Horse owner with vet in stable


Welfare and Behaviour

Horse nutrition tips for veterinarians

Appropriate nutrition and feeding management is both a science and an art. With many opinions available and a plethora of products available in stores and online, the horse owner can often be left bewildered.

With changing trends, impactful advertising or boastful product claims, deciding what to feed a horse is difficult and clients may seek impartial advice from their vet. But are you as confused as they are?

A recently published review gives an overview of the anatomy of the equine digestive tract with a nutrition perspective, highlighting nuances to the horse. Nutritional tips for veterinarians (Equine Veterinary Education) then discusses a few key practical areas of feeding practices. Written by Dr Pat Harris, Head of Equine Research at the WALTHAM Centre for Pet Nutrition and Director of Science for MARS Horsecare, and Dr Catherine Dunnett, from Independent Equine Nutrition, the review hopes to provide a useful resource for vets wishing to consolidate their knowledge of equine nutrition.

Some of the areas that the review covers include forage requirements, complementary feeds including so called ‘supplements’ (in the EU these are considered complementary feeds), analytical content and prohibited substances. Below are some top tips to consider when evaluating what the review refers to as ‘specialised supplements’.

Specialised Dietary Supplements

As is well known the supplement market is large and products are typically marketed to support specific physiological systems. Mobility, respiratory, behavioural and digestive support are some of the commonly suggested benefits from such products which tend to include various nutraceuticals.

Often the role of the veterinarian is to offer advice on the suitability, safety, efficacy and, especially for competing animals, legality of such products for horse owners or trainers, which can be a difficult task. Whilst the gold standard may be for a supplement to be underpinned by research conducted in horses, however, this is frequently like searching for gold dust.

In Europe, it is a legal requirement for the company marketing the product to be able to provide to customers or vets the evidence or justification that supports any marketing claims. This may be relating to
the main active ingredients and in the public domain, or
the specific product formulation and peer reviewed research (or unpublished in-house trials)

Is there research to support the active ingredient at the specified dose?

Points to consider when advising about supplements:

  • Is there research, ideally in horses, to support the claims for the product or active ingredients?
  • If research is only available in other species, is it appropriate to extrapolate to horses?
  • Does it state what and how much of the active ingredients are in the product?
  • Is it safe to feed the recommended amount of the active ingredients to horses?
  • Are the active ingredients prohibited substances for performance horses?
  • What is the risk of contamination of the product by a prohibited substance?

To read the full reviewclick here