No doubt you’ve heard of Omega-3 fatty acids, Omega-6 fatty acids, and essential fatty acids. But did you know that they are essential for cats, too?
The term “essential” means that the animal cannot synthesize the nutrient within its body, but must obtain it in the diet. For example, humans and dogs can make Vitamin A out of beta-carotene, but cats must consume Vitamin A directly from their food. Among fatty acids, arachidonic acid is essential for cats but not for dogs; while Omega-3s and Omega-6s are essential for both.
Omega-3s generally are anti-inflammatory, while the kind of Omega-6s that are found in vegetable and plant oils and most animal fats, Omega-6s (the most common in both human and pet diets), can actually promote and increase inflammation.
What do essential fatty acids do? First, they are critical in development, especially for the nervous system and heart. They are incorporated into the membrane of every cell in the body. They are precursors to many important hormones and other compounds in the body. In cats, they’re especially important for skin and coat health. Lack of a healthy balance of essential fatty acids is linked to many serious health conditions, such as allergies, skin diseases, obesity, cancer, insulin resistance, diabetes, asthma, arthritis, autoimmune diseases, behavioral issues, and cognitive dysfunction (senility).
In the body, the forms of Omega 3 needed are EPA and DHA. Because our pets cannot convert plant oils (such as flaxseed oil) into EPA and DHA, fish oils are the best way to supplement dogs and cats with essential fatty acids. The best fish oil supplements come from wild salmon (not farm-raised salmon) or non-predatory fish, and are purified to remove heavy metals and other contaminants. Cod liver oil is an excellent source of EPA and DHA, but most manufacturers add extra vitamins A and D, which can reach toxic levels in small pets.
• Cod liver oil is an excellent source of EPA and DHA, but most manufacturers add extra vitamins A and D, which can quickly reach toxic levels in small pets like cats.
• Predatory fish such as salmon and tuna are at the top of the food chain; so environmental contaminants become concentrated in their fat. Farmed fish, particularly salmon, are fed a cocktail of chemicals such as dyes, pesticides, and antibiotics, and live in heavily polluted waters.
• Purity of the oil is critically important. Like their ocean habitat, many fish are contaminated not only with mercury, but also dioxins, PCBs, and other highly toxic chemicals.
• Freshness is what separates the great oils from the not so good. All oils, but Omega-3s in particular, are easily oxidized (made rancid) from light, heat, exposure to air, moisture, and natural degradation over time. Fish used for oil may sit for days or even weeks in ships or warehouses. Rancid oils are not only lacking in beneficial properties, but they are actually dangerous to consume: they contain large amounts of free radicals, and are known to destroy fat-soluble vitamins.
The first benefit you’ll see will be improvement in skin and coat health, and you’ll likely see this within just a few weeks. But it’s the benefits you don’t see—healthier cells, a stronger immune system, and a more efficient nervous system—that will make the most difference in your cat’s health!