Tuesdays with Tony
What’s the deal with Supplements?
What’s the deal with all the supplements you people feed your horses? There must be thousands of different things you can add to your horse’s food on a daily basis. Who would even want to eat all that stuff in their food, it has to mask the deliciousness that is food, right? As a diabetic kitty the only “supplement” I take is my insulin twice daily, thank goodness. My staff just pokes me with a tiny needle to give that and doesn’t mess with my food, because I might go on a hunger strike if they messed with my food! Since I didn’t know much about horse supplements, I wanted to learn a bit more, so I talked to my docs about what they think about all the different types of supplements out there. Let’s chat about some of the most popular types that you’ll see daily at your local feed store.
It has been so refreshing and cool this past weekend, it’s almost easy to forget how much horses sweat (if we are lucky). Hopefully your horse is a good sweater and you don’t have to deal with anhydrosis, but that is a topic for another week. As you know, horses lose sweat during exercise and in hot and humid conditions aka FLORIDA. When they sweat, they lose more than just salt, they lose sodium, calcium, chloride, and magnesium. This means they need all of these elements replenished through their diet. You might think that hanging a salt or mineral block for your horse will be enough to get them all they lose when they sweat but unfortunately that’s not always the case.
Often times my docs will recommend adding an electrolyte to your horse’s food or water. The problem with salt and mineral blocks is the intake per horse is highly variable and it can be hard to tell how much your horse is consuming. The best way to replenish what is lost in sweat is to add an electrolyte to their feed or water. When you walk in your local feed store you may be overwhelmed with all the different types of electrolytes. So how do you pick the right one for your horse? My docs recommend you evaluate the sugar content and pick one that is low in sugar.
You may have noticed that this past weekend with the cooler weather your horse has not been drinking as much as he should. This is often the case when the weather turns colder, horses forget to drink. And we all know what happens when horses forget to drink, yup, the dreaded C-word, colic. I never forget to drink or eat. Cats are too smart for that! So, how do you get your horse to keep drinking when the weather changes? Add in some electrolytes to their feed, even just some plain table salt can encourage them to drink more. However, there is some concern with adding in plain salt to your horse’s diet. Some horses will not eat plain salt. They may lick a salt block, but if you add salt to their grain, they won’t eat it. Explain that logic to me!
The other potential problem with feeding table salt is in feeding it to horses with active gastric ulcers. Think about it: if you feed your horse salt and he has an ulcer in his stomach, you will literally be pouring salt on a wound, OUCH! That being said, you may find that electrolytes are the easiest and most palatable to feed your horse.
If I know anything, I know that you people all want the best for your horses and will do whatever you can to keep your horse feeling 100%, including feeding the most expensive joint supplement on the market. Well, luckily for you, I am here to save you all the money. Joint supplements may seem like the answer to all your problems. However, I am here to tell you that is not always the case. Unfortunately, the science behind feed-through joint supplements is lacking and the studies out there only show how the supplements work before they hit the horse’s digestive tract.
If you have ever had a horse colic you know they have the most wonky GI tract and who knows if joint supplements can even withstand the digestive process and do what they are supposed to do in the joint. If you ask my docs about feed-through joint supplements, they will tell you all you’re doing is making some very expensive manure. However, if you have the desire to add a joint supplement to your horse’s feed, by all means, go for it, it might help and can’t hurt. But if you want the next level treatment for your horse’s joints, I recommend you talk to my docs to get their recommendations on exercise programs along with a possible injectable joint supplement such as Adequan that may benefit your horse more than feed-through joint supplements.
You all know the saying, no hoof no horse, and your farrier has probably recommended a hoof supplement for your horse, especially if they have any history of feet problems. Your farrier is definitely not wrong to recommend a hoof supplement, but let’s look at them a little further to see if they are something your horse really needs.
Most hoof supplements are made up of mostly biotin. You know, maybe I should take a hoof supplement, biotin would surely make my coat gleam and my nails sharper to better catch those rats with, but I digress.
As we have discussed, horses have wonky gastrointestinal tracts and weird-o digestive systems. However, their odd GI has set them up to make their own biotin in their hindgut which suggests they don’t really need any supplemented in their diet. That being said, there have been reports that with the addition of a hoof supplement, owners, farriers, and veterinarians have noticed an increase in hoof growth, improvement in the quality and elasticity of the horn, and strengthening of weakened hoof walls, particularly in horses with “shelly” feet.
Similar to joint supplements, hoof supplements certainly might help and won’t hurt. If you are going to feed a hoof supplement, make sure you’re feeding the appropriate amount of 15-20 mg per 1000lb horse per day, but remember, you cannot rely fully on hoof supplements for the health of your horse’s feet. A good working relationship between my docs and your farrier is essential as well as good nutrition.
We have only just begun to scratch the surface of supplements that are available to feed your horse. If you have any questions about what supplement you should or should not feed and how they work, be sure to call the clinic and talk to my docs about your horse’s needs. Remember, there is no supplement that can replace a balanced diet, and feeding your horse a balanced diet of appropriate grain and forage is essential to their wellbeing. My docs are always available for appointments to discuss nutrition including what grain, hay and supplements to feed your horse, so call the clinic and schedule your appointment to see me, and talk to the docs about feeding your horse.
Want more right now? Check out the podcast my docs did on Supplements. It’s Season 2, Episode 16. You can listen to it right on my website by clicking here, or wherever you get your podcasts.
Until next week,
Tuesdays with Tony is the official blog of Tony the Clinic Cat at Springhill Equine Veterinary Clinic in Newberry, Florida. If you liked this blog, please subscribe below, and share it with your friends on social media! For more information, please call us at (352) 472-1620, visit our website at SpringhillEquine.com, or follow us on Facebook!