Fish oil supplements are all the rage among health-conscious humans. Studies show that fish oil improves physical and mental health and contributes to healthy skin and hair.
Naturally, pet parents who want to keep their hounds healthy might also consider giving their dog fish oil supplements. Can dogs eat cod liver oil? The short answer is yes — but don’t rush to the pet store to stock up on supplements just yet. Below, we’ve covered both the “pawsitive” and negative effects of cod liver oil for dogs.
What does cod liver oil contain?
Cod liver oil and other fish oil supplements contain omega-3 fatty acids and vitamins which provide a variety of health benefits.
Omega-3 fatty acids consist of alpha-linolenic, eicosapentaenoic (EPA), and docosahexaenoic (DHA) fatty acids. In layman’s terms, these acids, found in polyunsaturated fats, help reduce inflammation, support cognitive development and function, and provide energy.
Vitamins A and D are also present in cod liver oil. Vitamin A is vital for good vision and boosts organ function and the immune system. Vitamin D promotes calcium absorption and maintains strong bones.
Benefits of cod liver oil for dogs
Cod liver oil, and fish oil supplements in general, provide a variety of benefits for dogs and humans:
- Improves heart health
- Maintains a healthy coat
- Soothes itchy skin related to allergies
- Slows the progression of kidney disease
- Lowers blood pressure and triglyceride levels
- Reduces muscle atrophy in dogs with heart disease
- Assists cognitive function in puppies and older dogs
- Decreases inflammation and joint pain related to arthritis
Dogs diagnosed with cancer, arthritis, heart disease, and high cholesterol benefit most from cod liver oil supplements.
Considerations of using cod liver oil for dogs
Before administering any supplement to your dog, consult your trusted veterinarian. Some veterinarians don’t recommend cod liver oil to supplement EPA and DHA levels.
Cod liver oil supplementation can also lead to vitamin overdose in dogs, particularly those receiving adequate amounts of vitamins A and D in their diet. Omega-3s may be harmful for dogs diagnosed with certain gastrointestinal disorders.
Omega-3s supplements can cause other unwanted side effects in dogs, including:
- Upset stomach
- Altered platelet function
- Decreased wound healing
- Peroxidation of lipids, which leads to cell damage
Although omega-3s are found in polyunsaturated fats, which are considered the “healthy” fats, excess amounts can still contribute to weight gain and obesity. Many high-quality dog foods contain all the omega-3s your dog needs to stay healthy.
Oversupplementation of fish oils can also cause vitamin E deficiency. Though rare, symptoms of vitamin E deficiency include:
- severe pain
- muscle loss
- fatty lumps
- premature aging
Purchase cod liver oil supplements from a pet retailer, and always opt for the natural, triglyceride formation, as this is the most easily digested form.
Be aware that fish oil supplements aren’t regulated by the FDA. Some supplements don’t contain as much EPA and DHA acids as they claim to and may also contain higher than recommended levels of peroxide value.
While cod liver and other types of fish oils help improve health, omega-3 supplementation usually isn’t necessary for healthy dogs on a high-quality diet. Your vet will be able to advise you on dosage amounts and instructions.