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Oils 101 - What you need to know!

In dog and cat nutrition, there is always talk about the topic of oils in the feed. But do dogs and cats really need oils in their food? And if so, do they have to be special varieties? We would like to give a brief overview of this.

Oils not only provide calories, but also important fatty acids. Dogs and cats cannot form certain polyunsaturated fatty acids themselves and therefore have to take them in with their food. Such fatty acids are called "essential fatty acids" because they are necessary for life. They are found in varying amounts in edible vegetable oils, fish and meat. They are needed in the body especially for a functioning skin and coat metabolism and the immune system.

Within the fatty acids, a distinction is made between omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids. The designation depends on the position of the double bonds they contain. Essential fatty acids that the adult dog needs to live are the omega-6 fatty acid linoleic acid and the omega-3 fatty acids alpha-linolenic acid, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Puppies additionally require the omega-6 fatty acid arachidonic acid. For cats, linoleic acid, arachidonic acid and EPA & DHA are considered essential and must be taken in through the diet.

When are additional oil supplements necessary?

If your four-legged friend is fed a complete food, e.g. a commercial wet or dry food, the supply of essential fatty acids is usually ensured. If skin or coat problems are present, however, an additional administration of selected oils over a certain period may be useful. If you put together a BARF or cooked ration for your pet yourself, special types of oil should be supplemented daily to cover the need for the essential fatty acids. In comparison to the wolf or the free-living cat, which absorbs all the required nutrients by eating a whole prey animal with "skin and hair", the entire fatty acid requirement cannot be covered by meat and offal alone in a self-prepared feeding.

Quality and storage

When selecting a vegetable oil as a feed additive in feeding, care should be taken to ensure that it has been obtained by cold pressing. Since this manufacturing process usually involves temperatures of 40-60°C, ingredients such as fatty acids and vitamins are preserved. On the label you should therefore find designations such as "cold pressed", "virgin" or "extra virgin". Compared to refined oils, which are obtained using high temperatures, cold-pressed oils are more flavorful, but also perish more quickly and are less heat-resistant. Refined oils are therefore recommended for frying or deep-frying. Depending on the content of unsaturated fatty acids, cold-pressed oils should be used within 4-8 weeks after opening and should always be stored in a dark & cool place.

Special features of the different varieties

Safflower oil/corn oil/hemp oil/walnut oil: Safflower oil and corn oil are particularly rich in linoleic acid. Hemp oil and walnut oil also contain high amounts of linoleic acid. In addition, they impress with their high content of alpha-linolenic acid. All four oils are perfect in combination with a fish oil for a BARF or cooking ration for daily supplementation of all required fatty acids.

Sunflower oil: This oil is also one of the oils rich in linoleic acid. It also has the second-highest vitamin E content among the common types of oil. Only wheat germ oil has an even higher vitamin E content. Sunflower oil, in combination with fish oil, is also an oil that is recommended in dog and cat nutrition.

Wheat germ oil: This oil has the highest vitamin E content of all oils and has a high content of linoleic acid. The high vitamin E content makes it ideal for rations that are supplemented with individual additives rather than a mineral powder. This way, no additional source of vitamin E is needed. Again, combine it with fish oil to cover the full spectrum of essential fatty acids.

Fish oil: The typical representatives among fish oils in animal feed are salmon oil and herring oil. Both provide the essential omega-3 fatty acids EPA & DHA in high amounts and should be found in combination with vegetable oils daily in every self-prepared ration. As an alternative, krill oil or algae oil capsules can also serve as omega-3 fatty acid suppliers.

Linseed oil: The oil extracted from linseeds has by far the highest alpha-linolenic acid content. However, the proportion of linoleic acid is low. This makes it suitable only to a limited extent for home-prepared rations since a relatively large amount of alpha-linolenic acid (amount depends on the fat content of the meat) is already absorbed via the meat. Therefore, linseed oil should definitely be alternated with an oil rich in linoleic acid and feeding should be combined with fish oil.

Olive oil: This oil, which is very popular in human nutrition, does not play a major role in animal nutrition. It contains hardly any linoleic or alpha-linolenic acid and therefore serves mainly as a source of energy. Of course, it can be integrated into the feed as a source of calories from time to time. However, for the daily supply of essential fatty acids, the vegetable oils recommended above should be used in combination with an oil rich in omega-3.

Animal fats: These are good to very good sources of arachidonic acid, along with fattier meats and fish or meats with skin. The absolute leader among arachidonic acid sources is lard followed by beef fat/ tallow, sour cream butter and chicken fat. Another good source of arachidonic acid is chicken egg yolk. These products should therefore be included in the diet of home-prepared puppy dog diets. For cats, the arachidonic acid content from meat is usually sufficient, but a small amount can be supplemented when feeding very lean meats on a permanent basis.

 There are also many oil mixtures on the market (e.g. Optinature Fellglanz BARF oil). The advantage of such a mixture is that you - especially for small animals - do not have several bottles open at the same time in the cupboard, which you quickly become rancid and the mixture is therefore used up faster. Also with such mixtures you should make sure that linoleic acid-rich oils such as safflower, hemp, sunflower or corn germ oil are combined with an omega-3-rich oil. This will provide your four-legged friend with all the fatty acids they need with just one bottle a day. 

You can read which other nutrients in the feed influence the skin and coat function in our article "Skin and Coat - What the diet can do".

Are you unsure about the amounts of meat, carbohydrates, vegetables and oils your dog or cat should get in a BARF or cooked ration? Just browse through our recipes. Here you will find a wide variety of feeding plans with precise quantities. You are also welcome to take advantage of our individual nutritional advice.


image credits:, #221844985, © Inky Water




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