GLA For Dogs: The Hidden Healthy Fat

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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. 

Here’s more information about GLA for dogs … 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. It’s part of your dog’s immune response to:

  • Tissue damage
  • Infection 
  • Exposure to a toxin

Inflammation is a natural part of the immune system to protect your dog. 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.

Chronic Inflammation

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. Blueberriesraspberries, 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)
  • Diabetes
  • Cancer
  • Kidney failure
  • Arthritis
  • Cardiac disease
  • Autoimmune disease
  • Allergies
  • Pancreatitis

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
  • Vaccinations
  • Pest prevention (chemical fleatickheartworm 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.

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. 

RELATEDHow to fight chronic inflammation in dogs …

How Does GLA Fit In?

As 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. 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 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. 

Again, your dog needs this response when he 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 “conditionally essential.” That means your dog needs to get GLA in his diet. LA converts to GLA but that isn’t dependable as 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. They also get it from fruit, vegetables and organ meat. It’s 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 raw meat diet that includes fresh, whole foods. And he’s probably getting GLA too. But if there’s any doubt, you can add a GLA supplement.

Let’s look at processed diets in a little more detail.

Processed Diets Lead To Chronic Inflammation

In a perfect dog 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 in many foods is closer to 25:1. When the balance is this far off, inflammation happens.  

So the combination of too much omega-6 and not enough omega-3 causes inflammation. 

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 animalsm eating 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-3 fatty acids 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. So your dog is eating processed food made with factory-farmed animals plus even more inflammatory grains 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. 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.

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? 

In fact, 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 essential to reduce inflammation.

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 6:3 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

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. 

DNM RECOMMENDS: Four Leaf Rover offers Safe-Sea, a blend of green-lipped mussel oil and ahiflower oil, making it a complete oil for your dog. Buy Safe-Sea now >>

Hempseed Oil

Not to be confused with hemp (CBD) oilhempseed 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.

To add hempseed oil to your dog’s diet, give him 1 tsp for each pound of food.

Spirulina

https://www.dogsnaturallymagazine.com/is-it-safe-to-give-dogs-spirulina/Spirulina is also a strong source of GLA. It can help control inflammation that occur in dogs that leads to 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 1/8 tsp for every 10 lbs of body weight. 

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).

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

Check with your holistic veterinarian to confirm the right dose for your individual dog.

Borage Oil

Use caution with borage oil. It’s an annual herb from the Mediterranean now found in North America that may be a good source, containing as much as 28% GLA. But there’s a problem with borage oil. It may contain pyrrolizidine alkaloid, a liver toxin that’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 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 harmful inflammation. 

References

Fan Y et al. Importance of dietary gamma linolenic acid in human health and nutrition. Journal of Nutrition. Oct 1998;128(9):1411-4.

Sergeant S, Rahbar E, Chilton FH. Gamma-linolenic acid, Dihommo-gamma linolenic, Eicosanoids and Inflammatory ProcessesEur J Pharmacol. 2016;785:77-86. doi:10.1016/j.ejphar.2016.04.020

Andreassi M, Forleo P, Di Lorio A, Masci S, Abate G, Amerio P. Efficacy of gamma-linolenic acid in the treatment of patients with atopic dermatitis. J Int Med Res. 1997 Sep-Oct;25(5):266-74.

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. 

Drugs and Lactation Database (LactMed) [Internet]. Bethesda (MD): National Library of Medicine (US); 2006–. Borage. 2021 Feb 15.

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