Supplementing Horse Diets with Omega Fatty Acids

Supplementing Horse Diets with Omega Fatty Acids

When adding dietary supplements to the diet, make sure the total diet stays balanced and that changes are made gradually so the horse’s digestive track has time to adjust.

Photo: The Horse Staff

As you look at your horses’ diet, it is important to remember that horses need a balance of both omega-3 and -6 fatty acids for optimal health and performance. One isn’t necessarily better than the other; they simply have different roles in the body and must be in balance with each other for optimal health.

As herbivores and nomadic grazers, horses are naturally adapted to a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids (ALA) compared to omega-6 fatty acids (LA). The little bit of fat found in forages, particularly fresh pasture, is naturally high in ALA whereas oils from grains and seeds tend to be higher in LA.

Dietary Sources of Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids

Omega-6 Fatty Acids Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Corn oil (LA) Flaxseed (linseed) oil (ALA)
Safflower oil (LA) Fish oil (EPA, DHA)
Rice bran oil (LA) Soybean oil (ALA)
Sunflower oil (LA) Canola oil (ALA)
Borage (starflower) oil (LA) Mustard oil (ALA)
Cottonseed oil (LA)  
Grapeseed oil (LA)  
Peanut oil (LA)  
Primrose oil (LA)  
Sesame oil (LA)  
Soybean oil (LA) Fish oil (EPA, DHA)

Diets that include supplemental fat along with grain concentrates may have a skewed ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids, and might not be as beneficial as a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Dietary supplementation with omega-3 fatty acids has been shown to provide numerous benefits to horses, pets, and humans including:

  • Improved skin and hair coat quality;
  • Decreased joint pain in arthritic individuals;
  • Improved bone formation;
  • Reproductive benefits;
  • Prevention of gastric ulcers;
  • Anti-inflammatory effects;
  • Alleviate allergic hyperactivity;
  • Support horses in heavy work; and
  • Reduce exercise-induced bronchiole constriction.

Unfortunately, scientists have not yet pinpointed the ideal ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids for horses; however, fortifying a diet with these fatty acids to achieve a ratio of 2 to 5:1 omega-3 (ALA, EPA, and DHA) to omega-6 (LA) could provide some key benefits to your horse.

As always, when adding dietary supplements to the diet, make sure the total diet stays balanced and that changes are made gradually so the horse’s digestive track has time to adjust. Benefits from providing omega fatty acids in the diet are not realized immediately, but take 30 to 90 days of supplementation before benefits are detectable, so be patient and make sure your expectations are realistic.

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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