Finding new sources for omega-3s in petfood

Omega-3 fatty acids offer many benefits for pet health, and good sources for this important petfood ingredient abound

Fish-based ingredients have long been a staple in petfoods because they’re a good source of protein and omega-3 fatty acids. The latter nutrients are becoming ever more popular thanks to their beneficial effects on cognitive health, immune systems, skin and coat health, to name just a few positives for pets.

Innova Market Insights recently released data showing that in 2013, petfood accounted for 15.1% of global launches of all products containing omega-3 fatty acids. In fact, petfood was the third largest category for such new products, ranking only behind human baby food at 25.5% and meat, fish and egg products for humans at 22%.

Yet, that means human food  product manufacturers are also seeking more and more sources for omega-3s, just as petfood producers are. This increased demand has led to overfishing and a declining supply of fish-based ingredients, which in turn is driving up prices. It’s the same dynamic we’ve been seeing for several years with animal-based protein sources.

Fortunately, other good sources for omega-3 fatty acids abound—for example, flax and chia seed, which are also becoming increasingly popular in human foods and petfoods. From 2010 to 2013, global launches of products containing flax seed enjoyed a 19% compound annual growth rate, Innova reported, while new products with chia seed grew a whopping 90.5% (albeit from a much smaller base).

Abandoning the oceans entirely isn’t necessary, however. Several companies are developing and marketing ingredients from single or whole-cell organisms, such as algae, that provide another alternative for supplying high-quality protein and omega-3s to pet diets. After all, many species of marine fish are high in omega-3s because they eat algae; the fish don’t create the fatty acids themselves.

Alltech Inc. has invested US$200 million to develop a heterotrophic algae production facility in Winchester, Kentucky, USA. Terrence O’Keefe, content director of agri-business for Watt Global Media (parent company of Petfood Industry), recently toured the plant. “A naturally occurring alga species is grown in monoculture in a plant where yeast had been fermented using the same equipment,” he explained. “The alga is grown in darkness and provided a carbon and energy source. At the end of the growing cycle, the single cell algae are dehydrated. The resulting feed ingredient is particularly high in docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), the most valuable form of omega-3.”

DSM Nutritional Products targets its whole-cell algae product, DHAgold S17-B, directly at the petfood market because the company believes it has advantages over other high omega-3 marine ingredients commonly used in petfood, such as fish oil. A powder, DHAgold flows well, has a neutral consistent color, neutral aroma and no environmental contaminants, according to Jeff Alix, DSM’s global marketing manager for pet nutrition, who spoke at the Institute of Food Technologist’s 2013 Annual Meeting.

Whole-cell algae is a bioavailable source of omega-3 fatty acids and is sustainably developed, Alix added; the price of this type of algae is also consistent because it is produced by fermentation, so demand has much less impact on the cost of production. DSM has recently conducted studies on whether the omega-3s in marine algae can improve cognitive function in senior dogs.

These are just two examples of alternate sources for an all-important nutrient that pet owners are seeking for their furry family members’ health.

Functional fatty acids

Find more information on these petfood ingredients at

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