Helpful info for deciphering fish oil labeling

November 24, 2011 | By | Add a Comment


Some friends recently referred me to a holistic veterinarian, to supplement the care that Shayna receives from our regular vet.  In particular, a concern arose about her kidney function, and my friends said that they had excellent results with this particular holistic vet, who’d been studying herbal and alternative therapies for many years.

Three months into our care, Shayna’s kidney problems have reversed themselves, and her lab results are showing near normal functioning.  So of course, I’m thrilled.

One of the other supplements recommended to (for skin and cardiovascular issues) us was Omega-3 fish oil.  At first, I bought the brand the vet recommended – which was very expensive (at Whole Foods).  I then began to research the issue, to try to find out why one product – whose ingredients listings are exactly or almost exactly the same as another, on the same shelf – can cost ten times more.  For example, one fish oil product costs $57.99 at Whole Foods; yet on the same shelf, another one with a similar label costs $5.99.  And yet, when I asked several clerks in that department what the substantive difference is between those products – whether a chemist would know which is which in a blind test, and whether Shayna would experience a substantial benefit of one over the other – none of them could tell me.

It has been an extremely frustrating experience.  And after reading this article from WebMD, describing the fact that in scientific tests, dog supplements are found to not contain the labeled ingredients in many more instances than in the case of human supplements, I realized why it can be very difficult for a novice like me to discover objective truth concerning these matters.

But then, I came across Fish Oil FAQ from the Canine & Reconditioning Rehabilitation Group in Englewood, CO, and it was like a breath of fresh air.  It explains things in a very simple, straightforward way.  Here’s an excerpt (underlining by me):

Oil from fish contains eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA); both are omega-3 fatty acids.

Where is fish oil found?  EPA and DHA are found in mackerel, salmon, herring, sardines, sablefish (black cod), anchovies, albacore tuna, and wild game.  

Q: My dog already gets fish oil so why am I not seeing improvement?
A: Many dog owners are feeding their dog fish oil, but most dogs are not getting a high enough dose to make a difference. Start your dog on a dose calculated at EPA of 20 mg per lb body weight. There will be DHA in there too but you don’t need to do any math on it.

Q: Is my 50 lb dog getting enough if it says 1000 mg of essential fatty acids on the label?
A: No! Many of the products say “1000 mg of EFAs” on the front of the bottle. The shorthand can be confusing because EFA sounds like EPA. Note that EFA stands for essential fatty acids, this includes EPA and DHA (which are both types of Omega 3 essential fatty acids). Be sure to read the label to see what is really in there. The fatty acids may be Omega 3, 6, or other miscellaneous ones. Pets need a supplement high in Omega 3 with no added Omega 6. Omega 6 is important but it is already in the diet in excessive amounts. This is why you need to feed Omega 3 (remember that means EPA plus DHA) to balance the diet.

Read the rest here.

Then, I came across this briefer, written by a veterinarian with extensive study in supplements:

Omega-3 Essentials
by: Sally Perea, D.V.M., M.S., D.A.C.V.N.

If you read all these articles, you’ll gain a good, basic understanding of fish oil and how it can benefit your best friend.

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The bottom line

While many products are labeled “Fish Oil,” and some even “Omega-3 Fish Oil,” I’ve now learned that the price is driven by four primary factors:

  • The concentration of EPA and DHA Omega-3 fish oil
  • The quality and purity of the fish oil
  • The quality and reputation of the manufacturer
  • Whether the product has been subjected to third-party verification

It is on that basis that one can do an apples-to-apples comparison.

Filed in: Dog parenting, Supplements | Tags: ,

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