Fatty Acids Revisited
by Dr. Susanne A. Hughes, DVM

Veterinary dermatologists have been recommending fatty acid supplementation for several dermatologic conditions in dogs for over 12 years. Studies are ongoing and investigators are far from a consensus as to the optimum ratio of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids for specific conditions, but some facts are becoming more generally accepted.

Dr. Lowell Ackerman, DVM, PhD reviewed and summarized the issues at the 1997 North American Veterinary Conference. Omega-3 fatty acids are derivatives of linolenic acid and are considered antiinflammatory. The most important of this group is eicosapentanoic acid (EPA) found in marine fish oils. Omega-6 fatty acids are derived from linoleic acid and cause the release of prostaglandin E1 (PGE1), which inhibits mediators of inflammation. This class fatty acids is most commonly found in vegetable oils.

It appears fatty acids are most beneficial in dogs suffering from atopy, or inhalant allergies. Seborrhea and some immune-mediated diseases, such as systemic lupus erythemetosus are other indications for fatty acid supplementation. Multiple studies have shown that these products may significantly improve the clinical presentation in 20% of atopic dogs. One recent study cited a 56% improvement, or decrease, in skin inflammation associated with inhalant allergies when dogs were supplemented with high doses of EPA. These dogs showed greater control of inflammation than itching. New diets have been formulated along these guidelines and may be beneficial to some atopic dogs.

Potentially the most exciting news for breeders is the use of fatty acids as preventative therapy in breeding stock. The theory is presented as follows: PGE1 is required for normal maturation of T-helper cells in newborn pups. A defect in T-helper cell maturation may play a role in atopy, or the expression of inhalant allergies in dogs. Atopic dams presumably have less PGE1 because they are T-helper cell compromised and therefore offspring are prone to allergies. If, however, fatty acids that increase PGE1 (omega-6's found in vegetable oil) are supplemented to the dam during the last month of pregnancy and all of lactation we may actually be able to decrease the problems in allergy prone puppies before they ever exhibit clinical signs of atopy.

Dr. Susanne Hughes, DVM
3013 Ridge Road Durham, North Carolina 27705
Ph: (919) 489-1367


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