Wellness: Healthy Living
Omega-3, a Fatty Acid: Essential for Health

Fats are the major source of energy for dogs, the energy they supply is a more concentrated source (2.5 times) than either protein or carbohydrates. Not only do they supply energy but they also help keep skin and coat healthy, and foot pads supple. Nutritionally, fatty acids aid in the absorption of vitamins because they transport fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, K and E) into the body from the intestine. They also play a role in cell structure and function, including vision and learning abilities. Plus, they make food, both manufactured or homemade, tastier and more palatable. 

Fatty acids are a specific type of polyunsaturated fat and are classified into omega-3s or omega-6s. Essential fatty acids (EFAs) are those that the body cannot make for itself, and needs to be supplied daily in the diet, hence they are considered to be essential (this essential status is species-specific). For dogs, the EFAs are omega-3 and omega-6 acids, which are required for them to thrive. In other words, if a body (animal or human) does not receive sufficient amounts of EFAs, critical body functions can be severely disrupted.

While both are important to a diet, it is thought by many nutritionists that commercial pet food (similar to commercial human food) contains too many omega-6s and not enough of the “good fat”, omega-3s. Omega-6s can be found in meat products, egg yolks, whole grains and vegetable oils, while the best source for omega-3s for dogs is cold water fish. Fish oil provides the long-chain omega-3s (EPA and DHA), that are used for metabolism. Another complication is that fatty acids are very unstable and fragile, and tend to oxidize very quickly. They are easily destroyed by heat, light, and oxygen, thus they break down during processing and storage. It is important to note that the only way you can assure that your dog is getting sufficient amounts of EFAs is to either provide fish, such as mackerel, sardines, tuna, salmon, etc., in their diets or add an EFA supplement yourself. If using a supplement, ideally it should be guaranteed-fresh source packaged in an oxygen-free container, such as soft gel capsules that prohibit air from contacting the oil.

Composition and sources of Omega-3 fatty acids:

- EPA (Eicosapentaenoic acid) cold water fish and their oil.

- DHA (Docosahexaenoic acid) cold water fish and their oil, eggs from chickens fed omega-3.

- ALA (Alpha-linolenic acid) found in flaxseed oil, canola, soy beans, navy or kidney beans and walnut oils, plus green leafy veggies. 

It is important to note that, unlike humans, dogs cannot convert ALA to the all-important EPA and DHA, so plant oils are not an ideal source of omega-3s for them. ALA from plant foods are often the primary sources of omega-3 found in dog food. While they are still important, this does mean that your dog’s diet may be lacking in EPA and DHA, causing them to miss out on certain health benefits. 

Composition and sources of Omega-6 fatty acids:

- LA (Linoleic acid) that can be found in corn, canola, safflower, sunflower oils, whole grain and body fat of poultry.

- GLA (Gamma linolenic acid) in black current seed oil, borage oil and evening primrose oil.

- AA (Arachidonice acid) found in the body fat of poultry, lean meat, egg yolks, some fish oils.  

- DGLA (Dihomo-gamma-linolenic acid) found in organ meats.

Benefits of Omega-3s:

As many veterinarians, including Karen Becker, DVM, have noted, “omega-3s have tremendous potential to positively impact your pet’s health.” Here’s a list of what omega-3s contribute to a dog’s health and vitality:

- Support normal neural development, cardiovascular and immune systems, healthy reproduction, and skin and coat health.

- Therapeutic benefits and aid in managing chronic inflammatory disorders, like colitis, obesity, inflammatory bowel disease, joint pain due to arthritis and allergic skin problems.

- DHA is important for development of a healthy nervous system and proper development of the retina and visual cortex in fetuses and newborn puppies.   

- Manage stress and improvement of brain health and cognitive functioning, especially in senior dogs.

- Support skin and coat health and relieve dry and itchy skin.

- Omega-3s fatty acids have been shown to slow the development and metastasis of certain cancers, while omega-6s have been shown to stimulate tumor development.

- Fish oils have been shown to decrease the levels of triglycerides and cholesterol in the blood.

