Why Should I Use Fish Oil Prescribed by My Veterinarian?

Sources of Fish Oil

Wild salmon have historically been an important fish used for omega-3 fatty acids because of their high fat content. However, as they have been overfished quantities have declined. Farm-raised salmon do not off the same levels if the important EPA and DHA needed in the supplements have other major issues including: higher levels of PCB’s, chemical additives, antibiotics, higher levels of sea lice and very variable regulation. The U.S.A imports about 90% of its seafood from Asia and these operations do not have as much regulatory oversight.

A more satisfactory option for fish oil is the use of wild, smaller, non-predatory, more easily renewable fish such as anchoives and sardines.

Fish oils should be fully tested for heaving metals like mercury and lead, ocean pollutants like PCBs and digoxins, and microbial contaminants. In the US, the FDA has set tolerable levels for these contaminants in fish oils but only 1-2% of the shipments of the fish products entering the US are inspected and tested. Thus, the best products are tested regularly, in each lot, by the manufacturer.

Why not human formulations?

  • Ethyl esters – regularly found in human OTC products. These are not well absorbed from animal GI tracts and more prone to oxidation which leads to degrading of the product
  • Free Fatty Acids – rarely found in veterinary products and contain high concentrations of EPA and DHA which are well absorbed from the GI tract. This allows the pet to take fewer soft gels and get the levels of EPA and DHA that are recommended.
  • Labels for fish oil products should be tested and labeled for EPA and DHA levels. Reporting the total amount of fish oil or omega-3 fatty acids is NOT the same thing and makes dosage calculations impossible.
  • Quality is variable among human OTC products just as it is for veterinary products.
  • The gelatin source in many softgels is unknown. Most are beef.

What product should I use?

We recommend FreeForm Snip Tips and Oil by Bayer Animal Health. We offer this product because it meets all of the requirements and is routinely tested for safety/contaminants and is proven to work in dogs and cats.

What dose should I use?

Evidence suggests that a safe upper limit to the combined amounts of EPA + DHA as 2,800 mg per 1000 kcal of diet. This is equivalent to the following doses for dogs:

  • 10 kg: 2081 mg
  • 20 kg: 3499 mg
  • 30 kg: 4743 mg
  • 40 kg: 5885 mg
  • 50 kg: 6957 mg
  • For pregnant bitches and growing puppies after weaning 130 mg EPA + DHA per 1,000 kcal of energy

Presently, not enough published data exists to set a safe upper limit for cats. Suggested limits are not to exceed 50 mg/kg of EPA and DHA for an 8 pound cat. For pregnant queens and growing kittens after weaning 25 mg EPA + DHA per 1,000 kcal of energy

When should I use a fatty acid supplement for my pet?

  • Itchy and inflamed skin
  • Atopic dermatitis
  • Neurocognitive development in puppies and kittens
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Heart disease, arrhythmias, valvular disease, dilated cardiomyopathy.
  • Chronic kidney disease


How do I evaluate the quality of a nutraceutical?

Since there is no regulatory body for manufacturing of nutraceuticals, it becomes difficult to assess product quality. Drugs, regulated by the FDA must meet specific manufacturing standards. Studies have shown that nutraceuticals are commonly mislabeled; may contain impurities, such as heavy metals, toxins, bacteria, molds; may have variable quantities of active ingredients; may fail to dissolve (thereby remaining ineffective).

Some guidelines for selecting products likely to be of better quality include:

  1. Price. Cheaper compounds are less likely to be of high quality. This has been the general observation with chondroitin sulfate.
  2. Lot number and Expiration Date.
  3. Monograph within the US Pharmacopeia, documenting accuracy of ingredient labeling. There is a general USP veterinary page(for veterinary drugs, requires free registration) and the USP Dietary Supplement Verification Program page, which provides a list of suppliers that have voluntarily submitted their products for USP verification and approval. However, this does not mean that products not verified by USP DSVP are of poor quality.
  4. Claims of safety or efficacy. If a nutraceutical claims a medical benefit on the label, there should be a New Animal Drug Application (NADA) number accompanying the product. While this is “mandated” by law, it is often ignored. A NADA tends to suggest higher quality, because the manufacturer has bothered to abide by FDA regulations for drug manufacture.
  5. Ingredient list. All ingredients should be listed by order of magnitude based on weight.
  6. Good instructions for use.
  7. Scientific evidence supporting manufacturer’s claims. Some manufacturers have begun providing data for their specific products through independent scientific studies. These studies should ideally be peer-reviewed and published. Importantly, they should be clinical studies, not in vitrostudies. There are institutes, affiliated with universities and medical schools, who are beginning to investigate nutraceutical claims scientifically. These include The Nutraceuticals Institute st Rutgers University, The Institute of Nutraceutical Research at Clemson University, and others.
  8. Testimonials in place of valid research. Many companies provide testimonials from “satisfied clients”. These should be ignored, and companies that promote these instead of scientific research supporting their claims, should be viewed skeptically.
  9. Membership in National Animal Supplement Council (www.nasc.cc). This industry group has a close relationship with FDA and strict guidelines for member companies regarding quality control and adverse event recording. Member companies are likely to have better quality products.