That’s right. Today we’re talking about omega-3s for your feline family and friends. Not only are omega-3 fatty acids vital to your own health, but your feline fur babies can also reap some of the same health benefits that humans do from these essential nutrients—but in different doses and formulations.

While we’ve talked before about nutrition for canine companions, this is the first time we’re kitty-katting (that’s “cat” for “chatting) about cats. And as this post from the Petfoodology blog reminds us, “cats are not small dogs.” (And they’re not big mice either.)

What we mean by that is this: cats have some specific needs that are different than dogs, or horses, for that matter. Any “pawrent” who has lived with both cats and dogs can attest that they are typically notoriously independent, some might say aloof and others might say downright snooty, while dogs are generally more likely to be attached to your hip, your lap, your trips to the bathroom. We’re not playing favorites here as both can be loving in their own ways.

BLOG: Pet Nutrition for Dogs: What Nutrients Could Your Dog be Missing?

However, Petfoodology raises a good point, specifically when it comes to nutrition. Cats not only have psyches and personalities that diverge widely from dogs, but they also have some unique nutritional needs. For example, Dr. Deborah E. Linder, DVM, shares that cats need more protein than dogs or even humans.

Here’s another example: taurine is an amino acid that both cats and dogs need for a healthy immune system, normal vision and healthy heart function, among other things. While dogs can make their own taurine, cats lack the enzymes needed to do so, meaning that cats need to get this nutrient from external sources.

But before we get back to putting cats front and center, let’s first get into some facts about omega-3s.

 

What’s the Skinny on Omega-3s?

Omega-3 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs), which puts them in the “good” (e.g., health-promoting) column of fats, along with monounsaturated fats. Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are arguably the most important of the omega-3 fats, and also the most popular. Fatty fish, such as salmon, sardines, tuna, Atlantic mackerel and herring, are among the richest sources of EPA and DHA.

Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) is the third main component of omega-3s, and an important one especially for vegetarians as it is plant-based. While our bodies convert ALA into EPA and DHA, the conversion power is poorer than one might think.

BLOG: Do All Fish Have Omega-3s?

However, this is where cats differ. Our feline friends cannot convert ALA into EPA and DHA, so cat pawrents need to focus specifically on EPA and DHA to help ensure that cats get their omega-3 benefits.

 

How Can Cats Get Their Omega-3s EPA and DHA?

Omega-3s EPA and DHA are essential nutrients for humans—and for cats. Often when we think of something as “essential,” that means it is important to your body’s functioning or your body’s health, or both. Yes, that essential meaning counts here.

There’s a second definition for “essential” in the nutrition world. From a technical standpoint, “essential” means that your body can’t make enough of these nutrients on its own. Likewise, the same is true when it comes to cats. In other words, Miss Puffernutter (or whatever your cat’s name is), just like her pawrents, needs to rely on getting her omega-3s from external sources like fish or omega-3 supplements.

Fortunately, for cats there are four ways to do just that:

  1. Food—cats are obligate carnivores, meaning that they require a meat-based diet to survive. But that doesn’t mean they don’t also enjoy eating fish. (Tell that to your goldfish.) Cats seem to like the smell and enjoy the taste of fish. And although they may not realize it, they benefit from the high nutritional content, including omega-3 EPA and DHA found especially in fatty fish. If you’re up for it, you can treat your cat with some cooked fish, preferably the oily kind that we mentioned earlier where the highest content of omega-3 EPA and DHA resides. Be very careful about the no bones rule so as to avoid a choking incident. Make sure to properly store your raw fish to avoid bacterial food poisoning. Also, if you regularly spoil your cat with cooked fish, select those with a lower mercury content. Some cats also enjoy shrimp (fancy!), which is another source of omega-3 EPA and DHA. Be sure to remove the shell completely, including around the tail, before treating your feline child.
  2. Pet Food—there’s no shortage of cat foods on the market and no shortage of advice as to which is best. Don’t deprive your cat of the meat-based diet it needs; but also ask your veterinarian whether it makes sense to select a pet food that also includes omega-3 EPA and DHA. Or add some cooked fish on to the top of your cat’s pet food. Or maybe even pour a little fish oil on top of the pet food or mix it in with the food, like a salad dressing. Perhaps start with a small amount to make sure your cat likes it and move up from there; however, pay attention to the serving size because even though we’re talking about healthy fats, the fact is that fats add calories.
  3. Cat treats—from fish (or salmon) oil treats to herring bites and from tuna cream or freeze dried snackies to DHA bars, the world [of fish oil snacks] is your cat’s oyster. Google your choices, read the labels, and discuss with your veterinarian which ones (and how often) are the recommended choice for your cat.
  4. Fish oil supplements—Here too, you’ve got options. Some of the best known pet food companies—as well as some of the most reputable dietary supplement companies—also sell fish oil supplements for cats.

You might also want to look for products with the National Animal Supplement Council (NASC) seal, which identifies products from companies that are committed to quality, vigilance and continuous improvement to promote the well-being of companion animals, including cats. Do your research, talk with your veterinarian and talk with your cat, if they deem you worthy of communicating with.

 

Is There a Role for Omega-6 for Cats?

