I’ve written before about how owners are often more focused on the ingredients that are included in their dog’s food rather than the balanced nutrition that a particular food may or may not offer. This is not to say, of course, that high quality ingredients are unimportant. My point is that we need to be aware of what individual ingredients bring to the table, so to speak, in terms of the nutrients that they offer.
Let’s look at an example. You may have heard about the role that essential fatty acids (EFAs) play in skin and coat health for dogs. A diet that contains adequate amounts of and the correct balance between omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids can go a long way to promoting healthy skin and a glossy coat. EFAs essentially moisturize the skin from the inside out and improve the skin’s ability to act as a barrier to potential allergic triggers and irritants. EFAs also play a role in nervous system functioning (including brain development), heart health, and the inflammatory response.
Most veterinarians are now sold on the benefits of essential fatty acids. Many vets, myself included, will recommend modifying a dog’s EFA intake if they have chronically itchy or flaky skin, excess shedding, or a poor quality coat, and we’ve ruled out common diseases that can cause similar symptoms. Chronic inflammatory conditions (e.g., osteoarthritis) can also benefit from EFA supplementation.
Pet food companies are also beginning to see the benefits of EFAs, but unfortunately, it can be difficult for an owner to determine whether or not a particular product contains these nutrients in adequate amounts. Omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acid levels do not have to be included in a dog food’s guaranteed analysis, but some manufacturers are starting to report this information on the label.
The MyBowl Tool can help here as well. EFAs come primarily from fats and oils. You can use the food’s guaranteed analysis to determine whether or not it contains the recommended amount (about 15%) of this nutrient category. Next, look at the ingredient list for items such as flaxseed, flaxseed oil, soybeans, soybean oil, olive oil, or some types of fish and fish oil (e.g., salmon) that provide high levels of EFAs. If you see at least one and preferably two of these ingredients, there is a good chance that EFA levels will be sufficient.
After a few weeks of eating a food that meets these criteria, your dog should have noticeably healthier skin and the glossy coat that is a sign of overall well-being.
Dr. Jennifer Coates