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A healthy weight starts with healthy habits

Fatty acids an important component...

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01 June 2014, at 1:00am

Ian Williams in this sixth in a series from Royal Canin on the latest knowledge behind nutrients that can be of bene t to cats and dogs discusses the importance of fatty acids

AN adequate level of fat is required in the diet to provide a source of essential fatty acids and also to enable the fat soluble vitamins (A, D, E and K) to be absorbed across the intestinal wall.

In addition to this, fats can increase the palatability of a diet and they also yield a high level of energy when metabolised.

Essential fatty acids are so termed because they cannot be synthesised from non-fat sources such as carbohydrate or protein; instead, they must be provided for in a pet’s diet.

There are two essential fatty acids in dogs and three in cats: 

  • linoleic acid which is abundant in most vegetables oils; 
  • linolenic acid which is found in green vegetables, fruits and plankton; and 
  • arachidonic acid which is an essential fatty acid in the cat and can only be found in animal fats.

Essential fatty acids are the precursors to two families of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs),  known as omega-3 fatty acids and omega-6 fatty acids.

The oils of fish from cold waters contain very high levels of two long- chain fatty acids derived from alpha- linolenic acid – eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). 

Both omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids help to support the body’s natural defences, digestive health and they also play a role in cell growth. Here we look at their speci c bene ts in dogs for maintaining healthy skin.

Healthy skin

The shine of an animal’s coat is linked to the sebum composition, sebum being a variable mixture of waxes and lipids secreted by the sebaceous glands.

Sebum also helps to prevent hair matting, by smoothing down scales and making the components in the hair more supple and elastic. It also contributes to maintaining the epidermal skin barrier.

The lipids making up the composition of sebum are species- and breed-specific, but the production and quality of sebum are influenced by the diet.

Some nutrients help to significantly improve the lustre of the pet’s coat. This is notably the case with PUFAs in the omega-6 series, such as gamma- linolenic acid (GLA).

These fatty acids are helpful to maintain a supple skin and to support the skin barrier: they help to restore balance to the composition of the surface lipid layer (thus minimising skin dehydration) and they play a structural role in the cell membranes.

The long-chain omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA are useful for the nutritional management of dogs with skin sensitivities: supplementation has been shown to help the nutritional management of pruritic dogs. As a result, Royal Canin’s canine Skin Care diets have been enriched with these fatty acids.

In dermatology, an examination of the animal should always include precise details about the food given, as correcting any dietary imbalances 

(especially regarding essential fatty acids) is a key factor in the management approach. Similarly, in the management of obesity, reducing an animal’s fat intake should never be done at the expense of essential fatty acids.

As can be seen, fatty acids are an important component within the diet with their presence being beneficial for the nutritional management of dogs with skin sensitivities. 

For further reading please visit: vetportal.royalcanin.co.uk (or vetportal.royalcanin.ie for Ireland). 

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