Imported Hay Could Hold Hidden Health Dangers

As if hay scarcity and high prices aren’t enough, experts are warning horse owners that imported hay could also hide horse health dangers including seriously low amounts of essential vitamins such as A and E, excessive amounts of selenium, and even life-threatening insect infestations.

"It all depends upon where the hay is coming from," said Peggy Miller, PhD, MS, associate professor of animal science at Iowa State University. "If the hay is coming from the far Southwest, it can be infested with blister beetles that can kill horses. If the hay is coming from a region where it can pick up excessive amounts of selenium from the soil, it could also be very bad for horses."

The nutritional ramifications of the drought-caused need to import hay from outside horses’ home regions was highlighted last spring when veterinarians at the University of Missouri-Columbia noticed an increase in equine patients suffering from potentially life threatening selenium poisoning. According to Philip Johnson, BVSc(Hons), MS, Dipl. ACVIM, Dipl. ECEIM, MRCVS, professor of veterinary medicine and surgery, horses suffering from the condition lose mane and tail hair and can develop severe--even fatal--laminitis.

At the same time, Johnson said Missouri veterinarians saw increased numbers of horses showing signs of deficiencies in Vitamin E--critical to equine nerve health--including weakness, weight loss, tremors and retinal changes in their eyes.

"Hay that has been kept in storage for a long time can lose Vitamin E and Vitamin A," Miller said. "That’s also why it’s important to know where the hay is coming from, when it was cut, how it was stored and how long it was stored."

But finding reliable hay sources can be difficult as horse owners start to stockpile hay to tide horse over the upcoming winter. Miller recommends that horse owners do their homework before purchasing hay from out of state - or even from local sources that may have imported it for resale.

"It’s critical to purchase hay from a reputable seller," she said. "If you aren’t aware of one locally, the departments of agriculture in most states have Web sites listing hay vendors and brokers. Then request a content analysis before you buy."

About the Author

Pat Raia

Pat Raia is a veteran journalist who enjoys covering equine welfare, industry, and news. In her spare time, she enjoys riding her Tennessee Walking Horse, Sonny.

Stay on top of the most recent Horse Health news with FREE weekly newsletters from Learn More