Essential Fatty Acids (EFA's)
Essential fatty acids are required for proper functioning of the immune system, promote healthy growth, skin, joints and heart and are crucial for the development of a healthy central nervous system, normal brain development, reproduction function, healthy bone development and vision.
Fat is an energy rich nutrient which also provides insulation of the body’s nervous system, important protective padding of the body and is a good source of fat soluble vitamins, A, D, E and K.
Fat is comprised of smaller components called fatty acids, some of which can be manufactured by the body through the consumption and digestion of other foods. Fatty acids are fragile and turned into trans-fatty acids through exposure to heat, light and oxygen. Trans-fatty acids weaken the immune system, reproductive system, cardiovascular system, and liver function and inhibit enzymes which are needed to break down food.
Essential Fatty Acids
Fatty acids that cannot be manufactured by the body must be supplied in food. These are called essential fatty acids which are part of every cell membrane in the body and produce molecules called prostaglandins that help regulate every aspect of a body’s functioning. They also support healthy skin, joints, hair, the heart and reduce inflammation in the body. Good sources of essential fatty acids include: fish, fish oil, poultry, vegetables oils, dark green vegetables, eggs, raw nuts, seeds, evening primrose oil and raw meat.
The quantity of essential fatty acids in meat depends on the diet of the animal the meat is from. Wild or grass-fed animals contain more EFA’s than grain fed animals, while eggs from free range chickens will contain more EFA’s than eggs from caged chickens. As fish oils also contain vitamin A and D they should not be given in high quantities to avoid vitamin A and D toxicity. Cats are unable to manufacture the essential fatty acid Arachidonic acid (Aa) and need to obtain it from food, which includes animal flesh liver, brain and fish. It is required for a healthy skin and coat and lipid transport in the blood. Dogs do have the ability to manufacture Aa.
There are two groups, known as families, of essential fatty acids called Omega 3 and Omega 6.
Omega 6 fatty acids promote healthy skin, growth and the reproductive system. Sources of Omega 6 fatty acids include:
1) Linoleic acid (LA), found in corn, soy, canola, safflower and sunflower oil, all poultry (chicken, turkey, duck primarily).
2) Arachidonic acid (AA), found in the body fat of poultry, lean meat, egg yolks and some fish oils.
3) Gamma linolenic acid (GLA), found in black currant seed oil, borage oil and evening primrose oil.
Omega 3 fatty acids promote a healthy nervous system, vision and fertility in males.
Omega 3 is unstable and deteriorates more easily than omega 6.
Sources of Omega 3 fatty acids include:
1) Alpha linolenic acid (ALA), found in flaxseed oil and to a lesser extent, canola, soy, and walnut oils.
2) Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), found in cold water fish and their oil.
3) Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), found in cold water fish and their oil.
We need here to consider the amount of these EFAs, but also the ratio.
A correct ratio of 3-5 parts of omega 6 to 1 part omega 3 is required for proper cell functioning and a healthy immune system (Syme, 2011). The correct ratio causes the immune system to react “in a less reactive, less inflammatory” way (Syme, 2011, p. 40), whereas an imbalance (omega 6 excess and omega 3 deficiency) results in overly reactive immune response to normal to middle allergenic stimuli.
As essential fatty acids are destroyed through exposure to heat, light and oxygen commercial and home cooked pet food often lacks essential fatty acids due to their loss from cooking and processing. This results in a deficiency in the animal’s diet. Symptoms of an essential fatty acid deficiency include a weakened immune system, dull dry coat, excessive loss of fur, sterility, weakness, stunted growth, impaired vision and skin issues. In her book “Keep Your Dog Healthy the Natural Way”, Lazarus (1999, p. 49), states that “Too little essential fatty acid intake is also implicated in rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis”. If essential fatty acids are absent in the diet, they are replaced by non-essential fatty acids which causes disease (Billinghurst, 1993). In fact, a lack of essential fatty acids can also lead to cancer and the malabsorption of calcium leading to bone and joint problems.
Providing a variety of foods rich in essential fatty acids in a dogs and cats diet in a raw form will ensure that it receives sufficient levels to prevent these health issues.
1. Billinghurst, Dr. Ian, 1993, Give Your Dog a Bone, 22nd Print, Warrigal Publishing, Bathurst, NSW, Australia.
2. Lazarus, Pat, 1999, Keep Your Dog Health the Natural Way, The Ballantine Publishing Group, New York, USA
3. Middle, Dr. Clare, 2008, Real Food for Dogs & Cats, Fremantle Press, WA, Australia
4. Schultze, Kymthy, 1998, Natural Nutrition for Dogs and Cats: the Ultimate Diet, Hay House Inc, USA
5. Syme, Dr. Bruce, 2011, Scientific Guide to Natural Nutrition, Vet’s All Natural P/L, VIC, Australia