Not All Fish Oil Is Created Equally

With the rising popularity of fish oil for both the human and canine health, there are many different manufacturers making a variety of claims. So when selecting which omega-3 oil to purchase you need to consider a few factors including, purity, freshness, potency, bio-availability and sustainability.

Purity: The oil must meet international standards for heavy metals, PCBs, dioxins and other contaminants. You need to check with the manufacturer’s Certificate of Analysis (CoA) to receive third-party verification. Many oils come from areas of the ocean that are heavily trafficked and/or polluted by deep sea oil rigs. Make sure you know what part of the world the fish was caught.

Freshness: EFAs are susceptible to oxidation, which turns them rancid. Look for verification about the freshness from the CoA, and for companies that use smaller vessels. Ask how the fish is kept fresh once it is caught, and how long does it take from the “catch” to the processing plant. The product should be available in an oxygen-free container, such as soft gel capsules that prohibit air from contacting the oil. Freshness is measured by oxidation as shown in the CoA’s anisidine and peroxide values, that should be less than 5 meq/kg.

Potency: The oil must contain DHA and EPA. DHA provides most benefits to dogs, so it should exceed the levels of EPA.

Bio-Availability: The oil must be in a natural form not a synthetic triglyceride which many fish oils are.

Sustainability:  Many fish oils are made from fish that are endangered. Choose products made from fish that are certified by organizations such as the Global Organization for EPA and DHA Omega-3s (GOED).

It’s important to look for or request a Certificate of Analysis (CoA) from the maker before you buy a fish oil product and if you have any questions, the company should be available to address those in a timely manner. 

Omega-3s and omega-6s are indeed essential fatty acids, not only because they need to be added to a diet, but because they are essential to overall health. However, as they also add calories, attention needs to be given to the overall caloric count that is provided to a dog in both their food and supplementation. Consultation with your veterinarian is also recommended.

News: Guest Posts
How Sleepypod Protected My Dog in an Accident
Sponsored by Sleepypod
“I haven’t even allowed myself to imagine the loss I would have suered had I decided not to purchase the Clickit that day”


For a while I was contemplating purchasing the Clickit harness from Sleepypod. My dog and I go everywhere together and so she is in the car 40 minutes each day.

I thought, “I’m a safe driver, maybe I’ll hold off until my next paycheck to purchase the Clickit.” Well finally, one day when browsing Sleepypod.com (for the hundredth time), after measuring my dog four different times to be sure, I decided to do it. I purchased the small Clickit harness in orange! Little did I know, this would be the most important purchase of my entire life.

Fast forward about a month, I am driving through the same intersection I drive almost every single day with my dog. This intersection is very busy, and the speed limit is 45 mph, so I’m always very careful. As I’m driving along, going 45 mph, a car suddenly turns in front of me. I didn’t even have time to apply pressure on the breaks before we collided. My car spun wildly, and I ended up crossing three lanes, landing on the opposite side of the median. My car made some funny noises before it died, smoke pouring from the hood. Immediately when my car settles, I look back at my dog. Her doggy bed that she lays on was tossed from the seat. The leashes I keep in the back are strewn about the car. My dog is sitting on the seat, wide-eyed and confused, perfectly unharmed. She was just sitting there. I immediately start crying. I couldn’t believe it … she was actually okay!

My boyfriend came to the scene as the police arrived. He took our dog out of the car, and she hopped right down as if nothing had happened. When the EMT’s strapped me to a board, she came over and jumped up to see if I was okay, whining for me, tail wagging.

I suffered a fractured sternum, and had to be transferred to a special hospital overnight. The first thing I did when I came home from the hospital was bring my dog to my veterinarian. I had to be sure she was definitely okay. My vet checked her over and gave her a clean bill of health.

I seriously owe all of this to my Clickit harness. Without it, my entire world would have been turned upside down. I haven’t even allowed myself to imagine the loss I would have suffered had I decided not to purchase the Clickit that day.

News: Guest Posts
App Review: Dog Food Hazards
Quick access to list of foods our pups should avoid.

