Essential Fatty Acids and Canine Arthritis

We have had quite a few questions at The Veterinary Expert about the role of diet in managing your pet’s arthritis and particularly about the role of Essential Fatty Acids  or EFAs. EFAs are promoted as being beneficial in a number of conditions including allergic diseases like atopy, cardiac disease and arthritis.

Fatty acids are polyunsaturated fats used in the body. Some can’t be made by the body and therefore have to come from the diet. These are termed ESSENTIAL fatty acids. One group of EFAs are the  Omega-3 fatty acids. These are considered the GOOD guys as they can have an anti-inflammatory effect in the body. The Omega-6s are the bad and the ugly! They can be converted into inflammatory prostaglandins and hence promote inflammation and pain.

A review by  Goldberg and Katz (2007) in the Journal of Pain looked at the evidence for a beneficial effect of Omega 3’s in Rheumatoid Arthritis in people. They found that these EFAs reduced joint pain, stiffness and the amount of anti-inflammatory medication (NSAID) required by the patient . They concluded that EFAs were an attractive supplementary treatment. EFAs have been suggested for use in rheumatoid arthritis for a number of years but perhaps less so for the management of osteoarthritis. (Click here if you are unsure of the differences between osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.) However, three recent publications in well respected veterinary journals have suggested that feeding diets rich in Omega-3 EFAs can reduce NSAID consumption by dogs suffering with osteoarthritis. One study demonstrated that feeding an omega-3-rich diet to affected dogs allowed them to take more weight through the affected joint indicating that the joint is more comfortable.

It would appear that feeding a diet that is rich in Omega-3 fatty acids is possibly a very good thing for the osteoarthritic dog. It may reduce the requirement for NSAIDs and that can only be good. Most pet foods contain far more omega-6 fatty acids than omega-3s but some pet food companies produce diets enriched with fish oils to increase the amounts of omega-3s. If you are wanting to see if feeding more Omega-3s could benefit your dog’s osteoarthritis, then I would suggest using one of these commercial diets to start off with. Let us know what your experience has been!

This is a fascinating area and one we will be keeping an eye on.