Beyond the Feed Tag: Horse Feed Ingredients, Quality and Safety Issues

The tag on every animal feed product is labeled with information required by the FDA, with ingredients listed in descending order of predominance--from most to least inclusion.

"However, this is not always enforced and there is no guarantee that listing of ingredients reflects the inclusion rate of the finished product," said Randel Raub, PhD, director of Equine Business Development and Technical Services for Purina Mills, during his Purina Equine Veterinary Conference presentation on "Beyond the Feed Tag: Horse Feed Ingredients, Quality and Safety Issues."

Raub emphasized that the higher the level of a horse's expected performance, the less tolerance a horse has to nutritional variations.

Raub said he believes that owner selection of feed relies on trust in the manufacturer for consistent quality. Responsible feed manufacturers evaluate their products in multiple ways: serial laboratory analyses to ensure quality and physical specifications of ingredients, and visual inspections. As an example, choke is minimized by pelletizing feed to a specific size and an easily chewed consistency, so this is confirmed via inspection. Assays scan for the presence of mycotoxins and aflatoxins, fungal substances that are harmful to horses.

"The cost of testing for quality control is more economical than the consequences that may result from not testing," Raub noted.

He also stressed that mills producing equine feed should be free of ionophores (rumensin), antimicrobial compounds that are toxic to horses but used in cattle feed.

Only ingredients approved by FDA and American Association of Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) can be used in horse feed. Any drug included in feed also must meet strict FDA-regulations, yet nutraceuticals are not currently regulated. Glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate are examples of substances not approved for use in horse feed; if feed contains these, a manufacturer is not in regulatory compliance.

Raub made an interesting point: as little as 0.0001 % (essentially a dusting) of a product will show up on the ingredient list of a formulation, although this miniscule amount might have no efficacy.

The take-home message? Horse owners should be aware of exactly what they are purchasing with each brand and feed product.

Read more from the Purina Equine Veterinary Conference. This meeting was held Oct. 17-19 in St. Louis, Mo.

About the Author

Nancy S. Loving, DVM

Nancy S. Loving, DVM, owns Loving Equine Clinic in Boulder, Colorado, and has a special interest in managing the care of sport horses. Her recent book, All Horse Systems Go, is a comprehensive veterinary care and conditioning resource in full color that covers all facets of horse care (available at or by calling 800/582-5604). She has also authored the books Go the Distance as a resource for endurance horse owners, Conformation and Performance, and First Aid for Horse and Rider in addition to many veterinary articles for both horse owner and professional audiences.

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