Fats & Fatty Acids for Dogs & Cats

There are two main reasons why we include fat in the diet of dogs and cats: to provide energy (calories) and for essential fatty acids (EFAs).

Most adult pets live relatively sedentary lives and so do not require foods with high concentrations of fat. Essential fatty acids, however, are needed by ALL dogs whether they are involved in intensive activities or not. There are two families of fatty acids that dogs and cats require: omega-6s and omega-3s. Omega-9 fatty acids can be synthesized in the body and are therefore not considered essential. 

Both omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids are “important in the diet, but dog foods (like human foods) tend to contain an overabundance of omega-6 fatty acids simply because of the types of ingredients that are produced in our modern agricultural system”. So while omega-6s are important, they are not usually the main focus of supplementation.

Omega-3s and omega-6s work together to control inflammation in the body. Omega-3s will decrease inflammation whereas omega-6s will increase inflammation. This doesn’t mean that omega-6s are inherently bad, it just means that we need an adequate supply of omega-3s to help counterbalance their inflammatory effects when required. Remember, not all inflammation is bad, reactionary inflammatory is an important part of the immune system. However, chronic inflammation, the kind that can occur because of a lack of omega-3s, is the cause for many degenerative diseases.

There are three key omega-3s: Alpha-linoleic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), & docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).

The two important omega-6s are linoleic acid (LA) and arachidonic acid (AA). 

Alpha-linoleic acid (ALA) is the “parent” fatty acid and can be converted in the body into EPA & DHA. While “most mammals can convert some ALA into EPA & DHA, the most efficient converters are algae.” This is why marine-based sources of omega-3 fatty acids are preferred for dogs & cats.

Omega-3 fatty acids have many vital functions in the body that all play a role in the animals overall health and vitality.

➳For example, omega-3s support brain development, skin and coat health, immune and cardiovascular function, and reproduction (both pregnancy and lactation). Furthermore, increasing omega-3 fatty acids in the diet may also have therapeutic benefits such as “managing certain types of chronic inflammatory disorders in dogs such as joint pain due to arthritis and allergic skin problems.”

➳They are also essential for young animals as “recent research indicates that DHA is important for the development of a healthy nervous system and vision in fetuses and newborn[s]…and may promote learning in young puppies.”

Do you have questions? Leave them below!

*Note: This post originally appeared on Instagram as part of an ongoing educational series for my natural pet food store (The Bone & Biscuit Leduc).

If you would like to learn more about this series, please click HERE to be directed to the podcast I recorded about it.


  1. Canine and Feline Nutrition: a Resource for Companion Animal Professionals by Linda P Case et al.


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