Years of research has been done looking at the essential building blocks that both adult dogs and puppies need in order to maintain their overall health and wellness. Most people understand that dogs need a balanced diet – however – the exact breakdown of what is and isn’t needed within that diet alludes them. This makes sense because most pet parents purchase manufactured pet foods – kibble, canned, raw, gently cooked, dehydrated or freeze dried. These manufactured foods often take all that “guess work” out of feeding our pups.
However not all foods are created equal – and – not all foods are formulated to meet the special nutritional needs of growing puppies! And puppies DO actually need different diet compositions than adult dogs.
According to AAFCO (the Association of American Feed Control Officials), and the NRC (the National Research Council) there are four main “essential” fatty acids for dogs: Linoleic acid, alpha-Linolenic acid, arachidonic acid, Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and Docosahexaenoic acid.
These essential fatty acids have different functions within the body:
- Aid in absorption of fat soluble vitamins
- Help regulate inflammation within the body
- To act as a precursor to eicosanoids and prostaglandins
- Used as a structural component in cell membranes
Since these fatty acids work throughout the body to help with functions like – regulating heart contractions to gastrointestinal motility – deficiencies can effect a multitude of different systems. And since they aid in the absorption of fat soluble vitamins ( eg – vitamins A, D, E, and K), deficiencies of these fats can cause vitamin deficiencies as well.
The first place we often notice essential fatty acid deficiencies is in the skin and coat, as improper amounts and balancing of fats can cause notable signs in the area. However for puppies the most severe and lasting sign of essential fatty acid deficiency can result in neurological problems and decreased vision due to poor retinal formation.
Now it is not JUST about having these essential fatty acids within the diet, but there is research that suggests that these fats should be in certain proportions to each other in order to provide optimal health – though the exact ratio is still unknown AAFCO has set an upper limit of an omega 3:6 ratio of less than 1:30. And generally a ratio of 1:4 or lower is considered to be more “anti-inflammatory” – HOWEVER – that is not to say omega 6 fatty acids are bad. They are still essential for overall health, and they cannot be made by the body.
So where would you find a good source of essential fatty acids your pet’s? Well each oil/fat will contain a different nutrient profile for your pup – and certain oils may be high in linoleic acid and alpha-Linolenic acid, but actually contain no Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and Docosahexaenoic acid at all. Most recipes use a combination of oils/fats in to provide all the essential fatty acids that your pet may need.
This is also one of the main reasons why YOU SHOULD NOT switch out your oils in a homemade recipe. When you work with a board certified veterinary nutritionists to create a recipe for your pup they have chosen each oil for a purpose – and swapping out oils can actually cause major decencies – especially if the oil added was used for it’s essential fatty acid composition!
The most common thing we see with homemade recipes is swapping out corn oil with oils like olive oil, or coconut oil. Corn oil is actually very high in linoleic acid and alpha-Linolenic acid – if you were to switch out corn oil with something like olive oil you would actually need to add in 5 times as much oil! This is not to say that olive oil isn’t a good ingredient – you can use it in a complete and balanced recipe for your pups – you would just need to adjust the recipe in order to make sure it is still providing everything your pup needs. And on that note – some pups may not tolerate a fat composition that is high enough to use olive or coconut oil as a source of ALA/LA – so other oils may need to be considered instead. Fats like chicken fat, walnut oil or safflower oil may be a good alternative (though these are still not an even swap within a recipe!).
Another issue you can have by switching out oils has to do with digestibility and conversion rates. Many people are familiar with the fact that flax see oil is a great source of omega 3s in people – because people can convert the ALA in flax seed oil into Omega 3s within the body. However though dogs can do this conversion as well – research as shown that it can be in-efficient – this means that either a higher amount of flax seed oil will need to be used in order to meet the omega 3 requirements, and a simple “swap” of flax for fish oil will not meet your pup’s nutritional needs.
Now the good news is – if you are using a well formulated manufactured dog food all these calculations and considerations should already be done for you (if you want more info about how to choose a pet food – check out my article on that as well).
But if you are home-preparing or attempting to “DIY” your pet’s food then I would highly recommend either 1) using a recipe formulated by a board certified veterinary specialist (a DACVN), or some with a phD in small animal diet formulation OR 2) working with one of these specialists directly! Check out my blog post on how to DIY a complete and balanced diet for your pup.
Make sure to join the conversation on Instagram to ask questions, find answers and connect with other pet parents. I’d love to have you as part of our community of pet lovers.
I hope you and your pup/s have a wonderful day, until next time my Canine Health Nuts!
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