Fatty acids contribute to numerous metabolic processes within the feline body, from reducing inflammation to regulating blood pressure. Here's a list of fatty acids cats need:
- docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)
- eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)
- alpha-linolenic acid (ALA)
- arachidonic acid (AA)
- linoleic acid (LA)
There are 2 main types of fatty acids cats need for survival: omega-3 fatty acids and omega-6 fatty acids. These two types can be broken down into individual fatty acids — the most well-known of these is DHA, or docosahexaenoic acid.
DHA is essential for brain function and is highly involved in eye health in young animals. Though not as well-known, the omega-3 fatty acids EPA and ALA are just as crucial as DHA. One reason ALA is so important is that it helps cats synthesize DHA and EPA.
Unlike DHA and EPA, the feline body is incapable of producing its own LA and AA, so they are considered essential fatty acids since cats can only get them from their diets.
So what do these fatty acids do exactly? Let's explore.
Fatty acids have a wide array of effects on the feline body, down to the cellular level. Fatty acids:
support brain health
are essential for eye development
help with inflammation
are involved in blood pressure regulation
help with wound healing
support a healthy immune system
are involved with cell structure and function
Daily Recommended Intake
According to the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), for every 1,000 calories of food cats receive, the food should have:
1.4 grams of linoleic acid (LA)
0.05 grams of arachidonic acid (AA)
0.05 grams of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA)
0.03 grams of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)
As far as supplements are concerned, experts suggest cats receive 18 milligrams of EPA and 12 milligrams of DHA per pound of body weight for cats and small dogs. This means a 10-pound cat should receive 180 milligrams of EPA and 120 mg of DHA.
Fatty acids are found in many foods that cats love, like fish. Here are a few healthy food sources of fatty acids for cats:
- Canola oil
- Brussel sprouts
- Soybean oil
Signs of Fatty Acid Deficiency in Cats
Fatty acids play many roles in the feline body, and without them, a cat's health may begin to decline. One study of cats that were denied essential fatty acids showed significant organ damage and skin problems within just 2 and a half years of eating the diet.
Most commercial cat food manufacturers fortify their recipes with fatty acids, so this usually isn't an issue. Still, if cats aren't getting enough fatty acids in their diet, they may begin exhibiting symptoms of a fatty acid deficiency.
Symptoms of a fatty acid deficiency in cats include:
- Dull coat
- Dry skin
- Stunted growth in kittens
- Depressed immune system
- Kerotin deposits on the skin and nose
- Liver damage
- Fatty kidneys
- Dystrophic mineralization of the adrenal glands
- Testes deterioration
- Trouble gaining weight
- Reproductive problems
Signs of Fatty Acids Overdose in Cats
It is possible to go overboard with fatty acid supplements and cause cats to overdose, though this isn't the only way cats can develop fatty acid poisoning. Contact with certain herbicides can cause fatty acid poisoning too.
While fatty acid overdose isn't deadly, it isn't exactly rare either. Acute fatty acid poisoning typically has mild side effects, like fishy breath and gastrointestinal upset. However, prolonged fatty acid overdose in cats can lead to weight gain, obesity, slowed blood clotting, and a suppressed immune system.
Here's a complete list of symptoms of fatty acid overdose in cats:
- Lipid peroxidation
- Weight gain
- Loose stools
- Slowed blood clotting
- Fishy breath
- Stomach upset
- Problems with blood glucose regulation
- Slow wound healing
- Suppressed immune system
- Vitamin E deficiency
Treatment for cats that have come in contact with weedkillers includes bathing and rinsing the mouth (if ingested). Vets may also offer additional treatments and pain relievers as needed. Cats experiencing an acute or prolonged overdose of fatty acids due to supplements will need to stop taking the medication as soon as possible and discontinue the medication until their levels regulate.
Fatty Acids Supplements for Cats
There are many different types of fatty acid supplements and chews on the market for felines. However, a lot of pet parents prefer to give their fur-babies fish oil capsules (which work just as well since fatty acids are mainly derived from fish oil anyway).
One reason pet parents add fatty acids supplements to their cats' diets is to increase coat health and appearance. Other reasons pet parents choose to supplement their pets with fatty acids is due to their anti-inflammatory effects, which may decrease pain and promote joint health.
Kittens and older cats tend to benefit most from the effects of fatty acids — this is because growing kittens need extra DHA for brain development. Likewise, senior cats need additional fatty acids to help them maintain joint health and mobility in their golden years.
Vets do not recommend fatty acid supplements for felines with fat intolerance or clotting disorders since supplements can exacerbate these conditions.
It's important to note that cats who are eating a nutritionally balanced diet probably won't show much progress from fatty acid supplements unless they have a preexisting condition.
As you can see, fatty acids are vital to feline nutrition, though too much can be a bad thing. So use caution when supplementing with fatty acids, and make sure you're staying within your pet's daily recommended amount.
Concerned about your pet's nutrition? Chat with a veterinarian today!