By Dr. Robert Hunter, DVM
Over the past few years, there has been a lot of interest and research on the benefits of Omega-3 fatty acids for horses because of the proven benefit to humans and other species.
Omega-3 fatty acids play a significant role in the growth, development, and overall health of offspring. Fats are commonly used in equine diets to increase the energy density of the diet, but they are also necessary to metabolize important fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, and K) and several cellular functions.
While omega-3 is commonly found in linseed and flaxseed oils as well as cold water fish, researchers have found that there is a percentage of omega-3 fatty acids in hay and pasture: about 55% of the fat in fresh pasture and 18-35% of the fat in hay.
Studies have reported that lactating mares, fed a mixture of corn oil and linseed oil that provided an omega-6 to omega-3 ratio of about 2-to-1, resulted in increased omega-3 fatty acids in the mare’s plasma, her milk and the foal’s plasma. The results suggest that we can improve the fatty acid status of the foal by feeding the mare fatty acids. In similar experiments, mares that were supplemented with a protected fatty acid mixture also produced colostrums that had higher *IgG concentrations, which could have positive effects on the immune system of the foals.
These studies suggest that horses may benefit from using fat sources that provide higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids than can be supplied by corn or soybean oil. Fish oil is a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids but it is not very palatable to horses unless processed to remove the fish odor. Linseed oil, or flax seed oil, are rich sources of omega-3 fatty acids and contain a desired ratio of omega-3 to omega-6, making them the best source in horse feeding programs.
Always consult your veterinarian during your mare’s pregnancy to be certain she has the nutrition needed to maintain her health, and that of her foal. Contact Hunter Stallion Station Equine Veterinary Clinic for suggestions on sources of Omega-3 fatty acids for your horse’s feeding program.
*IgG – Immunoglobulin G, the most abundant type of antibody, found in all body fluids; protects against bacterial and viral infections.