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Oil Supplements for Skin Health In Pets

Oil Supplements for Skin Health In Pets

As published in The Pet Directory QLD, NT & WA Edition

The use of essential fatty acids (EFA) in the management of skin problems in dogs and cats has become increasingly more popular over the past few years. Recent research has looked at the role specific fatty acids play in skin problems involving inflammation and pruritus. The fatty acids in question are generally grouped into 2 types: n6 & n3 (also called omega-6 and omega-3). 

This article will look at the source of these oils and when they are of use in skin problems.


Sunflower Oil - high in LA (n6) which is a component of biological membranes and plays and important role in the oil layer of the skin . There is some evidence to suggest that is has some anti-inflammatory effects in the skin and appears useful in dogs with scaly skin.

Evening Primrose Oil - contains high levels of n6 oils (GLA & LA) which appear to be better utilised than those found in borage oil, there is little doubt, when given at the right dose, evening primrose oil has anti-inflammatory properties in dog skin, the only drawback is the high cost, there is evidence that other less expensive oils (eg sunflower) may have similar activity

Borage Seed Oil - contains high levels of n6 oils (GLA & LA) but there is some question about how well they are used by the body, some studies have suggested when given at the right dose there is some anti-inflammatory properties in atopic dogs.
Other vegetable and fungal oils - although other oils show some promise there are not may controlled studies to back up their potential. Others that are often used with apparent benefit include: flax seed oil, canola oil, soybean oil, black currant seed oil, gooseberry seed oil, comfrey seed oil.

Some of the vegetable seed oils (canola, corn and especially flax seed) contain both n3 & n6 oils in what is thought to be the right ratio and hence should be useful in skin inflammation.

Cold Water Fish Oils - contain high levels of n3 oils, research has shown some anti-inflammatory effect on skin in dogs with atopy and or flea bite allergy, they also tend to improve coat gloss, may work better when combined in the right ratio with n6 oils

What is best? n3 or n6 ?
It appears that a mixture of n3 & n6 is superior over n3 or n6 used alone. The ratio of these oils seems to be the determining factor. What ratios to use in a supplement will depend on the levels of n3 and n6 already in the diet. It is accepted that a ratio of 5:1 in a supplement seems to have the most benefit.

When to use supplementation:

Atopy in Dogs - (Atopy: allergy to airborne or inhaled allergens)
Many dogs with atopy respond to immunotherapy (performed by a veterinarian) but many will still require “anti-itch” therapy. Besides medications prescribed by your vet (eg cortisone, antihistamines) there is much data to support the use of EFAs to control itching. Those oils containing the right ratio of n6:n3 appear to be the best. Many different blends are available commercially eg Megaderm, Omega-3, My Beau, which, besides having the right types and ratios of oils, also contain other ingredients (eg Zinc, Innositol, Vitamin E) which can be of benefit to the skin.

There are some general guidelines when using EFAs for atopy in dogs:

  1. They won’t work when there is severe inflammation or infection with bacteria or yeast;
  2. The response is dose related - follow the directions on the container;
  3. There is a lag period before an effect is seen - generally allow 4 weeks of continual therapy before expecting a response, then another 2 months before maximal effect is seen;
  4. If your dog is on cortisone or antihistamines for skin problems, the use of EFAs may reduce the dose of these drugs required.

    Seborrhoea - keratinisation defects - generally seen as a scaly coat like dandruff. The use of EFAs seems to be beneficial. One study showed that using sunflower oil at 1.5ml/kg every 24 hrs for 4 weeks improved the coat of dogs with scaly skin.

    Itchy Skin in Cats - Cats will become itchy for a variety of reasons - eg fleabite allergy, atopy. EFAs have been shown to be of use in treating these problems in cats. It is extremely important to have good flea control in cats with a skin condition that causes crusting, scaling, over grooming or scratching. What to use for this - go here.

    When using EFAs in the food, it is important that they are ingested quickly as prolonged exposure will cause oxidation of the oils and a loss of their properties.

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