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This month we conclude our series on Autoimmune Disorders in pets. The final article discusses the best type of fatty acids to use for your pet’s inflammatory issues.

Is supplementation with fatty acid capsules or liquids the best approach, or is dietary manipulation preferred for the treatment of inflammatory conditions? There are, in fact, diets constructed with this “ideal” ratio (of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids). For owners who do not like giving their pets medication, or for those pets that don’t take the fatty acid supplements easily, it might be wise to try some of the medically formulated diets (available from you pet’s doctor) that contain the fatty acids. (However, because these medicated diets may not be as natural as possible due to the inclusion of byproducts and chemical preservatives, holistic pet owners may need to try other options.) These diets, often prescribed as anti-inflammatory diets for pets with allergies, may be useful as a part of the therapy of autoimmune disorders in pets.

Since fish oils can easily oxidize and become rancid, some manufacturers add vitamin E to fish oil capsules and liquid products to keep the oil from spoiling (others remove oxygen from the capsule.)

  • Since processed foods have increased omega-6 fatty acids and decreased omega-3 fatty acids, supplementing the diets of all pets with omega-3 fatty acids seems warranted and will not harm your pet.
  • The bottom line is there are many questions regarding the use of fatty acid therapy. More research is needed to determine the effectiveness of the fatty acids in the treatment of various medical problems, as well as the proper doses needed to achieve clinical results. Until definitive answers are obtained, you will need to work with your doctor (knowing the limitations of current research) to determine the use of these supplements for your pet.
  • Fish oil appears to be safe. The most common side effect seen in people and pets is a fish odor to the breath or the skin.
  • Because fish oil has a mild “blood-thinning” effect, it should not be combined with powerful blood-thinning medications, such as Coumadin (warfarin) or heparin, except on a veterinarian’s advice. Fish oil does not seem to cause bleeding problems when it is taken by itself at commonly recommended dosages. Also, fish oil does not appear to raise blood sugar levels in people or pets with diabetes.

Flaxseed oil is derived from the seeds of the flax plant and has been proposed as a less smelly alternative to fish oil. Flaxseed oil contains alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), an omega-3 fatty acid that is ultimately converted to EPA and DHA. In fact, flaxseed oil contains higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids (ALA) than fish oil. It also contains omega-6 fatty acids.

  • As mentioned, 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 substitute for fish oil, there is no evidence that it is effective when used for the same therapeutic purposes as fish oil. Unlike the case for fish oil, there is little evidence that flaxseed oil is effective for any specific therapeutic purpose.
  • 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 be used to provide ALA and as a coat conditioner.
  • Flaxseed oil also does contain lignans, which are currently being studied for use in preventing cancer in people.
  • The essential fatty acids in flax can be damaged by exposure to heat, light, and oxygen (essentially, they become rancid). For this reason, you shouldn’t cook with flaxseed oil. A good product should be sold in an opaque container, and the manufacturing process should keep the temperature under 100 degrees F (some products are prepared by cold extraction methods). Some manufacturers combine the product with vitamin E because it helps prevent rancidity.
  • The best use of flaxseed oil is a general nutritional supplement to provide essential fatty acids.
  • Flaxseed oil appears to be a safe nutritional supplement when used as recommended.

These supplements can be used in conjunction with conventional therapies, as they are unlikely to be effective by themselves in most patients. The natural treatments are widely used with variable success but have not all been thoroughly investigated and proven at this time. As with any condition the most healthful natural diet will improve the pet’s overall health.

Other therapies that can be tried include the herbs alfalfa, yellow dock and cordyceps mushrooms.

Specific therapies vary with the disease. In general, conventional therapies rely on immunosuppressive medications such as corticosteroids or stronger chemotherapeutic drugs to decrease the overactive immune system.

Shawn Messonnier, DVM

As my thank you for reading my articles, enter code “drshawn” at my natural products web store,, to save 10% on all your future purchases!

Shawn Messonnier DVM Past Supporting Member, Oncology Association of Naturopathic Physicians Author, the award-winning The Natural Health Bible for Dogs & Cats, The Natural Vet’s Guide to Preventing and Treating Cancer in Dogs, and Breast Choices for the Best Chances: Your Breasts, Your Life, and How YOU Can Win The Battle!

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