Fish oil as a supplement has been around for decades, but it started to really gain traction in the mainstream around 7 years ago. In fact, in 2012, the number of adults using fish oil increased by more than 8 million users when compared to 2007. Today, it is 5 times more popular than probiotics which are considered to be a significant health trend of our time.
Its increased popularity is due mostly to the awareness of the importance of omega-3 fatty acids in our bodies. Omega 3-3 Fatty Acids are essential in several body systems including cardiac, neurological, and digestive systems. They have also been documented as beneficial to our eyes, liver, skin, reproductive systems, and even, mental health and wellness.
Fish oil’s popularity doesn’t stop at us humans. It’s been gaining traction in the pet health world as well. Many of the same potential benefits are present for our cats and dogs. But dogs and cats are not humans. How does fish oil act in the internal systems of our pets? Is it different from how it reacts in ours? Is it safe? And how is fish oil derived? We’ll tackle all of these questions and more and take a look inside the fish oil industry.
What is fish oil?
Fish oil is a supplement manufactured with the hopes of helping our bodies and the bodies of our pets to feel and function better.
Fish oil is a dietary source of omega-3 fatty acids. Our bodies need omega-3 fatty acids to function at peak performance, and we cannot produce omega-3’s internally. This means that it must be obtained through a dietary source.
What types of fish are used in fish oil?
Most fish oil is derived from cold-water oily fish. This includes salmon, herring, sardines, mackerel, and anchovies. However, almost any fish can be used.
How is fish oil derived?
So fish oil is a dietary supplement, but how do manufacturers get the oil from a fish? These are all good questions, let’s look at the research.
As with many manufacturing processes, there is not just one way to produce fish oil. Some common methods include “wet pressing”. This is by far the most common form of production. In this process, the fish is cooked, pressed, and then the oil is manipulated to the correct potency, consistency, and other characteristics. Many users and manufacturers claim this is the most natural and correct way to derive the oil.
Other methods include steaming processes and processing with the aid of solvents. Steaming results in much lower quantities of oil being produced and solvents are fairly controversial due to the addition of a chemical substance.
How is fish oil processed?
Once the raw materials are derived from the fish, the oil must be decanted and processed. Processing almost always includes some form of purification to remove all potential toxins from the oil, the main concerns being mercury and PCBs.
PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, are industrial chemicals that are now banned. From 1929 to 1979, however, these chemicals were used regularly and as a result, PCB remnants can still be found within the air, water, and soil. In general, bottom-feeding fish like striped bass and trout caught within contaminated waters tend to carry higher levels of PCBs.
Once the oil has been purified, it is then refined. One investigation described the refinery process as such, “The traditional refining process includes several stages, such as degumming, neutralization, bleaching, deodorization and, in some cases, winterization”.
All of these extraction, purification, and refinement process can and often do affect the quality of the oil that has been derived; but all are necessary to ensure the oil is safe for consumption.
How to know how a fish oil is processed when purchasing?
Some bottles of fish oil will indicate the way in which the product was manufactured. If you are concerned with the processing and refinement, this is a good place to start. If the bottle does not have the refinement and processing methods, you can always do a quick search for the business online and read their processes on their website.
If their website does not elaborate on this subject, you could call the information number to get the answers you need. A good rule of thumb is to select a company who is transparent about its fish oil processing.
What are the benefits of fish oil for pets?
One of the most common benefits of adding fish oil supplements to your pet’s diet is inflammation reduction. As pets age, their systems start to experience higher levels of inflammation. Some of this inflammation can cause your pets to feel pain and/or discomfort; while other forms of inflammation can affect the function of internal systems.
Another benefit of fish oil for cats and dogs is in the health and vitality of their skin and coat. Fish oil can help to reduce dry and flaking skin, as well as treat certain sensitive skin conditions. Fish oil also has the potential to benefit the coat making it shinier and smoother while also reducing shedding. This is especially good for felines as this can contribute to fewer hairballs.
The omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil are also good for the function and health of the heart, brain, liver, and digestive tract just as it is with humans. It has been prescribed and recommended for the treatment of neurological conditions in pets as well as a treatment for heart disease, liver disease, kidney disease, and cardiac disorders.
What are the safety concerns of giving fish oil to pets?
As with any dietary change, and adding a new supplement is a dietary change, you should always consult your vet first. Your vet will help you understand the specific risks to your pet based on their entire health profile. And your vet will advise you of things to watch out for.
Once you’ve gotten the okay from your vet, the hard part is over; but you will still need to be vigilant. All fish oils are not created equal and processing matters. One investigation found the potency of fish oil to vary by as much as 10% from what the label claimed. You should always do your own research and choose a brand you can trust.
You will also need to watch dosing closely to ensure you aren’t giving too little or too much of the supplement. Incorrect dosing can result in diarrhea, blood clotting disorders, certain vitamin deficiencies, and immune system malfunctioning.
Fish oil is a wonderful dietary source of omega-3 fatty acids. These fatty acids are key to the functioning of several internal systems, and the benefits can be felt by both humans and pets alike. While we’re all for these benefits, keep in mind that supplements are not always the best source of nutrients. This is because the processing and refinement of these oils can damage the nutrient bioavailability. Adding in whole fish and fish products to your pet’s meal can be just as effective if not more effective than adding in fish oil supplements.
When using supplements, always be sure to consult your vet, as any supplement can interact with other medications. Brands matter and you should always choose a supplement with transparency and strict testing policies. Also, be careful to follow dosing recommendations very carefully.
Fish oil can be a wonderful resource when used appropriately for our pets. It can make them look and feel younger. And anything that can help our pets live a healthier, happier, and potentially longer life is a win in our book!