Omega Fatty Acids: What Do They Do for Horses?

Omega Fatty Acids: What Do They Do for Horses?

Omega-3 and -6 fatty acids are considered essential—meaning that the body can’t make them itself—so they must be obtained in sufficient amounts from the diet.

Photo: The Horse Staff

Adding supplementary fat in your horses’ diet is one way to provide concentrated calories as well as some other functional benefits to your horse; but what sources of fat are best?

Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are a hot topic in human, pet, and equine nutrition alike, and for good reasons. With such a wide array of information and products out there, it can be confusing and difficult to make decisions, so let’s break down what the omega fatty acids are, and how they can play a role in a healthy balanced diet for our equine counterparts.

What are polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs)?

All fats are made up of chemically linked chains of fatty acids. PUFAs are a category of unsaturated fats which include:

  • ALA—Alpha linolenic acid (omega-3), which can be further converted by the body into EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), although some species are more efficient at this than others. EPA/DHA can be found themselves in fish/marine co-products like fish oil and fish meal.
  • LA—Linoleic acid (omega-6)

Omega-3 and -6 fatty acids are considered essential—meaning that the body can’t make them itself—so they must be obtained in sufficient amounts from the diet.

What do omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids do?

Omega-3 and -6 fatty acids play important roles in:

  • Immune system regulation;
  • Cell membrane stability;
  • Development and maintenance of the central nervous system; and
  • Oxygen transfer.

Specifically, omega-6 fatty acids are used by the body to make pro-inflammatory mediators for the immune system, while omega-3 fatty acids are converted to less inflammatory products.

Because omega-3 fatty acids compete against omega-6 fatty acids to produce these mediators, higher levels of omega-3 can offset pro-inflammatory responses, and are generally considered to have anti-inflammatory properties.

It is important to remember that inflammation is an important process the body uses to fight infection and mediate tissue repair, therefore a balance between pro-and anti-inflammatory mediators is the goal. Omega-6 fatty acids do not cause inflammation, rather they provide the substrate needed to mount an inflammatory response if and when it is needed making them a very important part of the diet, along with the omega-3 fatty acids.

Reprinted with permission from The Feed Room, by Nutrena.

About the Author

Emily Lamprecht, PhD

Emily Lamprecht, PhD, earned her doctorate in Endocrinology and Animal Biosciences (with an emphasis on equine nutrition and exercise physiology) in 2009 from Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey. She also holds bachelor’s degrees in Animal Science and Psychology from University of Missouri, Columbia (2003, 2004). She joined the Cargill Animal Nutrition Strategic Marketing and Technology team in August 2009 and currently serves in the role of Technology Lead for Consumer Nutrition. Her primary responsibilities include formulation, managing research and new product development for the equine and pet businesses within the United States and internationally, and providing technical support to Cargill businesses, veterinarians, feed dealers, consultants, and customers. Lamprecht is a professional member of the American Society of Animal Science and the Equine Science Society. In her spare time, Lamprecht can be found volunteering with the Minnesota Search and Rescue Dog Association and continues to be an active member of the equine community. She trains and shows her horse in the sport of dressage and enjoys spending time with her husband, trail riding, and hiking.

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