Gamma linoleic acid (GLA) just doesn’t get the attention it deserves. It’s not a trendy fish oil or a cool herb or the latest superfood.
But it sure is vital to your dog’s health and wellbeing. And it’s so easy to feed your dog GLA.
Let me tell you more about GLA and why your dog needs it in his diet.
What Is GLA?
Gamma-linoleic acid (GLA) is an omega-6 fatty acid. Omega-6 fats are often viewed as unhealthy … but that isn’t always true. Because GLA is a very important anti-inflammatory fatty acid.
Here’s Why Your Dog Needs GLA In His Diet
- It’s a key anti-inflammatory fat
- It regulates hormones
- It supports healthy skin and coat
Let’s start by looking at inflammation.
What Causes Inflammation?
Your dog’s body has a built-in safeguard for when he gets injured. Inflammation is that safeguard. It’s part of your dog’s immune response to:
- Tissue damage
- Exposure to a toxin
Inflammation is for your dog’s protection. It’s a natural part of the immune system. It can cause pain to discourage using an acute injury like a sore paw. The blood vessels in that area expand and become more permeable. This helps immune cells migrate out and repair the affected tissues. You’ll know inflammation is at work when the injury becomes warm, swollen and painful. It’s fighting infection and healing.
But chronic inflammation … the kind that stays for weeks, months, even years … is a problem. Chronic inflammation is an exaggerated and prolonged immune response. If it continues over long periods of time, your dog’s immune function will start to decline. Let’s look at it a little deeper.
Chronic inflammation can damage healthy cells, tissues, and organs. It can lead to DNA damage, tissue death and internal scarring. It can transform normal cells into malignant or cancer cells. Chronic inflammation will eventually cause organ disease.
Free radicals are a major cause of inflammation. They create microscopic damage to the body’s cells. This damage is called oxidative stress. Oxidative stress leads to the aging process. It’s also what causes disease of every description. Free radicals build up like rust in the body. And this rust causes chronic inflammation and ultimately chronic disease and premature aging. Antioxidants fight free radicals. Blueberries, raspberries, kale, cabbage and spinach are antioxidant-rich foods you’ll recognize.
Oxidative stress is at the root of inflammation and disease. More than 200 diseases have been linked to oxidative stress. Here are some of them affecting your dog:
- Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
- Kidney failure
- Cardiac disease
- Autoimmune disease
How To Know If Your Dog Needs GLA
There are several triggers that may cause chronic inflammation in dogs. Remember, inflammation should appear in times of short-term trauma. But ongoing infection, long-term reactions, stimulants or allergies lead to chronic inflammation. Then GLA is essential to his diet to reduce the inflammation.
Here are some causes of chronic inflammation:
- Infection from a disease
- Pest prevention (chemical flea, tick, heartworm preventatives)
- Pharmaceuticals, prescription drugs
- Poor diet, processed food
- Environmental toxins
- Lack of sunshine
- Lack of exercise
Signs Of Chronic Inflammation
You can also watch for these signs.
- Weight loss
- Weight gain
- Skin rashes
- Digestive problems
- Decreasing mobility
Diet is a huge cause of chronic inflammation. I will explore that in a bit. First I’ll explain omega-6 fatty acids that either cause or fight inflammation.
How Does GLA Fit In?
As I mentioned earlier, people often think of omega-6 fatty acids as the bad guys that lead to inflammation in your dog. GLA is the exception to the rule. It’s an omega-6 fatty acid that’s also an important anti-inflammatory.
Our knowledge of omega-6s and their importance only goes back 100 years. In 1929, research on rats showed a lack of fatty acids in the diet caused deficiency and even death. This research also demonstrated the importance of other essential fatty acids such as the omega-3s. Today, researchers continue to learn about the many ways that essential fatty acids like the omega-6s also influence health. There is also great awareness about the importance of the proper balance of fatty acids to fight inflammation and prevent chronic disease. This applies to people … and dogs.
Let’s break down the omega-6 fats.
Arachidonic Acid (AA)
AA is the omega-6 that gives all omega-6 fats a bad name. Your dog gets it in his diet from meat and eggs. AA is an inflammatory fat … it initiates an inflammatory immune response.
As I explained earlier, this response is needed when your dog gets injured or sick. But it’s a major cause of chronic inflammation. It also happens when your dog’s omega-6 and omega-3 fats aren’t balanced. The body produces too much AA and it leads to inflammation.
Linoleic Acid (LA)
LA is truly essential and needs to be in your dog’s diet. If LA is deficient, dogs develop skin and coat conditions. There can also be reproductive problems and other health issues.
But LA deficiency is rare. It’s found in good quantities in both plant oils and animal fats. Too much, in fact. And when there’s too much LA in the diet, it gets converted to AA … and inflammation is the result.
Ideally, if there were balance, LA would convert to GLA.
