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Fats are a wide group of compounds that are made up of triglycerides. Triglycerides are groups of three fatty acids. Fats can be solid or liquid (oils). Fats are also called lipids although they are just a distinguished category of lipids (which, apart from fats, also include waxes, sterols, fat-soluble vitamins such as vitamins A, D, E and K, monoglycerides, diglycerides, phospholipids, and others).
Fats are an important part of any diet, serving essential metabolic functions. They are very digestible and are considered an important source of energy. Fats are essential for the kidney function, reproduction and for the absorption of the fat soluble vitamins A, D, E and K. Dogs metabolize fats just like humans metabolize carbohydrates. Similarly with any other ingredient, overfeeding and restricting are both wrong. Overfeeding fats can be harmful particularly for less active dogs, whereas restriction can cause problems like itchy skin, dry coat, coarse.
As I mentioned, triglycerides are groups of fatty acids. Fatty acids are classified by a large number of criteria, including the presence and the absence of double bonds. Fats without double bonds are saturated fats and fats with a double band are unsaturated fats.
Essential fatty acids are the fatty acids that neither human nor animal bodies can synthesize. They must be supplied in the diet. Their roles include the normal growth and functioning of the cells, muscles, nerves and the production of prostaglandins. There are two main groups of essential fatty acids: Omega-3 and Omega-6.
Omega-6 Fatty Acids are:
- Linoleic acid, which can be found in corn, soy, canola, safflower and sunflower oil, whole grains and body fat of poultry (chicken, turkey, duck).
- Arachidonic acid, found in the body fat of poultry, lean meat, egg yolks and some fish oils.
- Gamma linolenic acid, found in black currant seed oil, borage oil and evening primrose oil.
- Dihomogamma linolenic acid, found in organ meats like spleen, kidney and adrenals and metabolized from gamma linolenic acid.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids are:
- Alpha linolenic acid, found in flaxseed oil and to a lesser extent, canola, soy, and walnut oils.
- Eicosapentaenoic acid, found in cold water fish and their oil.
- Docosahexaenoic acid, found in cold water fish and their oil.
Fatty acids are also considered active or inactive, depending on the presence of certain enzymes in the dog’s body. If the enzymes are present, it doesn’t matter if the fatty acids supplements are active or inactive. However, if the dog’s body doesn’t produce these enzymes, you have to supplement his diet with active fatty acids.
- Active Omega-6: evening primrose oil, borage oil and black currant oil
- Inactive Omega-6: vegetable oils: canola, corn, soy, sunflower and safflower.
- Active Omega-3: cod liver oil and fish oils (salmon, herring)
- Inactive Omega-3: flax seed and hemp.
Most commercial dog foods contain omega fatty acids, in different ratios. The opinions are controversial, but a ratio of 7:1 seems to be the most recommended. The amounts are also important and it is considered that the best foods contain at least 2.2% of Omega-6 fatty acids and 0.3% of Omega-3. Be careful with low quality brands that claim that the foods contain essential fatty acids but the proportions are not adequate. If you feel your dog needs more fatty acids in his diet you can use supplements, either natural or synthetic.
Fatty acids supplements are generally welcome in a dog’s diet. A high level of omega-3 usually has positive effects on your dog. It improves the cardiovascular health, inhibits the progression of kidney disease, cancer and inflammatory diseases and reduces joint stiffness and the symptoms of allergic dermatitis.If you feed him commercial dog food, he probably doesn’t need Omega-6 fatty acids because most of the commercial foods contain plenty. In this case you can concentrate on the Omega-3 fatty acids; fish and flax seed (both oil and products) are great choices. Be careful with the fish because not all types are good, particularly if raw.
Oversupplementing is not recommended. Excessive amounts of Omega-6, especially Arachidonic acid can be harmful. Omega-3 fatty acids are less dangerous but you should check the supplements to see if they contain vitamins (A or D). Vitamins are present in the commercial food too and this can lead to toxicity.
Since my advice is purely educational, consult your vet before starting any particular diet or supplementation.
Dog Training Tip #1