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Should You Add Olive Oil to Your Dog's Diet?

Christie Long is a small animal veterinarian with 10 years experience in medicine, surgery, and acupuncture. As PetCoach's Chief Veterinarian, she directs a global team of veterinarians fielding inquiries regarding all aspects of pet car...

Olive oil: Good for what ails your dog or save it for the salad?

We hear a lot in the news about what fats are healthy for humans to consume. But what about dogs? Is there benefit to your canine companion in the addition of fats like olive oil? Read on to find out.

The skinny on fats: Omega-3 vs. omega-6

Get into a discussion with a nutritionist about dietary fats, and it won’t take long before your head is spinning with acronyms. EFAs, or essential fatty acids, come in both the omega-6 and the omega-3 varieties. The distinction has to do with how carbon atoms are chained to the fat molecules; specifically, whether there is a double-bonded carbon pair at either at the 3rd or the 6th position.

The term “essential,” at least for nutritional purposes, means that the body can’t make these fats, so they have to be consumed in the diet. Vegetable oils contain mostly omega-6 fatty acids and scant quantities of omega-3 fatty acids.

So is olive oil a good choice for ensuring skin health?

It might seem intuitive that consuming dietary fats like olive oil could help promote healthy skin and coat. But commercial dog foods are already high in omega-6 fats, which are mainly what vegetable oils have to offer, so adding additional omega-6 fats to your dog’s diet likely does little to improve skin health.

Studies definitely support the premise that the addition of omega-3 fats improves skin health, especially in allergic individuals. In addition, omega-3 fatty acids can reduce the inflammation associated with osteoarthritis when given at sufficient dosages. In most cases, fish oil is the best source of omega-3 fatty acids for dogs.

Olive oil for gallbladder health

A small study that was done in the early '90s suggested that feeding olive oil to dogs with issues that stem from slow emptying of the gallbladder (the repository for bile, which aids with fat digestion in the small intestine) might improve the strength of gallbladder contractions. Theoretically, this should aid with moving bile, which has a tendency to become thick and sludge-like, out of the gallbladder and into the small intestine, where it can do its job.

What about using olive oil topically?

Every now and then, I hear about the potential benefits of using olive oil topically for various skin problems. Does this do any good? The answer is probably not. When skin is crusty and dry, oil can certainly lubricate the area and temporarily reduce flaking; however, this is not a definitive treatment for anything.

The same message goes for ears. Olive oil does not treat any kind of ear problem and can be quite irritating if put into the canals of the ears. If your dog is shaking his head or scratching his ears repeatedly, it’s likely that he has an ear infection and he needs to see his veterinarian for definitive treatment.

Could olive oil be dangerous for my dog?

Because diets that contain added fat can exacerbate problems like pancreatitis (an inflammatory condition of the pancreas that causes severe gastrointestinal signs) it’s important to discuss your dog’s overall health with your veterinarian before adding dietary fats of any kind. If your dog is eating a balanced diet, it’s likely that he doesn’t need additional vegetable fats, and adding them may just increase calories without adding any real benefits.

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