There are many fish oil supplement options for both humans and pets so it can be confusing to understand the difference between them all. Some fish oils are specifically designed for humans while others are formulated for dogs but they are often used interchangeably. It's important for dog owners to understand how to make sure the fish oil product they are giving their dog is not only safe but beneficial.
What Is Fish Oil?
Fish oil is an extract from fish, most commonly salmon, anchovies, sardines, mackerel, or herring. Oils from these fish are used to make fish oil for both humans and dogs because they contain beneficial components called omega-3 fatty acids.
Fish oil for dogs and humans most commonly come in a liquid oil or a softgel capsule. Fish oil can also be found as an ingredient in some soft chews, tablets, treats, and even dog food but the amount in these products is not significant enough to provide a major benefit. Standalone fish oil supplements should be used to provide appropriate levels of omega-3 fatty acids.
Types of Fish Oil
In addition to coming in a liquid or a softgel form, fish oil supplements may contain different types of fish oil. Triglyceride, ethyl ester, and free form are the three types of fish oil and are available for both humans and dogs. Some forms of fish oil are more concentrated than others which allow for less oil to be taken while still getting appropriate levels of omega-3 fatty acids. All three forms of fish oil are normally considered safe for both dogs and humans at recommended administration levels.
What are Omega-3 Fatty Acids?
Omega-3 fatty acids are the components of fish oil that make giving this fish extract beneficial to you and your dog. In the body, certain molecules called eicosanoids, signal the body to decrease inflammation as well as perform other beneficial functions. Omega-3 fatty acids help the body make more of these helpful eicosanoids.
The most often studied types of omega-3 fatty acids are eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) but there are actually 11 commonly found types of omega-3's.
- Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)
- Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)
- α-Linolenic acid (ALA)
- Eicosatetraenoic acid (ETA)
- Hexadecatrienoic acid (HTA)
- Stearidonic acid (SDA)
- Eicosatrienoic acid (ETE)
- Heneicosapentaenoic acid (HPA)
- Docosapentaenoic acid (DPA)/Clupanodonic acid
- Tetracosapentaenoic acid
- Tetracosahexaenoic acid (Nisinic acid)
EPA and DHA are the most commonly noted types of omega-3's in fish oil but you may also see ALA and ETA on some product labels. The labels will say how many milligrams (mg) of each type of omega-3 are in the fish oil and these amounts are what the administration levels are based on.
Benefits of Fish Oil
Omega-3's may benefit your dog's heart, joints, skin, immune system, and more. Your veterinarian may recommend a specific amount of EPA, DHA, or other omega-3's depending on your dog's issues. If your dog is itchy or you are simply looking to support skin and coat health in your dog, you'll want to give about 180 mg of EPA and 120 mg of DHA for every 10 lbs. of body weight. Supporting your dog's kidneys, heart, joints, brain, or other body parts may require higher administration levels of these omega-3's so it is best to discuss this with your veterinarian prior to giving more fish oil to your dog. Administration recommendations for a human versus a dog may also be different so you'll want to make sure you are giving appropriate amounts of the beneficial omega-3's to your dog.
Fish Oil for Humans vs. Dogs
Some fish oil products have flavorings, sweeteners, or other added ingredients that may not be good for your dog. If your fish oil supplement is a pure fish oil it may be safe to also give to your dog but you should discuss it with your veterinarian first to be sure.
Side Effects of Fish Oil
At recommended administration levels, fish oil is very safe in dogs. Some diarrhea and vomiting is not uncommon anytime something new is suddenly introduced to a dog's diet but this typically improves after a few days. Some dogs may experience excessively oily coats, dander, and a fishy odor to the breath and skin but this will go away in a week or so if the product is stopped.