How to Use Fish Oil for Dogs

Two Parts:Assessing Whether Your Dog Needs Fish OilAdding Fish Oil to Your Dog's Diet

Fish oil is a popular supplement for humans. It is used to prevent or ease certain health conditions, such as high blood pressure, rheumatoid arthritis, and osteoarthritis, as well as enhancing some aspects of health, such as helping brain function as one ages.[1][2] Because of the positive results in humans, an interest in the use of fish oils in veterinary medicine followed. In dogs, fish oil supplements have been used to treat inflammatory conditions, skin diseases, joint diseases (such as arthritis), and to support renal health. As long as a reasonable dose is given, and your dog’s health is monitored by a veterinarian, their use can be a valuable tool in controlling certain health conditions.

Part 1
Assessing Whether Your Dog Needs Fish Oil

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    Use fish oil to add essential fatty acids to your dog's diet. Fish oil contains two types of omega-3 fatty acids: eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA.) EPA and DHA are considered essential fatty acids (EFA) in that the body needs a dietary source of these fatty acids. They cannot be produced by the body.[3]
    • There is one other type of omega-3 fatty acid, alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which is derived from plants. Dogs can only efficiently use EPA and DHA, as ALA needs to be converted by the body to fatty acids and the dog’s body inefficient at this conversion.
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    Use fish oil to treat skin allergies. If your dog suffers from skin allergies, or painful arthritis, fish oil could help your dog's condition. It takes about 3-4 weeks for the levels of fish oil to build up in the body, so you need to keep giving a daily dose for at least a month to decide if it has helped your dog.[4]
    • If you’re supplementing a visibly healthy dog, you may not see any outward sign that the fish oil supplement is working.
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    Give fish oil to an older dog. When dogs get older, their joints can get weaker. Fish oil tablets can help the tissue in the joints become stronger allowing an older dog to walk easier.
    • Heart attacks are also more common in older dogs and fish oil will help keep there heart healthy.
    • In both young and old large dogs, hip dysplasia can happen. However, adding fish oil to the dog's diet, in addition to exercising it with gentle swimming, can help build back the ligaments in the hips.

Part 2
Adding Fish Oil to Your Dog's Diet

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    Figure out the correct dosing. While your veterinarian is the best source for dosing advice for a older or sick dog, general dosing instructions will work on a healthy dog. For healthy dogs, doses can range from 50 to 220 mg per kilogram of weight or 22 to 100 mg per pound of body weight. This range of dosages are usually well tolerated.[5]
    • Do not use any higher doses than these, as adverse effects can start at higher doses.
    • To make dosing easier, particularly for small dogs, manufacturers have made small capsules, chews and liquid forms. Generally the oil is placed on the food and most dogs readily eat it this way.
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    Consult with your veterinarian about dosing for an older or unhealthy dog. If your dog is unhealthy or suffers from any disease ask your veterinarian for advice before using fish oil supplements. In some cases they can make a condition worse.
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    Add the fish oil to your dog's meals. If you are giving the fish oil in pill form, and your dog won't eat the pill, smear it with peanut butter before you give it to the dog. Follow with a dog treat to make sure the dog has swallowed the pill.
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    Be on the look out for the possible adverse effects of fish oil. Fish oils can cause some negative effects on a dog’s health if doses are not calculated correctly or if they are given to dogs with chronic health problems. In lower doses fish oil is usually well tolerated even by dog’s with health problems, but adverse effects can include:[6][7]
    • Increased bleeding
    • Stomach upset and diarrhea
    • Pancreatitis
    • Slower wound healing
    • Insulin sensitivity (use with caution in dogs with diabetes and only under a veterinarian’s guidance)
    • Weight gain
    • Toxin exposure (due to the problem with contamination of fish)


  • Look for a manufacturer’s statement on the quality of the fish they use. The will help ensure the product is free from contaminates.
  • Follow the label directions on storage, as refrigeration may be needed to keep the product fresh and to avoid spoiling.
  • Although fish oil has been used in human’s to augment cardiovascular health dog’s don’t have the same problem with atherosclerosis humans do so it isn’t used generally for that purpose although it can help temper inflammatory conditions that affect the heart.[8]


  • If your dog suffers from a bleeding disorder or diabetes only give fish oil supplements under the direction of a veterinarian.

Sources and Citations

  2. Freemantle E, Vanda M, Tremblay-Mercier J, et al. Omega-3 fatty acids, energy substrates, and brain function during aging. Prostaglandins, Leukotrienes and Essential Fatty Acids 2006;75:213–220.
  3. Dunbar BL, Bauer JE. Conversion of essential fatty acids by delta 6-desaturase in dog liver microsomes. J Nutr 2002;132:1701S–1703S
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Categories: Feeding Dogs