Can Dogs Have Sunflower Oil?

It depends.
Jupiterimages/Creatas/Getty Images

While shopping for Fido’s food, you notice some packaging proclaiming sunflower oil's been added. Sunflower oil's full of essential fatty acids. Dogs can consume it, but determining whether your dog should have sunflower oil is a winding path you can navigate if you understand its pros and cons.

Sunflower Oil

Sunflower oil is a linoleic acid produced by expressing the oils from sunflower seeds. Sunflower oil is low in saturated fat, which makes it a better choice than oils and fats that are high in saturated fat. Sunflower oil is among several ingredients food manufacturers add to dog food to provide essential fatty acids because it is moderately priced and holds up to the high-heat manufacturing process used to make dog food.

Essential Fatty Acids

Omega-6 and -3 fatty acids are essential to Fido’s health. They keep his skin and coat moisturized and shiny, and help brain development. However, to be beneficial, omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids must be ingested in the right ratio and in certain amounts. Omega-3 fatty acids come from specifically named fish oils such as salmon or sardine oil and flaxseed oil. Dog food manufacturers sometimes use more ingredients high in omega-6s because they are cheaper than those high in omega-3s.

Ratios and Amounts of EFAs

The lower the ratio of omega-6s to omega-3s the better. Sabine Contreras, canine care and nutrition consultant, says a 7:1 ratio is the minimum, and a 5:1 or lower ratio is the best. As far as the amounts of omega-6s and omega-3s, Contreras suggests that foods should have at least 2.2 percent omega-6s and 0.3 percent omega-3s.

Too Much Omega-6

High amounts of omega-6s, especially without the correct ratio of omega-3s, can cause increased inflammation, which opens the door to the body for cancer and changes in cell structure. Also, a 2006 study conducted by the School of Veterinary Medicine at Purdue University showed that a dog food with any type of oil or fat in the first four ingredients listed on the label puts dogs at an increased risk of gastric dilatation-volvulus, or “bloat,” which can be fatal.

Sunflower Oil or Not?

The presence of sunflower oil in your dog’s food in and of itself is less likely to be a problem than the dog's overall diet. Look at all of the ingredients in all dog foods, not just those that note sunflower oil added. Omega-6 fatty acids also come from eggs, meats, whole grains, poultry fat, other oils and organ meats. Look for omega-3 fatty acid sources such as fish or flaxseed oils. Check the ratio of omega-6s to omega-3s. If it’s all too confusing to look at ratios and percentages, adding a fish oil or flaxseed oil supplement to Fido’s meals is an easy way to boost his intake of omega-3s and lower the ratio of omega-6s to omega-3s.