Once the new puppy is home and settled, many of us feel at least a little apprehension underneath all the excitement as we realize the next daunting step: training. Not just house training but also socialization, basic manners, obedience, and even tricks or other skills such as agility. Resources describing the nitty-gritty details regarding your training goals abound, with many suggesting consistency and positive reinforcement. But did you know that nutrition also plays an important role in supporting your puppy’s ability to learn?
How Fish Help Puppies
There are plenty of fish in the sea, and coldwater fish have high levels of long-chain omega-3 polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs) such as DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid). Sardines, anchovies, salmon, mackerel, trout, and herring are all great sources of DHA and EPA.
DHA is especially important because it plays a vital role in brain and retinal development in young animals (the retina is the light-sensitive tissue lining the back of the eye that converts light to impulses the optic nerve transmits to the brain to generate the images we see).
The brain itself is composed of 50 percent fat, and DHA makes up 10-20 percent of all fats and more than 90 percent of the long-chain PUFAs found in the brain. This explains why DHA is widely believed to play an integral role in the proper development and functioning of the brain, impacting attention, memory, and trainability.
Fish oil supplements also help protect joints, enhance the immune system’s response to vaccination, and promote the maintenance of a healthy coat and skin.
Studies Show Omega-3 Fatty Acids Are Essential For Learning
Scores of scientific studies in a variety of species support the long-held hypothesis that DHA is essential for learning and trainability. To date, there are two main studies in canines supporting DHA supplementation to improve cognitive function.
- Beagle puppies fed diets fortified with appropriate levels of DHA from weaning until 1 year of age had statistically significantly better results in various learning, visual contrast discrimination, and psycho-motor performance tasks than puppies that were offered diets containing only low or moderate levels of DHA. Such tasks included using T-mazes with and without obstacles to find food rewards, displacing objects to receive a food reward, and finding a food reward under one of two objects to test short-term memory function. (Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association)
- Puppies fed a higher-DHA diet outperformed puppies that were fed a diet lower in DHA in trainability, using a T-maze with a treat in only one arm of the maze. (The Iams Company)
How Much Is Enough?
Perusing the array of pet nutritional supplements, you’ll notice a wide range of omega-3 fatty acid supplements. Be aware that not all supplements contain long-chain omega-3 fatty acids. Instead, some have short-chain PUFAs, such as alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) from flaxseed oil. Short-chain omega-3 fatty acids can potentially be converted to the beneficial long-chain omega-3s in the body, but that conversion is not very efficient. This is what makes direct supplementation with long-chain omega-3s desirable. Further, the overall amount of DHA and EPA in supplements varies immensely. Current recommendations suggest choosing supplements that provide approximately 25 mg/kg body weight of DHA and 40 mg/kg body weight of EPA per day.
Not All Omegas Are Alphas
Not all pet nutritional supplements are quality products. Although generally recognized as safe, some theoretical adverse effects of fish oil have been reported, such as altered platelet function, weight gain, gastrointestinal disturbances (diarrhea), nutrient excess, heavy metal/toxin exposure, and drug-herb-nutrient interactions. Always discuss your pet’s diet and use of nutritional supplements with your veterinarian to minimize any adverse events. Finally, practice safe supplementation by choosing products supported by scientific research rather than testimonials to maximize the benefits of your omega-3. If you're interested in purchasing an omega-3 supplement for your dog, click here.
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