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Something Is Fishy...Are Fish Oil Supplements In The Commercial Pet Food Industry a Scam?

Updated: May 25

My name is Clarissa Dery and I am a Certified Canine Nutritionist and a Certified Acute Canine Herbalist. I have tried at least half a dozen fish oil supplements with my own two dogs, Stella and Luna. After trial and error, my professional opinion is to simply forgo fish oil supplements and instead incorporate real fish into your dog’s diet such as canned sardines, salmon, herring, or smelt.

Fish oils are a crucial part of your dog’s diet because they provide omega fatty acids as well as support your dog’s heart, promote healthy skin and coat, and may help relieve allergies and joint pain. Feeding fish oil, whether it is from actual fish or a supplement, is an easy way to incorporate omega fatty acids and other benefits into their diet. However, not all fish oil supplements are created equally.

Why I don't recommend fish oil supplements:

Fish oil oxidizes as soon as it is exposed to oxygen. That means that if the oil is not packaged correctly in an air-tight pump, the fish oil will immediately go rancid as soon as you open it. The process of oxidation in fish oils leads to increased levels of hydroperoxides, which decompose into a variety of radicals including free radicals. According to the National Cancer Institute, Free radicals can damage cells, cause diseases such as cancer, and accelerate the aging process.

According to a study done by the “Journal of Nutritional Science,” they studied “171 fish oil supplements from 49 brands sold in retail stores. They found over 50% had exceeded the voluntary limit for at least one measure of oxidation, and 39% had exceeded the international voluntary safety recommendations for total oxidation value.” Other factors that play into oxidation levels are exposure to light, temperature, antioxidant content, and the presence of water and heavy metals in the product.

Unfortunately, most fish oil companies in the commercial pet food industry do not test for the presence of heavy metals, and even if they do they are not required to share that information with customers. They are also not required to say where they source their fish from. Therefore, you are reliant on the company to be transparent and upfront about their sourcing of ingredients, potency, purity, and testing of their products. Over the years I have spent countless hours contacting fish oil companies asking for this information. Some companies have flat out ignored my requests, others have given me vague and robotic responses. Therefore, I do not recommend using fish oil supplements in your pet’s diet due to the high risk of oxidation, lack of testing for purity and heavy metals, and lack of transparency in terms of labeling requirements in the commercial pet food industry.

What is the solution?

Feed real fish. Real fish is more bioavailable than synthetic supplements. That means your dog’s body is able to absorb more of the nutrients in real fish as opposed to synthetic supplements. Additionally, buying real fish in your local grocery store is much more cost-efficient than buying expensive fish oil supplements. The average cost of a can of sardines packed in water at Walmart is $1.50.

My favorite fish to feed my dogs are sardines because they are low on the food chain and have short lifespans. That is important because it means they are less likely to contain contaminants such as mercury, heavy metals, and other toxins. However, variety is important when it comes to a well-rounded, complete and balanced diet so incorporating other fish such as wild Alaskan salmon and mackerel is great too.

I recommend canned sardines packed in water with no salt added and canned wild Alaskan salmon with low sodium. My go-to brand for all canned fish is “Wild Planet” because I trust their sourcing of ingredients. When choosing which canned fish to buy, always be mindful of sodium. Naturally, seafood is always going to be higher in sodium, but as long as it is packed in water (not brine) it should be okay. My rule of thumb is to keep the sodium content below 200mg.

How to feed fish?

You can mix fish into your dog’s food. It is recommended that dogs need 300mg of Omega-3 EPA and DHA per 30 lbs of body weight.

Amounts to feed per week:

• Small dogs and cats - 33g (1.2 oz) of small oily fish per 10 lbs of body weight

• Medium to large dogs - 100g (3.5 oz) of small oily fish per 30 lbs of body weight

Some important things to remember:

It is best to start slowly when introducing new foods into your dog’s diet. When you add fresh food to your dog’s kibble, remember to remove an equal portion of their kibble to avoid overfeeding. Consult with your veterinarian if your dog has health issues. And lastly, any product or brand that is mentioned is solely for educational purposes and /or because I have personal experience using it with my own dogs. I do not get paid for products and/or brands that I mention in this article.

About the Author:

My name is Clarissa Dery and I am a Certified Canine Nutritionist and a Certified Acute Canine Herbalist. I own Four Leaf Clover, LLC, a holistic pet bakery and apothecary located in Old Town Warrenton. I have two rescued Pit Bulls named Stella and Luna who both struggled with severe health issues as well as allergies and sensitive stomachs. My dogs are the inspiration behind everything I do – they make me a better person, force me to exercise, and motivate me to get out of bed in the morning. My goal is to educate pet parents on canine nutrition because I believe that food is medicine and the foundation for all good health. I also strongly believe that we are the voice of our pets and we need to advocate on their behalf. Being an educated consumer is incredibly important in achieving this goal because when it comes to pet products, everything we put in their mouths directly affects their health and longevity. Food can either contribute to the solution or the problem – we decide.


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