switched Savanna to that brand of dog food. It also was a salmon-based diet. I fed her both dry kibble and canned. I mixed a half of a can with her dry kibble in the morning and fed her only dry kibble at night. I stopped using the liquid omega-3 fatty acid supplement.
After two or three months on this dog food, Savanna’s allergies were almost completely controlled! No more itching, scratching, and chewing! Occasionally Savanna would have a mild flare-up, but nothing like before I put her on the salmon-based diet. This experience made me a firm believer in the beneficial effects of omega-3 fatty acids for dogs with allergies to environmental allergens (atopy).
It is thought that approximately twenty percent of dogs suffering from itchy skin due to allergies can be adequately controlled by supplementation with the omega-3 fatty acids EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) alone with no other treatments necessary.
In dogs with allergies to environmental allergens in which omega-3 fatty acid supplementation alone is unable to control the itching, scratching, and chewing, omega-3 fatty acids can be used in combination with other treatments.
What Are Omega-3 Fatty Acids And How Do They Work?
The omega-3 fatty acid alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) is found in plant sources such as flaxseed oil, walnut oil, canola oil, and soybean oil.
The omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA are found in cold water oily fish. Deep water fish that store their fats in their flesh such as menhaden, mackerel, tuna, salmon, herring, and sardines have a higher content of EPA and DHA than lean fish that store their fats in their livers such as cod, haddock, catfish, and flounder.
The omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA have been shown to help regulate the inflammatory response to allergens in humans with atopic dermatitis and have similarly been shown to decrease inflammation and itchiness in dogs with atopic dermatitis.
How do omega-3 fatty acids work? Although inflammation is part of the normal physiological response to infection or injuries, excessive inflammatory responses by inflammatory mediators in the body contribute to many disease processes including atopic dermatitis in dogs.
Clinical Studies Of Omega-3 Fatty Acids For Dogs With Allergies
In a 2003 study conducted over the course of eight weeks by Nesbitt et al., four groups of dogs with allergies to environmental allergens (a total of fifty-eight dogs) were fed four different diets containing various doses of omega-3 fatty acids. Improvement in clinical signs of allergies was noted in all groups. A study conducted by Logas et al. of sixteen atopic dogs supplemented with either fish oil or corn oil over two six-week periods showed that the dogs receiving fish oil treatment showed significant improvement in their level of itchiness, had less hair loss from self-trauma, and had better haircoat quality than the dogs receiving corn oil treatment.
What Are The Potential Side Effects Of Omega-3 Fatty Acids For Dogs With Allergies?
Oral supplementation with omega-3 fatty acids seldom leads to undesirable side effects. However, over-supplementation with omega-3 fatty acids may result in interference with platelet function. Platelets are cells necessary for blood clot formation to stop bleeding when the body is injured. Over-supplementation can decrease the ability of platelets to stick together and form blood clots. Dogs appear to tolerate higher levels of omega-3 fatty acid supplementation than cats. Bleeding problems have not been reported in dogs on high omega-3 fatty acid diets.
Dogs with a history of gastrointestinal problems or pancreatitis may be more sensitive to increases in dietary fat. In these dogs, fatty acid supplementation should be gradually introduced to ensure that they can tolerate the increased level of fat in their diet. After starting omega-3 fatty acid supplementation, some dogs may experience soft stool or diarrhea. If soft stool, diarrhea, or gastrointestinal problems occur, stop fatty acid supplementation and consult with your veterinarian.
Omega-3 fatty acid supplements are generally safe to use with medications, but you should always advise your veterinarian of any supplements that your dog is receiving before starting any new medications or supplements.
What Is the Proper Dosage Of Omega-3 Fatty Acids For Dogs With Allergies?
In 1994, Dawn Loga and Gail Kunkle at the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine conducted a study of the effects of EPA/DHA fish oil supplementation in dogs with itchy skin using a dosage comparable to that which has been shown to significantly decrease the symptoms of atopic dermatitis in people. Dogs receiving fish oil supplementation at this dosage for six weeks had significant improvement in haircoat character, itching, and self-trauma. The dosage of combined EPA/DHA fish oil supplementation used in this study was 65 mg/kg per day (approximately 30 mg/lb per day).
I spoke with a board certified veterinary dermatologist at a veterinary meeting that I attended, and he recommended the dosage used in the study by Loga and Kunkle. He said that this dosage has worked well in his clinical experience over the years. Since my discussion with that dermatologist, I have been prescribing a dosage of approximately 65 mg/kg per day EPA/DHA omega-3 fatty acids for dogs with allergies. Depending on the dog, I may recommend using a lower dosage at first to make sure that there are no undesirable side effects.
How Long Does It Take For Omega-3 Fatty Acids For Dogs With Allergies To Work?
Studies have shown that fatty acid levels in the body reach a steady state within approximately one month of starting oral supplementation. However, maximal response to fatty acid supplementation may not be seen for up to twelve weeks. It is important to bear this in mind and be patient when assessing your dog’s response to omega-3 fatty acid supplementation.
An alternative to using fish oil liquid or capsules to provide your dog with therapeutic levels of omega-3 fatty acids is to feed a salmon-based dog food. When feeding a salmon-based diet naturally high in EPA and DHA omega-3 fatty acids, additional supplementation with fish oil liquid or capsules should not be required. I recommend feeding both dry kibble and canned food based on my experience with my golden retriever Savanna. I noticed that if I ran out of canned food for a couple of days, she would start to get itchy again. I assume that this was because the salmon-based canned food that I fed Savanna had a higher percentage of omega-3 fatty acids (2.24%) than the dry kibble (1%).
Remember that it may take up to twelve weeks of giving your dog an omega-3 fatty acid supplement or feeding your dog a salmon-based dog food before you notice a significant decrease in your dog’s itching, scratching, and chewing.
Omega-3 fatty acids for dogs with allergies provide a safe, all natural way to decrease inflammation in your dog’s skin and provide relief from the itchiness associated with allergies to environmental allergens.