Omega fatty acids and horses – does your horse need a supplement?
There’s a lot we know about Omega fatty acids, and also a bunch we don’t know as it relates to horses.
- We know that Omega fatty acids are the 6 type and the 3 type. There’s also an Omega-9, which CAN be made by your horse’s own body, so most horses don’t need to eat them.
- We know that generally speaking, the Omega-6 fatty acids tend to be pro-inflammatory and the Omega-3 fatty acids are anti-inflammatory.
- So it seems that we want as many and much of the 3’s for our horses? Not so fast. BOTH are vital to your horse’s health and you shouldn’t try to eliminate one or the other or go overboard with one or the other. As always, get your Equine Nutritionist and Veterinarian involved!
Skip this paragraph if you don’t like acronyms:
- We also know that Omega fatty acids must be consumed by your horse, his body can’t make them.
- Omega-3 fatty acids, are alpha-linolenic acids, ALA’s which are found in plant-based horse food. They can also be eicosapentaenoic acids (EPA) and docohexaenoic acid (DHA) that are both found in fish oil. Your horse’s body can also transform ALA’s into EPA’s and DHA’s, which are the active forms of Omega-3’s.
- Omega 6 Fatty Acids are linolenic acids (LA’s) that are changed into dihomo-gamma-linolenic acid (DGLA) and arachidonic acid (AA). These lovely acids are what your horse’s body uses.
Sometimes your horse’s feed label can help you decipher the 3’s from the 6’s.
What do Omega fatty acids do for your horse?
- Omega-3 fatty acids do great things for your horse, like help with heart functions, like overall health and cardio functions during exercise.
- Omega-3’s also help with nervous system support, and even eye health.
- Diseases like COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) and arthritis can also be supported, and generally provide anti-inflammatory benefits. There’s also some research that is showing insulin resistant horses can benefit from Omega-3 fatty acids.
- Omega-6 fatty acids are responsible for supporting the immune system. While you typically hear that they are pro-inflammatory, it’s important to know that this reaction is definitely vital and healthy when it comes to your horse’s immune response.
But how much Omega 6 and how much Omega 3 does my horse need?
- The exact, perfect ratio isn’t known yet. This means that you will need to analyze what your horse is eating now, and decide if he needs some supplementation. There is some very vague research out there that suggests a human’s ratio should be somewhere around 4:1 for Omega-6’s: Omega-3’s. Can this be extrapolated to horses? MAYBE? No one knows, yet.
- Suppose your horse eats lots of fresh pasture and a bit of hay and feeds. Pasture is rich with Omega-3’s, so you might not need to add more. You may want to talk to your Vet and/or Equine Nutritionist if your horse is arthritic, has heaves, or has metabolic disorders that can benefit from some support with a supplement.
- Suppose your horse eats no pasture and has a lovely fortified to eat. Definitely check the bag – fortified feeds, grains, and other horse food tends to be much higher in Omega-6’s. There is a balance between WHERE your horse gets his food, too – pasture vs. a bag. Lots of food from a bag? You probably need to add lots of Omega-3’s.
This is a stabilized flax from the feed store. Super handy to feed, and delicious to horses.
- Remember that pasture may not be available for every week of the year, or the quality is poor, or it’s dormant over months at a time, so maybe supplements for part of the year?
- If your horse eats more hay and feeds, perhaps he’s lacking in some Omega-3. Or perhaps, you feed hay and toss some veggie oil on your horse’s food as a top dressing. Depending on what type of oil you are using, you may be loading up on Omega-6 instead of Omega-3 fatty acids.
What are the best Omega-3’s for your horse?
- Flaxseed (linseed) oil is a good one. It’s readily available, delicious, and inexpensive. Be sure to grind and feed immediately, and definitely don’t boil it. It’s easy to find stabilized in a bag.
- Fish oil is also a good one, and don’t worry, it won’t turn your horse into a carnivore or give him fishy breath. This might be the best option for horses, as it’s actually EPA and DHA already, so your horse doesn’t have to do the work to covert the ALA’s into the components.
- Soybean, canola, and mustard oil are also good options. You may need to experiment with tastes and availability and cost to find what works the best.
- Chia seeds work, too.
A good place to start is about one cup of flaxseed a day.
- This handy list HERE highlights some oils that are LA’s and therefore loaded with Omega-6’s. In a nutshell, PUT DOWN THE CORN OIL. Corn oil is about 55% Omega-6 with zippo Omega-3. Sure, it will help your horse be shiny. But it does nothing for his nutritional balance.
- Also put down the rice bran oil, sunflower oil, and other oils like peanut, sesame, or even primrose. What even is primrose? And do horses like it?
So clear as mud right? Tap into the massive knowledge of an Equine Nutritionist to help you decipher all of this!