Essential Fatty Acids and Pets

Essential fatty acids (EFAs) are fundamentally important for all animals. EFAs play a major role in the maintenance of healthy coat and skin for cats, dogs, and horses. Cell membranes in the animals’ skin, fur, nails and hair are made from essential fatty acids. Like humans, animals also use EFAs to produce hormone-like substances called eicosanoids, which are involved in many important biological functions in the body. For example, some eicosanoids act as natural anti-inflammatory agents. Dietary fat is also an essential energy source for all animals. Because EFAs are obtained exclusively through dietary intake, the health of cats, dogs, and other animals is dependent on obtaining enough essential fatty acids in the food we give them.

Deficiencies of essential fatty acids do occur in animals, and this may be related to their diet, or may be due to certain health conditions or diseases. We have good intentions when we feed our pets low-fat dry foods or home-prepared meals. However, these diets may lack sufficient quantities of EFAs. EFA deficiency in pets may also be caused by impaired fat absorption or impaired utilization of fatty acids, which may occur with disease of the pancreas or liver. Some animals may also be prone to deficiency because of metabolic differences. For instance, cats have low or no activity of the crucial enzymes that metabolize EFAs. This results in reduced utilization of the parent fatty acids. Consequently, cats are highly dependent on dietary EFAs to meet their requirements.

EFA deficiencies in pets result in problems of the coat, skin, and coloration. Symptoms include dry, greasy or dull hair coat, dry skin and “dandruff”, hair loss, sores, itching, inflammation in the ears, slow wound healing, reduced growth rate, and loss of weight.

Conditions related to EFA deficiency include eczema, dermatitis, and recurrent seasonal pruritus. Allergies also often lead to skin problems, such as poor coat texture, itching, scratching, constant licking, and self mutilation.

Because skin problems are so common with deficiencies of EFAs, EFA deficiency is sometimes referred to as fat-responsive dermatosis.


EFA Supplementation offers clear benefits for your pets…

You can give real benefits to your cat or dog with EFA supplementation – in particular for conditions characterized by itching and inflammation. Supplementation with essential fatty acids has been used successfully in the prevention and treatment of many skin conditions in cats, dogs, horses and other animals.

EFAs can reduce inflammation in other areas of the body as well, such as inflammation of the joints that can lead to pain, swelling and stiffness. Research in both animals and humans is showing that EFAs may help many other conditions as well, such as diabetic neuropathy, atherosclerosis, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, and aging.

Providing your pets with the good fats is easy…

Veterinarians have been recommending fatty acid supplementation for cats, dogs, horses and other pets for more than a decade. Many reputable pet food manufacturers (such as IAMS) incorporate EFAs into their premium quality pet foods for dogs, cats and other animals. Manufactuers typically include oils such as borage, flax, and fish oils in pet foods to supply the essential fats GLA (gamma linolenic acid), ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid).

Pet owners may also wish to supplement their pet’s diet themselves. Look for high quality oils such as borage, flax, and fish oil, either in bottled or capsule form. Oil may be mixed into the pet’s food on a daily basis. Some pets, dogs in particular, will enjoy chewing the capsules. Supplementation with EFAs can help animals achieve a soft, silky, shiny, and healthy coat that is indicative of good health.


  1. Bond R, Lloyd DH. Double-blind Comparison of an Evening Primrose Oil and Fish Oil Combination in the Management of Canine Atophy. Veterinary Dermatology. Vol. 4, pp 185-189,1993.
  2. Lloyd D, Thomsett LR. Essential Fatty Acid Supplementation in the Treatment of Canine Atopy: A Preliminary Study. Veterinary Dermatology. Vol. 1, pp 41-44, 1989.
  3. Scott DW, Miller WH, Reinhart GA, Mohammed HO, Bagladi MS. Effect of an Omega-3/Omega-6 Fatty Acid-Containing Commercial Lamb and Rice Diet on Pruritus in Atopic Dogs: Results of a Single-Blinded Study. Canadian Journal of Veterinary Research. Vol. 61, pp 145-153, 1997.
  4. Watson TDG. Diet and skin disease in dogs and cats. Journal of Nutrition. Vol. 128 (Supplement), pp 2783-2789, 1998.

Article provided by

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