Essential Fatty Acids


Due to a considerable amount of media exposure, there are few of us that have not heard about the relationship between fats and our diet. As a consequence, fat has largely gained a reputation as a bad dietary component, which is not good for our health. Terms like obesity, cholesterol and saturated fats are used commonly every day, and in general give fats a bad name.

However, small amounts of fat are essential for good health, not only as a calorie source and as a carrier for fat soluble vitamins, but also as a source of essential fatty acids (EFAs). Fats influence the way the immune system functions, affect inflammation and even alter blood flow and the way in which the heart functions. In fact, most body systems are affected by the fats in our diet. Although the influence of bad fats in the diet has less impact on the health of animals than in humans, the role of EFAs or good fats, is equally as important to both cats and dogs, as it is to us.

Fats and diet

Fats along with protein and carbohydrate, are a major dietary component. The main function of fat is to provide energy for the body. In fact pound per pound, fat contains far more energy calories than protein and carbohydrates. There are three types of fat:

  • Triglycerides
  • Cholesterol
  • Phospholipids

The bulk of dietary fat is composed of triglycerides which are composed of a substance called glycerol attached to three fatty acids. It is the variation in the fatty acids attached to the glycerol molecule that contribute to the variation in fats and their different effects on the body.

Fatty Acids & Essential Fatty acids

Fatty acids are the main components of all fats and are divided into:

  • Saturated fats

Fats containing saturated fatty acids are found in lard, butter, whole milk, cream, eggs and red meat. In humans an excess intake of saturated fat can raise blood cholesterol and increase the risk of developing coronary heart disease. Additionally, the body can make saturated fats itself.

  • Monounsaturated fats

Foods high in monounsaturated fat include avocados, nuts and olive oil and are considered healthy as they lower the level of cholesterol in the blood. Like saturated fats, they can be made in the body.

  • Polyunsaturated fats

This is third and most important category and comprises two fatty acids that are vital to health and which have to be provided by the diet as the body cannot manufacture them from other components:

  • Linoleic acid (LA)
  • Alpha-linolenic acid  (ALA)

A third fatty acid, oleic acid is sometimes added to this list although the body is able to manufacture small amounts:

The body also has a need for other important fatty acids, which it can manufacture to some extent:

  • Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)
  • Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)

The role of essential fatty acids

As their name suggests, they are essential to well being as they are involved in numerous biological processes. A primary function of fatty acids is the production of  other substances particularly prostaglandins, which regulate body functions such as heart rate, blood pressure, blood clotting, fertility, conception, and the immune system by regulating inflammation and encouraging the body to fight infection. Consequently, inadequate fatty acids in the diet or the wrong ratio between different types of EFA’s, can underlie some of the common health problems we see today including heart disease, cancer, asthma, autoimmune conditions such as lupus, strokes, diabetes, reproductive problems and arthritis.

Omega 3, 6 and 9 fatty acids

Fatty acids are further classed into 3 groups:

Omega 3 fatty acids

This group includes:

  • Alpha-linolenic acid  (ALA)
  • Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)
  • Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)

Alpha Linolenic Acid (ALA) is the principal Omega-3 fatty acid, which a healthy animal can convert into EPA and DHA. Omega 3 fatty acids are used in the formation of cell walls, helping maintain their integrity and facilitating the flow of substances in and out of the cells. They are also anti-inflammatory, and therefore, have a significant influence on many areas of the body. Deficiencies are linked to decreased memory and mental abilities, poor vision, increased tendency to form blood clots, poor immune function, high blood pressure, an irregular heartbeat and poor growth and development in young animals.

Benefits of Omega 3 fatty acids

The health benefits span a wide range of body systems:

  • Heart and Circulation

Omega 3 fatty acids are useful in preventing and treating heart disease by improving the strength and health of heart muscle, by helping prevent arrhythmias, preventing blood clots forming (by their anticoagulant effect) and by lowering blood pressure.

  • Kidneys

Supplementation with Omega 3 essential fatty acids such as salmon oil has definite health benefits by reducing inflammation, lowering blood pressure, improving blood flow to the kidneys and by reducing the level of protein in the urine. The overall effect is to increase longevity in animals with kidney disease.

  • Brain function

Supplementation of the diet is thought to improve concentration, memory and improve transmission of impulses between brain cells. The overall effect is to combat the effects of brain aging and to improve the general demeanour of elderly animals.

