GUELPH, ONTARIO — A new paper from the University of Guelph is homing in on the need for sustainable alternatives of Omega fatty acids in nutrition for dogs, cats and horses. The research highlights the importance of maintaining a balanced ratio of Omega 6 and Omega 3 fatty acids (FAs), which provide linoleic acid (LA) and alpha-linoleic acid (ALA), respectively, when included in a pet’s diet.

The paper is entitled “The balance of n-6 [Omega 6] and n-3 [Omega 3] fatty acids in canine, feline and equine nutrition: exploring sources and the significance of alpha-linolenic acid” and is published in the Journal of Animal Science. It was authored by Scarlett Burron, a student at the University of Guelph; Taylor Richards, a student at the University of Guelph; Giovane Krebs of the Federal University of Rio Grande; Luciano Trevizan, DVM, of the Federal University of Rio Grande; Alexandra Rankovic, Ph.D., of the University of Guelph; Samantha Hartwig, student at the University of Guelph; Wendy Pearson, Ph.D., of the University of Guelph; David W.L. Ma, Ph.D., of the University of Guelph; and Anna K. Shoveller, Ph.D., of the University of Guelph.

According to the researchers, Omega 6 and Omega 3 FAs provide significant physiological benefits to mammals, including pets. In combination, these fatty acids can influence companion animals’ inflammatory responses. Fish oils are commonly added to supply some Omega 3 fatty acids, particularly EPA and DHA, however, the researchers noted that increasing reliance on fish oil is becoming detrimental for both human and animal nutrition industries, especially as the fish supply chain becomes further constrained

With this in mind, the paper examines various sustainable alternatives, including flaxseed and camelina oils, as better sources to support the need for both Omega 6 and Omega 3 fatty acids. 

“It is important to find alternative sources of n-3 FA that can support the rapidly growing pet food and equine supplement industries, to reduce reliance on fish oil,” the researchers wrote. “This review aims to help the pet food industry and those making feeding decisions for companion animals and horses consider the value of including sufficient quantities of n-3 FA. This, in turn, could alleviate some of the discrepancies that may be seen between current ‘complete-and-balanced’ pet diets, as pertaining to essential or conditionally essential FA.”

In examining the low EPA requirements of dogs and cats, the researchers detailed that lower inclusion levels of fish oil to provide Omega 3 would help enhance the sustainability of the industry, while still providing pets with necessary nutrients to support overall health. Additionally, they noted that algae serves as a primary source of EPA and DHA, as fish consume the algae and become rich in EPA and DHA. This offers significant potential for the industry, as algae oil is also produced more sustainably compared to fish oil. 

With interest in fatty acids in both human and pet nutrition rising for their purported health benefits, the production of Omega 6 FA oils in North America has greatly increased. 

“Increased demand and consumption of processed foods, along with globalization, industrialization and population growth, have all been contributing factors to the increased production of n-6, rather than n-3, FA-rich oil products in North America,” the researchers wrote. “The pet food industry’s dependence on the market driving prices and product availability has thus resulted in increased incorporation of n-6 FA-rich ingredients in canine and feline diets. While n-6 FA are essential for normal physiological function in dogs and cats, a high n-6 to n-3 FA ratio will foster a pro-inflammatory state in the body that supersedes natural, innate inflammation.”

To prevent this, the researchers highlighted that pet food manufacturers must heavily consider the ratio of Omega 6 to Omega 3, as an excess of Omega 6 is unnecessary to pet health. Decreasing the inclusion levels of these Omegas and tapping alternative sources of Omega 3s may help the industry further optimize is sustainability efforts, without compromising on pet health. 

“While in general, more data is needed to optimize the diets of dogs, cats and horses to meet the needs for growth, maintenance, reproduction, and prevention of chronic diseases, the inclusion of EPA or DHA-rich ingredients in excess is not warranted given the practical limitations at this time in terms of sustainability,” they concluded. 

Read more from the research paper here

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