Although we're inundated with apps these days some information is worth carrying around with us for quick access. The newly released Dog: Food Hazards app (android, free) is a very simple app dedicated to one topic, as you might have guessed, hazardous foods dogs should avoid.

Featuring a simplified layout for quick navigation, one can refresh their knowledge of dangerous foods for dogs and get information on symptoms caused by each featured food type. As a bonus they’ve prominently placed access to ASPCA’s pet poison hotline so it is quickly accessible too.

Unfortunately, the list of food hazards is limited, so it may not be helpful for people looking to delve deeply into the topic. While Dog: Food Hazards is a fairly barebones app, we enjoy the peace of mind that comes with its ease of access to information that every dog owner should know.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Study on Canine "Seat Belts"
CPS finds only one car restraint system that passes their tests

Keeping dogs safe in the car has long been a concern of mine. Previously I wrote about the crumple zone in the back of the car, which made me consider moving my pups to the safer back seat area using harnesses since I can't fit my crate in the passenger area. However, I was not impressed testing or lack of standards on car restraints, so I stuck with my crate (To be fair, crates don't have much testing either. There is only brand one on the market, Variocages, that is crash tested and designed with the crumple zone in mind, but they come with a hefty $1,000+ price tag!). 

The results of a new study on canine car restraints doesn't exactly boost my confidence in these "doggy seat belts." A study by the Center for Pet Safety (CPS) and Subaru found that only one of the eleven systems they tested provided adequate protection to the dog and passengers of the vehicle. 

CPS designed their crash test on the standard that is currently used to certify child safety seats. The testing occurred in two phases. First, each harness was subjected to a preliminary strength test. Only seven passed and continued to the crash test portion. The systems were tested using specially designed crash test dummy dogs in three sizes: a 25 pound Terrier mix, a 45 pound Border Collie, and a 75 pound Golden Retriever.  

Only one system passed all of the tests, the Sleepypod Clickit Utility, meaning the dog remained restrained during every test and offered protection to the passengers.

Klein Metal AllSafe, Cover Craft RuffRider Roadie, RC Pet Canine Friendly Crash Tested, Bergan Dog Auto Harness, Kurgo Tru-Fit Enhanced Strength, and IMMI PetBuckle did not have optimal performance.  Some allowed dogs to launch off of the seat or did not control the pet's rotation (something I wouldn't have even though about). The worst products, IMMI Pet Buckle, Kurgo, and Bergan, allowed the dog to become a full projectile or to be released from the restraint.

CPS plans to use the data from their study to help develop standards for performance and test protocols of restraint systems since there are currently no industry guidelines.

Founded in 2011, CPS is a registrered non-profit research and advocacy organization dedicated to companion animal safety. They are not affiliated with the pet product industry and do not endorse products. I can't wait to see what they have in store next!

News: Editors
Jason Collins, making waves
What's This Have to Do with Dogs?!

We’ve taken some criticism on Facebook for our post earlier this week on Jason Collins and his dog, Shadow. Some people have taken exception with our use of the word “courageous” in connection with Collins’ announcement that he is gay (a first for an active, professional male athlete). Others, have questioned “what does someone’s sexual preference have to do with dogs?” I wanted to take a moment and express The Bark’s curatorial perspective when posting content to Facebook and to our other social media channels. It has been our goal since we began publishing The Bark 16 years ago, to explore the world of dogs in as varied and expansive a manner as the topic itself. It not only includes the traditional subjects of health, science and the arts, but also how dogs touch nearly every aspect of our lives from social issues to cultural events, and increasingly, their presence in the media. We don’t claim to cover every worthy story on dogs, but we try to mention the ones that interest us, the stories we feel are important. This is why we wrote about Jason Collins. As one reader wrote “thanks for finding the humanity in a dog’s story … and the dog in a human story.” Collins himself expressed his revelation thus: “I didn’t set out to be the first openly gay athlete playing in a major American team sport. But since I am, I’m happy to start the conversation.”

The Bark is happy to engage in that conversation and others we deem meaningful, and we welcome your comments—both supportive and critical. We think that the diversity of ideas makes for a richer community.