Supplements: Is It Worth the Money?

Fast, good, cheap. Pick two. That's an old manufacturing adage that I think is very appropriate to taking care of our horses. In other words, you can have something that is fast and good, but it won't be cheap. Or have something that is fast and cheap, but it won't be good. And so on. In this age of immediate gratification we are in a hurry, and we want the best deal possible. But, should we be gambling with our horses' health by spinning the wheel and guessing which of the three we won't get for our horses? Is it worth the price if a product doesn't work, or worse, is bad for your horse?

Animal pharmaceuticals are regulated by FDA just like those used for humans. However, there aren't "generics" in equine medicine as we know them. If you have a headache, you can go to the store and buy a generic pain reliever that has the same active ingredient--and the same approval--as a name brand. Someone making "aspirin tablets" in their garage and selling them would be fined, thrown in jail, and never heard from again.

So why is it some horse owners (and even some veterinarians) jump on the "cheap" product that has no FDA approval and no guarantee that the ingredients are of good quality, or are even in the product?

Then there are animal nutraceuticals and supplements. There is little regulation covering these products, and even that little bit is hard to enforce.

Here are five points to consider when buying a "generic," nutraceutical, or supplement.

First, you do pay less using an "off" brand. Sometimes you do so without causing a problem. Sometimes you don't solve the original problem. And sometimes you cause more problems.

Second, many times you can buy the stuff yourself either from a tack shop or over the Internet. Of course, when the "original" product licensed by the FDA is required to be sold through veterinarians, it makes you wonder what processes that over-the-counter product went through before it arrived in your hands. Was it supposed to be refrigerated? Was it? Is there an expiration date? Were Good Manufacturing Practices used?

Third, where did its ingredients come from? Do you think the company with the cheap product has an "inside" pricing structure to get the same ingredients for less money? Could a cheaper price actually mean the ingredient is cut or missing?

Fourth, shouldn't you support the companies spending huge amounts of money for licensed product research and development?

Fifth, don't take any label for granted. Learn what to look for and how to recognize something that is too good to be true. Be careful of nutraceuticals and supplements that make drug claims.

There are valuable compounds, nutraceuticals, and supplements out there that are proven, produced by reputable manufacturers, and supported by science and/or make valid claims. Are you a careful enough consumer to make sure you are buying those products and are not being tempted by low prices or outlandish claims?

Read "Deciphering Nuraceutical Labels" on page 57. It gives helpful tips on finding a nutraceutical that is useful, and doesn't waste your money.

West Nile Virus Vaccine

There is a group that claims the USDA-approved West Nile virus vaccine manufactured by Fort Dodge Animal Health is causing abortions and deformed foals (see page 14). Despite an abundance of practitioners who have used this vaccine without adverse reproductive effects in thousands of pregnant mares; despite the USDA recommending use of the vaccine; despite the company itself denying the allegations, this group will cause some people to not vaccinate their horses. And some of those horses will die of West Nile virus.

Talk to your veterinarian if you have questions, but don't let an uninformed few kill your horse.

About the Author

Kimberly S. Brown

Kimberly S. Brown was the Publisher/Editor of The Horse: Your Guide To Equine Health Care from June 2008 to March 2010, and she served in various positions at Blood-Horse Publications since 1980.

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