Published by: Ingrid King. Last Updated on: June 27, 2023 by Crystal Uys
Written by Jodi Ziskin
Cats, like humans, require both omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids for optimal health. Both are considered essential fatty acids, meaning they cannot be manufactured in the body and therefore need to be obtained through diet.
Omega-3 fatty acids help reduce swelling, relax blood vessels and airways, improve circulation and reduce blood clotting. Omega-6 fatty acids help increase swelling, constrict blood vessels and airways, reduce circulation and increase blood clotting. This is important when the body is injured or develops an infection.
Omega-6 and omega-3 fats need to be balanced in the body. Optimal amounts of EPA and DHA have not yet been determined for cats, but a report from the National Research Concil on nutrient requirements of cats and dogs shows that there is a reasonable margin of safety to supplement most pet foods with fish oil.
Omega 3’s and whole body health
Omega-3s include alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). ALA is prevalent in plant-based sources, including seeds and nuts. EPA and DHA, the two health-promoting omega-3s, are found in animal sources, most notably in fish oil.
EPA and DHA support:
• Skin and coat health
• Cell formation
• Heart and kidney health
• Digestive health
• Healthy aging and cognition
• Immune function
Note: DHA is important for kittens, as it is crucial for the development of tissue in the brain and retina of the eye.
Commercial cat food diets often contain an unbalanced ratio of omega-6s to omega-3s. Even cats on the highest quality raw or home-cooked foods can benefit from having their diets supplemented with omega-3 oils. The source and quality matter as much for them as they do for us.
Why fish oil is the best source of Omega-3’s for cats?
Although ALA from plant sources may be converted into EPA and DHA, Cats can only convert a very small percentage. Fish oil is a much better choice.
Not all fish oil is the same
Wild-caught, sustainable fish like sardines and anchovies from cold waters with low levels of mercury and other heavy metals are excellent sources of EPA and DHA for cats.
The bioavailability of omega-3 oil supplements is equally important. Oils are more easily absorbed and assimilated when in the triglyceride form. Studies show that this form is 70% more absorbable than in the ethyl ester form.
Another thing to keep in mind is that when fish oil has been exposed to oxygen and is becoming (or has become) rancid, the result is an overwhelming fishy odor. Fish oils produced in a 100% oxygen-free environment result in a pleasant smelling, mild oil that cats find appealing. Never underestimate the importance of palatability.
The fish oil should also be human grade, meet or exceed international standards for purity and freshness, be third-party tested, and contain no flavorings.
While it is very important to give your cat human-grade fish oils, it is equally important to give one made especially for pets. Both federal and state regulations dictate special requirements for pet supplements, which are not required for their human counterparts.
Fish oil products for humans often contain rosemary as a natural preservative. This ingredient may not be well tolerated or safe for cats. Many omega-3 products for humans also contain flavorings that may not be safe for animal consumption.
More is not better
There is a risk of ‘too much of a good thing’ when it comes to omega-3 oils. Please follow the manufacturer’s suggested dose according to your cat’s weight.
Although rare, health problems can arise from over supplementation including:
• Peroxidation of EPA and DHA (free radicals attacking the lipids) that can manifest as a vitamin E deficiency
• Loose stools due to poor digestion of fatty acids
• Changes in immune function from fatty acids suppressing the inflammatory response
Proper supplementation of omega-3 oils can make a positive impact on the overall health of cats throughout all stages of their lives.
Editor’s note: Jodi and I both recommend the Nordic Naturals* line. Allegra and Ruby get 0.5 ml of Nordic Naturals Omega 3 Pet* once a day. They lap it straight up as if it was a treat.
Healthy Pet Coach Jodi Ziskin empowers pet guardians with information on nutrition, enrichment, environment and care so they can make the best choices for their cats and dogs. She is a Certified Pet Nutrition Consultant with a master’s degree in Holistic Nutrition. Jodi is also the nutrition consultant for Lap of Love, a national veterinary hospice group. For more information, visit HealthyPetCoach.com.
It is always a good idea to talk with your veterinarian
before adding supplements to your cat’s diet.
Featured Image Credit: Andrew Rafalsky, Shutterstock
About the author
Ingrid King is an award-winning author, former veterinary hospital manager, and veterinary journalist who is passionate about cats.