  • Joint problems

Arthritis and similar conditions often benefit due to the anti-inflammatory effect of Omega 3 fatty acids. Recent studies have confirmed that adding fish oils to the diet has positive benefits, particularly the addition of EPA and DHA. EPA has been shown to reduce the degradation of joint cartilage and to help preserve healthy cartilage and along with DHA reduces the production of pro-inflammatory compounds thereby reducing joint inflammation and pain.

  • Coat, skin and nails

Omega 3 fatty acids can help improve the overall condition and appearance of the coat and skin and the health of the nails. They are also particularly useful for scaly dry skin, where dandruff is a problem, where the coat and skin is oily or greasy and where excessive moulting is a problem. Their anti-inflammatory action will also help both cats and dogs with skin allergies by reducing the level of itching and irritation.

  • Immune system

Dietary supplementation with omega 3 fatty acids appears to support the immune system and may lower the risk of some cancers developing. Additionally, Omega 3 supplementation may help extend survival time for dogs undergoing chemotherapy.

  • Digestive system

Omega 3 EFA’s are recommended for both cats and dogs with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), helping by reducing inflammation of the gut lining.

  • Diabetes

Fish oil enhances insulin secretion from beta cells in the pancreas, regulating and helping stabilise blood sugar levels.

Good sources of Omega 3 fatty acids include:

  • Flaxseed oil which has the highest linolenic content of any food, flaxseeds
  • Hempseed oil, hempseeds
  • Dark leafy green vegetables such as kale and spinach
  • Soybean oil
  • Wheat germ oil
  • Salmon, mackerel, sardines, pilchards and tuna

Omega 6 fatty acids

This group includes:

  • Linoleic acid (LA)
  • Gamma-linolenic acid (GLA)
  • Arachidonic acid (AA)

Both EPA, an omega 3 fatty acid, and GLA, which is made from linoleic acid, are later converted into hormone-like compounds known as eicosanoids, which influence inflammation and other functions at a cellular level. Eicosanoids derived from EPA and other omega 3 fatty acids are known to reduce inflammation whilst those derived from omega 6 fatty acids generally promote inflammation. The exception here is GLA provided by dietary means, which is known to reduce inflammation. For this reason GLA is often added to the diet in the form of borage oil or evening primrose oil.

Good sources of Omega 6 fatty acids include:

  • Flaxseed oil, flaxseeds
  • Hempseed oil, hempseeds
  • Grapeseed oil
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Olive oil
  • Borage oil
  • Evening primrose oil
  • Black currant seed oil
  • Safflower oil
  • Sunflower oil

Benefits of Omega 6 fatty acids

GLA,has anti-inflammatory properties and is used in the treatment of skin allergies to reduce the level of irritation and itching. It also helps maintain healthy skin, coat and nails and generally helps to bring about hormonal and emotional balance. It is recommended for animals with seborrhoeic (greasy) dermatitis and for excessive moulting.

Omega 9

Not strictly an EFA as the body can manufacture small amounts. However oleic acid which is a monounsaturated fatty acid helps by reducing the risk of heart disease and strokes, aids in cancer prevention and supports the immune system.

Good sources of Omega 9 fatty acids include:

  • Olive oil

The ratio of omega 3 and 6 fatty acids
Excess Omega 6 fatty acids interfere with the health benefits of Omega 3 fatty acids, in part because they compete for the same enzymes in the body. A high proportion of 6 to 3 fats in the diet shifts the physiological state of the body toward the development of many diseases particularly increasing the likelihood of a blood clot developing, promoting inflammation and restricting blood flow by constricting blood vessels. Consequently excessive production of Omega 6 associated eicosanoids are linked with heart disease, stroke, arrhythmia, arthritis, osteoporosis, inflammation, mood disorders, obesity and cancer. The ideal ratio of Omega 6 to 3 is 4:1 or lower.

Denes Omega 3 products

Denes have one Omega 3 based product:

A superior blend of cold pressed Flax, Safflower, Borage and Olive oils

  • Contains high levels of Omega 3 (ALA) & Omega 6 (GLA) for good health
  • Promotes the health of the coat, skin and nails
  • Useful in the management of a variety of skin conditions, especially those with an allergic basis
  • Particularly useful where the skin is poor, dry, scaly or greasy (seborrhoeic)
  • Ideal for animals where excessive or prolonged moulting is a problem
  • Replaces Evening Primrose Oil Capsules

Directions for use: Add to food

Maintenance Amounts

Cats and toy dogs
0.5ml twice daily
Small dogs
1ml twice daily
Medium dogs
2ml twice daily
Large dogs
4ml twice daily
Very large dogs
5ml twice daily


Other Denes fact sheets to read: