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, and taurine from other amino acids, but cats must consume Vitamin A and taurine 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 cats cannot convert plant oils (such as flaxseed oil) into EPA and DHA, marine oils are the best way to supplement dogs and cats with essential fatty acids. Here are a few facts about these oils:
- 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. If you choose salmon oil, be sure it is from wild salmon only.
- Green-lipped mussels are a sustainable source of a wide array of Omega fatty acids including Omega-3s.
- Look into your source to make sure their procedures ensure freshness and purity. Omega-3s are easily oxidized (made rancid) from light, heat, exposure to air, moisture, and natural degradation over time. Fish and fish livers may sit for days or even weeks on docks or ships or in warehouses. Rancid oils have lost all their benefits and are actually dangerous to consume: they contain large amounts of free radicals, and are known to destroy fat-soluble vitamins.
When you supplement your cat with good-quality Omega-3s, 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!