NUTRIENTS & DIET
We have discussed in previous articles the essentials of water, carbohydrates and protein in your pet’s diet. This month we will look at the merits of fat.
Fats are used for energy and are necessary for the absorption of vitamins, A, D, E, and K. Fats also are used in the body’s production of hormones, for insulation, for protection of vital organs, for lubrication, for buoyancy, and as precursors to amino acids. Fats also make diets more palatable (diets high in fats taste good!). Excess concentrations of fats can lead to obesity, hepatic lipidosis (fatty liver disease), and pancreatitis. Cholesterol is a common animal fat. While excess cholesterol can cause problems in both people and pets, every person and animal needs some cholesterol. Cholesterol is important because important hormones (testosterone, progesterone, estrogen) are made from cholesterol.
Fats are either saturated or unsaturated, which refers to the chemical structure. Excessive amounts of saturated fats are linked to arteriosclerosis in people and may be unhealthy in pets as well. While both plants and animals contain higher amounts of saturated fats than unsaturated fats, animal tissue contains higher amounts of saturated fats than plant tissue. Hydrogenated oils, made chemically by adding hydrogen to vegetable oils, are also harmful to people and pets and interfere with the production of protective prostaglandins.
Fat deficiency, or rather fatty acid deficiency, is rare in pets; it is most likely to occur in pets fed cheaper generic diets, and in pets with maldigestion ad malabsorption intestinal conditions. Certain fatty acids (omega-3 fatty acids) can be supplemented by your doctor to help with various skin problems—specifically atopic dermatitis, a form of allergic dermatitis. Fatty acids are being investigated in both people and pets to help control a variety of ailments, including heart disease, arthritis, and kidney disease.
Owners often attempt to supplement fats in a pet’s diets by adding a few spoonfuls of vegetable oil to the diet. While this may not be harmful, it is usually not necessary and will not provide essential fatty acids necessary for improved health or disease treatment. Fatty acid supplementation may be indicated for pets with a variety of medical disorders, and can be beneficial for all pets by increasing the dietary ration of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids.
Omega-3 fatty—acids-eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)—are derived from fish oils, of cold water fish (salmon, trout, or most commonly menhaden fish) and flaxseed. Omega-6 fatty acids—linoleic acid (LA) and gamma-linolenic acid (GLA)—are derived from oils of seed such as evening primrose, black currant, and borage. Omega-9 fatty acids have no known use in treating our pets. In general, the products of omega-3 (specifically EPA) and one omega-6 fatty acid (DGLA) are less inflammatory than are the products of arachidonic acid (another omega-6 fatty acid). Supplementation of the diet with omega-3 fatty acids (generally considered anti-inflammatory fatty acids) is useful to decrease inflammation in the body. Since metabolism of the omega-6 fatty acids tend to cause inflammation, supplying a large amount of omega-3 fatty acids favors the production of non-inflammatory chemicals.
Note: Flaxseed oil is a popular source of alpha-linoleic acid (ALA), an omega-3 fatty acid that is ultimately converted to EPA and DHA. However, many species of pets (probably including dogs and cats) and some people cannot convert ALA to these other more active non-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids. In one study in people, flaxseed oil was ineffective in reducing symptoms or raising levels of EPA and DHA. While flaxseed oil has been suggested as a less smelly substitute for fish oil, no evidence supports it as effective when used for the same therapeutic purposes as fish oil. Therefore, supplementation with EPA and DHA is important, and this is the reason flaxseed oil is not recommended as the sole fatty acid supplement for pets. Flaxseed oil can, however, by used to provide ALA and as a coat conditioner.