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HomeEditorialProf Simon Davies - EditorialsEnriching the diets of cats and dogs with omega-3 long chain fatty...

Enriching the diets of cats and dogs with omega-3 long chain fatty acids from marine sources

We all know that cats enjoy fish and are very attracted to diets containing fish products of a variety of sources such as cod, tuna, and salmon. The latter, oily fish are rich in the desirable fats or oils that contain essential fatty acids (omega 3’s) for health and wellbeing.

There is now wide interest in providing these omega-3 fatty acids from a variety of sources beyond traditional fish sources due to questions of sustainability and costs. It is my belief that much more work is required to improve our understanding of the importance of fats and essential fatty acids in dog and cat diets particularly. It is something quite overlooked in many aspects including veterinary medicine and clinical nutrition.

Fatty acid terminology is complicated and involves nomenclatures describing their molecular structure. The fatty acids known as EPA (Eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) are highly unsaturated fatty acids (HUFAs) that can be only partially synthesized in the body from the essential omega-3 fatty acid known as alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) that is typically found in flax or linseed meal oil. These molecules are vitally important to the functioning of the immune system and to promote anti-inflammatory pathways in tissues and organs. 

Although, dogs can convert alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) to EPA and DHA to limited extent, the process is quite inefficient in dogs and nearly non-existent in cats due to the lack of specific enzymes to effectively synthesise these specific fatty acids.

Further, typical diets of domestic canines and felines tend to be higher in the omega-6 series fatty acids present in plant oils added to contemporary diets. Higher levels of omega-6 can compete with the pathways associated with omega-3 and so it is vitally important to obtain the correct omega-6: omega-3 balance in the diet. Terrestrial animal derived by-products are not good sources of these omega-3 fatty acids either.

Therefore, dogs and cats both need foods fortified in EPA and DHA, and this must be reflected in their formulated diets. Optimal dietary omega levels greatly aid canine and feline skin and coat quality, skeletal health, and immune function. I have direct experience of this essentiality and benefits from numerous case study reports dealing with both canine and feline health related issues.

To meet the demand for essential fatty acids more pet food companies are ensuring that diets for both cats and dogs contain sufficient essential oils or fats in their formulations. Dry, moist, and wet foods will be fortified with suitable ingredients. Recently there has been much interest in novel marine ingredients for dog and cat food with more regard for sustainability with questions on the supply and sourcing of fish in particular.

In addition, we see more potential being realised for inclusion of novel marine ingredients such as phytoplankton, krill and both marine macroalgae (seaweeds) and microalgae e.g., spirulina and chlorella. These materials are more expensive than traditional ingredients but have distinct advantages as being sources of phospholipids (containing essential HUFAs), emulsifiers, and are often very high in carotenoids and in particular astaxanthin that has a powerful antioxidant property in vivo protecting cells from oxidative stress and enhancing the immune system.

Such marine ingredients are also rich in the fat-soluble vitamins and vitamins A, D, E and K are of prime importance in numerous metabolic pathways in dogs and cats. Together they work in a synergistic and harmonious way promoting maintenance, growth and development from the pup, kitten to full grown animal. 

They would be of strategic importance in older animals to mitigate the effects of aging and later onset disease risks. In my role as an animal nutrition scientist, I have come to greatly value marine based ingredients and their functional properties for cats and dogs.

The oceans are a vast and wonderful environment, and we observe increasing marine biotechnology and discovery producing an array of natural functional products for the pet food manufacturer to consider. Increasing research is showing their attributes for our companion friends to benefit.

Now, some companies are scaling up algal biomass production to meet demands in the petfood market and this will be a positive step towards adding functional value to petfood products.

Note from the editor:
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Article contributed by Simon Davies, Nutrition Editor, International Petfood magazine.

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