Why do pets develop dry skin and dull hair coats?
Dry skin or drab, lusterless hair coats in pets may indicate a deficiency or an improper balance of essential fatty acids in their diet.
Most pet owners assume their pets are getting everything they need from their diet…but fatty acid deficiencies are common, as pet foods are notoriously low in certain fatty acids. Fatty acids are also relatively fragile and prone to break-down by overcooking or even improper storage of dry food. If a pet is eating a fat-restricted diet, they may be at increased risk for fatty acid deficiency. Certain inflammatory diseases will result in a pet being unable to keep a proper balance of fatty acids in their body.
What are fatty acids?
Fatty acids are specific types of fats that fall into the general classes of omega-3 and omega-6. Some fatty acids are considered essential as dogs and cats cannot produce them within their bodies. These essential fatty acids must be obtained from the food they eat.
Fatty acids are part of the cell membranes of all body tissues and are necessary for all body systems to function normally. Not all fatty acids have the same function and there are "good" and "bad" fatty acids. Within tissues, the "good" fatty acids combat or prevent inflammation while the "bad" fatty acids are capable of causing inflammation.
Omega-3 versus Omega-6 fatty acids
Both omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are essential to dogs and cats. Omega-3 fatty acids are more well known because of their "good" anti-inflammatory properties and most pet owners know them as fish oils.
The importance of omega-6 fatty acids are often overlooked as some "bad" fatty acids in this group are capable of causing inflammation. There are, however, many beneficial omega-6 fatty acids that are crucial for skin and hair health. Sunflower oil, safflower oil and soybean oil are good sources of anti-inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids.
How can pets benefit from fatty acid supplementation?
Fatty acids are crucial to a healthy body; both inside and out. As many commercial pet foods are very low in beneficial fatty acids, a high quality pet supplement is necessary for most pets to avoid skin and hair coat problems and achieve their optimal health. Even if a pet is eating a high quality all natural pet food with adequate levels of fatty acids, supplemental fatty acids will improve skin suppleness, reduce shedding and promote healthy growth of the undercoat in pets.
Most pet owners will notice visible improvements in the skin and coat condition within 4 weeks of their pet beginning fatty acid supplementation. Although 4 weeks is typical, it can take 9 to12 weeks to see improvements in some pets and owners should not become discouraged or discontinue the supplements before this time.
In addition to improving skin and hair coat health, fatty acid supplementation has also proven beneficial in the treatment and control of:
- Autoimmune conditions
- Inflammatory conditions—especially of the skin, kidney and intestine
- Yeast infections
- Eye disorders
- Heart disease and rhythm disturbances
Are there side effects of fatty acid supplementation?
Fatty acids are fats and so they do add calories to pets’ daily intake. If a pet has a weight problem, they may require a reduction in the amount of food given in order to account for these calories and prevent pet obesity.
Some pets may develop mild diarrhea from fatty acid supplements. Starting at a low dosage and then working up to the recommended dosage can help alleviate this. As fatty acid supplements contain fish oil, some pets will develop a "fishy" smell to their breath or skin. A more serious side effect is the development of an inflamed pancreas (called pancreatitis) which can lead to vomiting, diarrhea, pain and dehydration. Your veterinarian should be contacted if any of these symptoms are detected in your pet.
What fatty acid supplement is best for skin and coat health?
Historically, fish oils were recommended as the best source of fatty acid supplementation for the skin and coat. Fish oils, however, provide only omega-3 fatty acids. Since several omega-6 fatty acids are also important for skin and coat health, the ideal pet supplement is one that provides both omega-3 and anti-inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids.
Halo has an all natural pet supplement, Dream Coat, which is a combination of soybean oil, wheatgerm oil, safflower oil, sunflower oil, garlic oil, and cod liver fish oil. This combination of oils achieves the ideal ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids and is a perfect complement to a high quality natural pet food.
Research related to fatty acid supplementation is constantly ongoing and knowledge of these supplements keeps growing. If your pet has a specific medical condition, ask your veterinarian if fatty acid supplementation may help.