Also referred to as linseed oil, flaxseed oil is obtained from the seeds of the flax plant and is considered by some to be a more appealing alternative to fish oil supplements since those can give your dog a fishy odor breath or smell.
Just like fish oil, flaxseed oil is used in the treatment of chronic inflammatory disorders. These include allergies, kidney and heart diseases, arthritis, and may even help shrink certain tumors.
However, many holistic vets claim these anti-inflammatory effects may lack the strength of those found in fish oil.
So should you substitute flaxseed oil for fish oil? Which one should you choose? Let's find out.
The Big Debate
Giving flaxseed oil to dogs can help them have a better coat, making it shinier and even improve some skin conditions. It has been used for years in this capacity.
Also, the lignans in flaxseed oil may have cancer-preventative benefits, as stated by an anti-cancer diet, the Budwig diet, which has flaxseed oil mixed with cottage cheese as one of its ingredients. Of course, you should first ask your veterinarian if this diet is adequate for your dog.
But, many holistic vets and pet nutritionists feel that flaxseed oil simply cannot be used instead of fish oil. They claim that new studies have proven it is not an effective alternative, and some even consider flaxseed oil to be potentially harmful. In fact, there are claims that in certain feeding experiments, some dogs who were only given flaxseed oil and commercial pet food developed bone and skeletal issues. And when the flaxseed oil was replaced with fish oil, the problems went away.
Other experts debate that since flaxseed oil comes from a plant, the Omega-3 in it is delivered in the form of ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), an inactive precursor to EPA and DHA, which are the active forms of Omega-3. They claim that dogs cannot convert ALA into EPA and DHA. Therefore, if you give flaxseed oil to your dog, only minimal amounts of EPA and DHA will be useable. So while it is a fact that flaxseed oil has more Omega-3 fatty acids than fish oil, there are concerns that it won't do your dog any good because their bodies can't tap into it.
Furthermore, flaxseed oil has Omega-6. Yes, dogs do need Omega-6, but if you're already feeding your pet a commercial dog food, then chances are they're already getting more than enough Omega-6 from it. It depends on each dog food's formula, but many of them already include a lot of Omega-6, and too much of it is just not that good for dogs. You should consult your veterinarian if you feel this might be the case.
A common benefit of flaxseed oil is that the Omega-3 contained within is anti-inflammatory. And it is true, for humans. But, because those anti-inflammatory properties are delivered by the EPA and DHA forms of Omega-3, dogs can't access them since their bodies are unable to convert the ALA that is found in flaxseed oil. The ALA in flaxseed oil is not anti-inflammatory on its own.
That's why the consensus seems to be that when it comes down to a choice of giving your dog fish oil or flaxseed oil, most experts tend to opt towards fish oil.
Bottom Line: Is Flaxseed Oil Safe and Effective for My Dog?
Since it is considered a food, flaxseed oil is relatively safe to use. However, if given in large quantities, some dogs will develop seborrhea oleosa, which are large flakes of dandruff and an oily coat. Seborrhea oleosa happens when the dog is receiving high levels of fatty acid supplementation. If this happens, you should diminish the amounts of flaxseed oil for your dog or even stop administering it altogether.
In conclusion, flaxseed oil may be recommended by some people as an alternative to fish oil, and many will opt to avoid the fishy breath that their dogs can develop with fish oil. But unless your veterinarian says otherwise, you shouldn't eliminate fish oil from your dog's diet in favor of flaxseed oil. They simply are not the same thing.