Omega-3s aren’t the only omegas with numbers. There are also two MUFAs—omega-9s and -7s—and another PUFA, omega-6s. When it comes to cats, omega-6s deserve a shoutout, in part because so many cat foods contain them.

Cats can’t make their own omega-6s, so they need to get them from external sources like diet and cat supplements. The most common forms of omega-6 are linoleic acid (LA) and arachidonic acid (AA).

BLOG: Omega-3 and Omega-6 Foods

Omega-6s are said to help keep cats generally healthy and avoid reproductive issues, among other things. As omega-6s are known as proinflammatory nutrients, it’s important for cats to balance omega-6s with omega-3s, as the latter are known as anti-inflammatory nutrients. Some inflammation in your cat’s body is necessary to handle short-lived stressors. However, like you, your cat wants to avoid long-term, or chronic inflammation.

You may have heard about krill oil or ahiflower oil—two alternative sources of omega fatty acids. That’s for another blog.

 

What are Some Health Issues Specific to Cats?

Cats are susceptible to many of the major health problems that fell humans. For instance, cancer, diabetes and obesity.

Heart disease impacts 15% of all cats, and what’s worse, in some cases it can be hard to detect before it’s too late. Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) is a genetic problem that results in the thickening of the cat’s heart muscle. This is the most common heart problem for cats, according to this post.

There are health issues specific to cats. For example, there’s Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV), a slow acting virus that severely weakens a cat’s immune system over time, leaving the cat vulnerable to secondary infections.

BLOG: 4 Reasons to Make Sure Your Dog is Getting Enough Omega-3

There’s also Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV), one of the most common causes of health issues, even death. Cats can pass it on to each other through direct contact, bodily fluids, mutual grooming, bites or scratches or sharing food and water bowls.

Then there’s Feline Lower Urinary Tract Diseases (FLUTD), which sounds like the cat version of a human Urinary Tract Infection (UTI). In fact, FLUTD is a group of feline illnesses with multiple causes, including having a UTI, stress, being overweight, living with other cats, and more.

Read more here, here and here.

And let’s just say this: cats are notorious vomiters. Whether it’s a hairball, an errant rubber band left on the floor, a diet not meant for cats, or swallowing plant leaves or nasty insects, it’s not unusual for your cat to cough it all up.

 

How Omega-3 Fatty Acids Can Help Cats Stay Healthy

Many of the reasons why your cat needs omega-3 EPA and DHA in their diet are similar to why omega-3s are recommended for people. Here are four reasons:

  1. Heart health—Omega-3s EPA and DHA may help support your cat’s cardiovascular system by potentially improving blood circulation, helping lower triglyceride levels and reduce blood pressure—thus providing an assist in lowering the risk of heart disease.
  2. Inflammation reduction—Not only does lowering inflammation help your cat’s heart stay healthy, but your cat may also find benefit from the anti-inflammatory properties of omega-3 fatty acids in lubricating joints and managing arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease and even some skin allergies.
  3. Skin health—Dry, itchy skin, a coat that lacks luster, and excessive shedding are all things that can make your cat uncomfortable and may also point to other underlying health concerns. Omega-3s support healthy skin and a shiny coat, and address problems like over-shedding and itchiness.
  4. Immune health—A healthy immune system can help your cat ward off pesky colds and other more serious health issues. Omega-3 fatty acids are one way to contribute to a functionally optimal immune system.

Read more here and here.

 

Tips for Giving Omega-3s to Cats

  1. Don’t over-do it. Too much fish could result in too much mercury. And as for fish oil supplements, make sure you follow serving size label directions.
  2. While there’s no consensus on exactly how much fish oil your cat needs for optimal health. They likely need different amounts during various life stages and depending on their individual health needs.
  3. Whether it’s cat food, cat snacks/treats or cat supplements, who you buy from matters! Do your research.
  4. Supplements don’t replace the need for a nutritious diet. But they can add benefit. But don’t share your own supplements with your cat. To be on the safe side, give them supplements that are manufactured specifically for cats.
  5. Some cats may have an allergic reaction to fish oil. If so, fish and fish oil are not right for your cat.
  6. Find the right veterinarian and share info about your cat’s diet, supplements and medications.

 

Bottom line: Every cat is an individual, and like humans, no two are exactly alike. It’s important to find a veterinarian as your cat’s trusted healthcare professional. Keep them in the loop as to your cat’s nutrition regimen, including the use of (and how much) omega-3 fatty acids overall should be part of your cat’s nutrition program.

We know we’ve just scratched the surface here. But if you’re a cat pawrent or a cat aunt or uncle, or just someone intrigued by the mysterious creatures we call cats, we hope this blog provided some food for thought. While we’re not endorsing particular products, if you’d like to continue reading, here are some other articles we’ve found interesting: 1, 2, 3, 4.

 

VIDEO: Can your Omega-3 Index be too High?

 

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This test is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, prevent or mitigate any disease. This site does not offer medical advice, and nothing contained herein is intended to establish a doctor/patient relationship. OmegaQuant, LLC is regulated under the Clinical Laboratory improvement Amendments of 1988 (CLIA) and is qualified to perform high complexity clinical testing. The performance characteristics of this test were determined by OmegaQuant, LLC. It has not been cleared or approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

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