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.  But the bottom line is that your horse will benefit from more Omega-6’s than Omega-3’s.  


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  • 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 body, so most horses don’t need to eat them.


  • Generally speaking, Omega-6 fatty acids tend to be pro-inflammatory and the Omega-3 fatty acids are anti-inflammatory.


  • So it seems we want as many and much of the 3’s for our horses as possible? 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 when you are tweaking your horse’s diet. 


Skip this paragraph if you don’t like acronyms:


  • We also know that the 3 and 6 style of Omega fatty acids must be consumed by your horse, their body can’t make them.


  • Omega-3 fatty acids are alpha-linolenic acids, ALA’s, are found in plant-based horse food. They can also be eicosapentaenoic acids (EPA) and docohexaenoic acid (DHA) which are both found in fish oil. Your horse’s body can also transform ALA’s into EPA’s and DHA’s, 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.


bag of flax

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 and overall health.


  • Omega-3’s also help with nervous system support and eye health.


  • Diseases like COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) and arthritis can also be supported and generally benefit from the anti-inflammatory properties. Some research 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 essential to know that this reaction is vital and healthy regarding your horse’s immune response.

But how much Omega 6 and Omega 3 does my horse need?


  • The exact, perfect ratio isn’t known yet. This means 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 1:4 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-3s.


stabilized flax seed

This is a stabilized flax from the feed store. Super handy to feed and delicious for 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 lacks 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 convert the ALA’s into the components.


  • Soybean, canola, and mustard oil are also good options. You may need to experiment with tastes, availability, and cost to find what works the best.


  • Chia seeds work, too. These are gaining in popularity for horses and many horses find them to be delicious.  And perhaps easier to feed than flax – no grinding involved. 


hors supplements being put into tub

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!


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