Everyone has an opinion about which oil is best to add to a dog’s diet, and some people say to add none.
Sometimes all the noise and excitement about a product seems to ignore the facts, so here are a few that can help you make sense of whether to add an oil, which one might be best, and in what situation.
1. Coconut Oil
I had to start with this one because it’s been touted to do just about everything under the sun, and that’s just not factual. Don’t get me wrong. I think there are some really great uses for the stuff, and I add it Tori’s diet (and use some on her skin). I just don’t like the bogus claims attached to it.
If you look at the studies that some articles claim are out there, you see that most are in test tubes, and as most people know, the great majority of what works in a test tube is defeated once in a living organism. The really great thing about coconut oil is that it has a wonderful use for dogs that can’t tolerate much fat in the diet. Coconut oil is metabolized differently, so it bypasses the need for digestive enzymes, and is of little to no concern for the liver and gallbladder.
Coconut oil can be good for working dogs because it contains shorter chain fatty acids which are absorbed into the blood faster. Due to this speedier process of providing fuel to muscles, coconut oil can benefit dogs that do endurance work of any kind. Fatty acid oxidation is the predominant fuel for these hard working animals. Examples are racing Greyhounds and field or hunting dogs, with the top example being the sled dog during a race.
2. Wild Salmon Oil
I wanted to write fish oils, but the truth is that there are all kinds of them and they’re not created equal. In fact, even wild salmon oils aren’t created equal. So, I’m going to assume you did your homework and have a really great product available. An independent lab couldn’t detect any heavy metals, PCBs were less than 1 ppm, and it’s coming from a sustainable source…right? Good. Wild salmon is harvested for human consumption, and the oil is a by-product of that, so you really do want to get top notch quality.
The benefits of this oil include vitamin D (be sure you know how much though), and omega 3 fatty acids which are anti-inflammatory, taken up preferentially by the brain, and are supportive of the heart, eyes, kidneys, and skin. If a home-prepared diet includes fatty fish often enough to supply omega 3 fatty acids, you can skip this oil. If the diet is meat-based without fatty fish, you should be supplementing with it, and your dog’s health will show the benefits.
3. Krill Oil
It provides omega 3 which is great, but there’s some controversy about it. Krill is food for ocean animals, and whether or not it’s sustainable is a matter of opinion. Those who sell it say there’s no problem with sustainability, and that harvesting is supervised by this or that ecologically savvy team. But many scientists beg to differ. The bottom line is that krill is incredibly cheap to harvest, so it appeals to some people, but there’s more to it than profit – or there should be. http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/invertebrates/krill.html
4. Evening Primrose, or Borage Oil
Studies show that evening primrose oil in combination with fish oil can be helpful in cases of seborrhea and pruritis. (Bond R, Lloyd D. A double-blind comparison of olive oil and a combination of evening primrose oil and fish oil in the management of canine atopy. Vet Rec 1992;131:558-60.) I’ve also found it to help bring a glossy coat to an even greater sheen (show dogs have their secrets) if given for about two months. The coat should be brushed well daily, helping the oils from the diet to reach the goal.
Primrose oil has helped many dogs with dry-eye. It’s not a cure, but many dogs end up needing less lubricant. My own dog (Cassie) was one of them.
Both of these oils are high in GLA which is a plus – unless the dog is predisposed to seizures. Never feed these oils to a dog that has epilepsy, or is prone to it genetically. It’s not that either oil causes seizures in healthy dogs, but they can be triggers for dogs that do have seizures.
5. Cod Liver Oil
This oil should be used when you want to provide a lot of vitamin A and a fair amount of vitamin D to the diet in a concentrated source. It’s not going to provide all the omega 3 the diet may need, but it’s a great solution when you can’t feed liver (a great source of vitamin A), or anything with enough vitamin D in it. I’ve used it in puppy diets and for some dogs who can’t tolerate much fat, but need those two vitamins to be added.
6. Flaxseed Oil
Most people use flaxseed oil as a source of omega 3 fatty acids, and it works nicely – for people. Not so much in dogs. It doesn’t start off as omega 3. The body needs to convert it, and I suspect that the canine body isn’t all that efficient at doing that. My proof comes via the dogs I work with in that every one of them needs far less wild salmon oil than they do flaxseed oil to arrive at good results. A fairly old study showed that flax and sunflower oil were equally effective but short-lived in improving the condition of skin and hair coat in normal dogs. ( Rees CA, et al. Effects of dietary flax seed and sunflower seed supplementation on normal canine serum polyunsaturated fatty acids and skin and hair coat condition scores. Vet Dermatol 2001 Apr;12(2):111-7.)
7. Other Plant-Based Oils
From safflower, sunflower, canola, pumpkin seed oil, to all kinds of others, these provide omega 6, and canola also provides some omega 3. Canola can come in handy when the diet needs some omega 3 as well as omega 6 and the dog doesn’t tolerate any other source of omega 3. The other oils serve a purpose (omega 6 is an essential fatty acid after all) in that if a diet is based on fish and lacks omega 6, the dog’s health will show – not in a good way – it over time. Diets that are based on meats, eggs, or dairy rarely need these oils to be added.