Fish or flax?

Is it fair to claim omega-3 on your label when ALA-rich flaxseed oil is the real ingredient? Or is fish oil, rich in EPA and DHA the only way to go?

Not all omega-3s are alike

Omega-3 fatty acids contribute to the health and wellbeing of both humans and their pets, indeed most mammals. However, not all fatty acids are alike. Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) is an essential fatty acid which the body converts to the longer-chain omega-3s, EPA and DHA. Most pets have a hard time producing EPA (10% conversion ratio), let alone DHA (0-1%). 

The benefits of fish oils

Fish oils are rich in EPA and DHA. EPA can be converted in vivo into anti-inflammatory components, thereby managing inflammation-based problems, such as joint, coat and bladder diseases. 

Adding just 2.5% to 3.5% of premium fish oil to the diet yields substantial health benefits for both dogs and cats. DHA has a more structural role and is found in high concentrations in nerve tissue such as the brain and eyes. Puppies and kittens need EPA to feed their growing brains, while older pets benefit from DHA to support their aging brains. 

Do the maths

Now back to our question – fish or flax? Let’s do the maths. Omega-3s work mainly because of EPA and DHA. With ALA as the main source of omega-3, pets have to convert ALA into EPA themselves, whilst DHA cannot be synthesised at all. 

Adding just 2.5% of premium fish oil yields around 4,000 mg EPA in every kilo of pet food. To match it, with ALA you will need ten times that, or around 40,000 mg per kilo. As flaxseed oil is 50% ALA, that means you will require 80,000 mg of flaxseed oil per kilo of pet food, or roughly 8%. And what you will end up with is just EPA, as DHA cannot be synthesised. From a cost perspective, this makes little sense. 

Reliable sourcing 

As high omega-3 fish oils are becoming increasingly popular in pet food, the challenge is to secure sufficient raw materials to cater to the growing demand. Reliable sourcing is crucial. That is why IQI has recently joined forces with OLVEA, a world-renowned expert in sourcing, standardising and refining fish oils. 


Geert van der Velden

Innovation Manager
Supplier pet industry
Year of the salmon, special Southern Europe, Zoomark