Gamma-Linolenic Acid (GLA)
GLA is considered essential. That means your dog must get GLA in his diet. LA converts to GLA but that isn’t dependable as I noted above. This conversion needs a specific enzyme, delta-6 desaturase (D6D). It also needs five nutrients.
- Magnesium – obtained from fish, muscle and organ meats, kelp, nuts and pumpkin seeds. Magnesium also aids muscle and bone development. It’s necessary to allow the dog’s body to absorb calcium.
- Zinc – found in red meats, seafood, chicken, spinach, broccoli and mushrooms. It also boosts the immune system and improves your dog’s skin and fur.
- Vitamin C – Dogs can make their own vitamin C. It’s found in fruit, vegetables and organ meat. It’s also an antioxidant needed to fight the free radicals that cause inflammation.
- Vitamin B3 – Fed in beef, chicken, liver, salmon, anchovies, mushrooms. It also breaks down protein and fat.
- Vitamin B6 – Fed in beef, chicken, fish, liver, bananas and dark leafy vegetables. It’s needed for the healthy growth of puppies, to regulate hormones and for the nervous system.
Your dog is probably getting these nutrients if he eats a balanced diet of fresh, whole foods. And he’s probably getting GLA too. But if there’s any doubt, you can add a GLA supplement. I’ll give you all that information later.
Let’s look at processed diets in a little more detail.
Processed Diet = Chronic Inflammation
In a perfect diet, omega-6 should be present at similar or slightly higher levels than omega-3 (between 1:1 and 5:1). But today’s processed food diets for dogs are overloaded with omega-6 fatty acids. That leads to an imbalance in the omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acid ratio. Instead, the ratio is closer to 25:1. When the balance is this far off, inflammation happens.
Too little omega-3s, usually from fish, marine and algal oils, cause inflammation. And too much omega-6 from his diet.
Here’s What Our Dogs Are Eating
The majority of the dog food supply comes from factory-farmed animals. They’re not roaming in the fields munching on grass. They’re raised in a barn or a feedlot with thousands of other animals. Fed grains; probably genetically modified. This leads to high amounts of omega-6s in the meat.
Pastured animals have a diet of roots, leaves and grasses that are higher in omega-3s and vitamins.
Grains high in omega-6s lead to an inflammatory response in cows, pigs and chickens … these are the animals used by the dog food industry for kibble. Now your dog is eating processed food made with factory-farmed animals … with the addition of even more inflammatory grain and fillers. Even if you’re feeding raw, check where your raw food manufacturers source their meats. It could be factory-farmed as well.
Factory-farmed meats plus grains create too much of the omega-6 LA as I explained earlier. In a perfect world, LA converts to GLA. But … here’s the problem.
LA needs the enzyme D6D to convert to GLA. But there’s so much LA that the enzyme is used to keep up with the excess amounts of LA. The body thinks there is trauma so it converts to the omega-6 AA. It triggers inflammation through AA. But this isn’t an appropriate reaction.
It shouldn’t be a reaction to too much omega-6 in your dog’s diet!
Manufacturers add fish oils … (FYI many raw foods also have fish oils and that’s a problem because they can oxidize during thawing. You need to thaw in an airtight container.) That balances out the omega-6s from the grain-fed animals. Or does it?
It helps but it’s not enough. It takes a lot of omega-3s to overcome that 25:1 ratio. That’s when GLA becomes absolutely essential to reduce inflammation. I’ll explain the process next.
RELATED: The ultimate guide to fats in dogs …
Chronic inflammation is responsible for most diseases today. There are many things you can do and one key thing is to ensure you feed GLA to your dog. And here’s why.
GLA To The Rescue
GLA is that unique omega-6 fatty acid that possesses strong anti-inflammatory abilities. It also works via other mechanisms in the body to control the inflammatory process.
Most importantly, GLA interferes with the body’s breakdown of AA when there’s too much produced.
Here’s GLA’s Secret Weapon To Fight Inflammation
When you feed GLA directly to your dog in supplement form, you bypass the need for enzyme D6D that is needed to convert LA to GLA. And you bypass the need for those 5 vitamins and minerals.
A study on aging showed alcohol, illnesses like diabetes and the aging process affect the creation of GLA in the body. But that same study also showed giving GLA directly can avoid these issues. It also avoids the need for the nutrients needed for the conversion of LA to GLA.
The study reinforces the simplicity of adding GLA as a supplement at meal time.
That allows GLA to go right to work on its own.
GLA converts into the super anti-inflammatory dihomogamma linlenic acid (DGLA). It’s the super power in the fight against inflammation. It only appears in trace amounts in food so needs conversion from GLA. DGLA intervenes with enzymes that break down AA, described earlier. It prevents these enzymes from converting AA and causing inflammation. Enzymes break down into more anti-inflammatories.
Let’s look at the last piece of the puzzle in balancing those essential fatty acids in your dog’s diet.
The Balancing Act
It’s still difficult to balance the omega-6s and omega-3s in the diet. It needs to move from a ratio of 25:1 to closer to 1:1 It needs more than omega-3s alone.
