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Flaxseed Oil

By Rania Gollakner, BS, DVM, MPH

Medications

What is flaxseed oil?

Flaxseed oil (also called flax oil) is derived from flax plant seeds and contains high levels of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), an omega-3 fatty acid.

Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to have anti-inflammatory effects in the body, and therefore are used as a dietary supplement to treat inflammatory conditions such as allergies, arthritis, kidney disease, heart disease, diabetes, epilepsy, and some types of cancer.

In addition to omega-3 fatty acids, ground flaxseed also contains dietary fiber, which can have other health benefits such as intestinal health and reduced constipation. It can be used in both dogs and cats, although effectiveness may be questionable in cats.

What are supplements?

Dietary supplements are substances that can be used to supplement the diet, such as vitamins, minerals, amino acids, herbs, botanicals, enzymes, and probiotics. While many supplements are sold over the counter, they still contain ingredients that have biological effects that should be managed by your veterinarian. Follow your veterinarian’s directions and cautions very carefully as their directions may be significantly different from those on the label.

There are differences in how countries regulate supplements. In the United States, these substances are not as vigorously regulated by the FDA as other medications, which means they can be sold without the manufacturer proving their effectiveness, safety, and without a guarantee of consistent or accurately reported ingredients. In Canada, products that have been evaluated for quality, safety, and effectiveness by Health Canada and authorized for sale will have a license number on the label.

How effective is flaxseed oil?

While ALA can be converted to DHA and EPA (the most effective anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids), cats and dogs do not convert this efficiently. Therefore, the anti-inflammatory effects of flaxseed oil are not as powerful as fish oil. Limited studies in animals have been performed, but there is evidence that flaxseed oil does not work as well as fish oil to treat inflammatory diseases; higher doses may be needed to achieve an effect.

How is flaxseed oil given?

Flaxseed oil is given by mouth in the form of a liquid or capsule. It may be given with or without food; however, if stomach upset occurs when dosed on an empty stomach, give future doses with food. Flaxseed oil can easily be mixed into wet food. Measure liquid forms carefully.

This medication can take up to a few weeks before full effects are noted, but gradual improvements are usually appreciable.

What if I miss giving my pet the supplement?

If you miss a dose, give it when you remember, but if it is close to the time for the next dose, skip the dose you missed and give it at the next scheduled time, and return to the regular dosing schedule. Never give your pet two doses at once or give extra doses.

Are there any potential side effects?

Flaxseed oil is generally very safe. Side effects may include diarrhea, vomiting, delayed wound healing, or an oily coat and skin flakes. Discontinuation of the supplement should resolve these side effects. Serious side effects include persistent stomach upset, or inflammation of the pancreas (pancreatitis).

This long-acting medication may last for several weeks and may last longer in pets with kidney or liver disease.

Are there any risk factors for this supplement?

Flaxseed oil should not be used in pets that are allergic to it. Do not use unreputable sources of flaxseed oil. It should be used cautiously in pets that are also taking anticoagulant medications, as this supplement can increase the anti-clotting effects. High doses must be used very carefully.

Are there any drug interactions I should be aware of?

The following medications should be used with caution when given with flaxseed oil: anticoagulants, blood pressure medications, or insulin.

Vitamins, herbal therapies, and supplements have the potential to interact with each other, as well as with prescription and over the counter medications. It is important to tell your veterinarian about any medications (including all vitamins, supplements, or herbal therapies) that your pet is taking.

Is there any monitoring that needs to be done with this supplement?

There is no specific monitoring that needs to be done while your pet is taking this medication. Your veterinarian may monitor your pet to be sure that the medication is working.

How do I store flaxseed oil?

Store in a cool dry place and protect from sunlight. Refrigeration or freezing after opening is often recommended. Follow storage recommendations according to the bottle label.

What should I do in case of emergency?

If you suspect an overdose or an adverse reaction to the medication, call your veterinary office immediately. If they are not available, follow their directions in contacting an emergency facility.

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