by Lisa Stahr
I was so excited by the paper in the March issue of JAVMA (the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association) about the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids for dogs with osteoarthritis. How wonderful that something as simple as omega-3 fatty acids can help pets with arthritis move better and live with less pain.
But then I saw the article in the San Francisco Chronicle on March 22nd (“Wading into fish oil supplement safety“) that said that ten popular fish oil supplements taken by people were found to contain PCBs (which can cause cancer and reproductive problems in humans), even though the manufacturers didn’t list PCBs in their products as mandated by California’s Proposition 65 disclosure rules. Tested by the Mateel Environmental Justice Foundation of Eureka, all ten fish oil supplements showed levels of PCBs and three of those ten exceeded California’s standard for “no significant risk” from carcinogens.
Not great news, but I don’t take fish oil supplements—however, my dog does. On the advice of our veterinary oncologist, I’ve been giving Rerun omega-3 fatty acid capsules everyday for the last two years because omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to help fend off Rerun’s particular form of cancer: T-cell lymphoma. And that’s why the article alarmed me, because it made me realize that if the supplements tested—supplements that are over-the-counter fish oil products made for humans—contain PCBs, what do you suppose is in the fish oil supplements made for pets? There’s no regulation regarding the purity of pet supplements, which means we really don’t know what’s in the stuff we’re giving our dogs and cats, do we?
Now I’m freaked.
So I called the manufacturer of Omega-3 Pet, which are the fish oil supplements we sell at Scout’s House. Our pet nutritionist at Scout’s House, Sandy Gregory, insisted that we buy these supplements from Nordic Naturals because Sandy had faith in the purity of their pet products.
And, it turns out, for good reason.
Bonnie Johnson of Nordic Naturals explained that third-party tests show that their Omega-3 Pet soft gel capsules have no detectable levels at one part per trillion of Non-Ortho and Mono-Ortho PCBs. And, she added, the Pet capsules use the same oil as is used in the Omega-3 product for humans, so its held to the same standards. Although this doesn’t guarantee that there are no PCBs in my dog’s omega-3 supplements, it does tell me that the numbers are very low.
And thanks to Bonnie, I understand a little more why that’s true. Nordic Naturals Omega-3 Pet oil is derived from anchovies and sardines, which are smaller fish, and that’s important because PCB concentrations in fish depend, in part, on what kind of fish is used to make the oil (older, bigger fish build up more PCBs in their fatty tissues than smaller fish), as well as on where the fish live. Nordic Naturals, I was glad to hear, harvests anchovies and sardines from the Norwegian Sea and the Southern Pacific Ocean, which are some of the world’s healthiest waters.
I can’t completely protect my dog from cancer, I know that. She got T-cell lymphoma despite all my best efforts. But I can maintain a healthy skepticism about the supplements I give her. And so can you about the supplements you give your pet. Don’t just assume a pet product is good for your dog or cat just because it says so–or worse, because your friend says so. Read the labels, call the company for more information, and—above all—ask your veterinarian. Until there are regulations regarding the food, treats, and supplements we give our pets, it’s up to you to determine the purity of what goes in your pet’s mouth.