But there’s good news.
There are several sources of GLA that offer a low ratio of the omega-6 to omega-3 content. That improves the balance. Using ahiflower oil, hemp seed oil or spirulina is a great idea.
- Ahiflower oil has an omega-6 to omega-3 ratio of 1:4
- Hemp seed has a 4:1 ratio
- Spirulina has a ratio of 1.5:1
All three are excellent choices for balancing foods that are already too high in omega-6 fats.
Here’s how easy it is to feed GLA to your dog.
How To Feed GLA To Your Dog
Unlike other omega-6 fatty acids derived from a processed diet, it’s difficult to feed your dog too much GLA. It comes from plant sources, but not traditional fruits and vegetables. Most oils containing GLA get extracted from the seeds of plants.
GLA supplements are oils or capsules containing oil. That makes dosage guidelines straightforward. Just give your dog a GLA supplement by adding it to his meal.
Let’s go into more detail about where you can find GLA as a supplement.
What Are The Best Sources of GLA?
Ahiflower oil, hemp seed oil, spirulina, evening primrose and black currant oil. These are the best sources of GLA. Of all these sources, ahiflower contains the highest amount of naturally occurring GLA. A key benefit of both ahiflower and hemp seed is that they’re rich in minerals, including zinc and manganese.
Ahiflower oil is from the seeds of the Buglossoides arvensis plant. It is a newer addition to plant-based omega sources. Ahiflower contains 60% more GLA than hemp seed oil making it the best plant source of omega fats. Ahiflower oil is also rich in stearidonic acid (SDA) an omega-3 anti-inflammatory. It converts well to DGLA. This is the inflammation fighter that stops AA in its tracks. It also converts well to omega-3s eicosatetraenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). This means there are even more omega-3s present. That helps tip the balance of that 25:1 ratio away from the omega-6s. Every little bit helps.
To give your dog ahiflower oil, add ¼ tsp for every 20 to 25 lbs of body weight to his meals.
Not to be confused with hemp oil, hempseed oil is a sustainable source of GLA for your dog … and it’s rich in trace minerals. You can use it internally or topically for skin problems. It also soothes inflammation (thanks to the GLA) and helps with skin growth.
As an added bonus, hempseed oil is also a good source of SDA (stearidonic acid). SDA is good for the heart and easily converts to omega-3s ETA and EPA. Even better!
To add hempseed oil to your dog’s diet, give him 1 tsp for each pound of food. If you’re already giving your dog hempseed oil, that’s great! But there’s another p that’s an even better source of GLA.
Spirulina is also a strong source of GLA. It works on different kinds of inflammation that occur in dogs. That includes skin problems (atopic dermatitis, eczema, etc.), arthritis, colitis and IBD. There is a remarkable concentration of nutrients in this microscopic algae. They include beta carotene, vitamins B-1, 2 and 3, iron and trace minerals. It has antioxidant properties and is 60% digestible vegetable protein. It also contains decent amounts of magnesium, potassium and manganese.
Spirulina is good for short term healing. It’s very concentrated so a little goes a long way. Start with spirulina as your only supplement to see how your dog reacts. Then watch for any changes in health. Canine herbalist Rita Hogan suggests starting out with 1/8th tsp for every 10 pounds of body weight.
RELATED: Is it safe to give dogs spirulina?
Black Currant Oil
This is a woody shrub native to northern Europe and Asia and known for its purple berries. The oil contains 15 to 20% GLA. It’s also rich in the omega-3 alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) needed from the diet.
Evening Primrose Oil
Evening primrose is an edible herb native to North America. Its oil is 72% LA and about 13% GLA.
Dosages for Black Currant and Evening Primrose Oils:
- 20 mg per pound of body weight daily
- 200 mg for a 10-pound dog daily
- 1,000 mg for a 50-pound dog daily
- 1,600 mg for an 80-pound dog daily
Consult with your holistic veterinarian to confirm doses.
Borage is an annual herb from the Mediterranean now found in North America. In theory, borage oil may be a good source, containing as much as 28% GLA … but there’s a problem. There’s a possibility it may contain pyrrolizidine alkaloid, a liver toxin. It’s generally found in the leaves. But it’s not worth the risk if the producer has been careless and included leaves with the seeds for processing.
Give your dog these GLA-rich plant oils, especially ahiflower or hempseed oil.
GLA isn’t the only omega fatty acid your dog needs, but it’s certainly an important one. And there are plenty of sources. That makes it easy enough to feed your dog GLA regularly to control inflammation … or even eliminate it.
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Birudaraju D et al. A combined effect of cavacurcumin, eicosapentaenoic acid (omega-3s), astaxanthin and gamma –linoleic acid (omega-6) (CEAG) in healthy volunteers- a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study. Clinical Nutrition ESPEN. 2020;35.
Horrobin DF. Loss of delta-6-desaturase activity as a key factor in aging. Medical Hypotheses.