Supplementing Horse Diets with Omega Fatty Acids

As you look at your horses’ diet, it is important to remember that horses need a balance of both omega-3 and -6 fatty acids for optimal health and performance.  One isn’t necessarily better than the other; they simply have different roles in the body and must be in balance with each other for optimal health. 

As herbivores and nomadic grazers, horses are naturally adapted to a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids (ALA) compared to omega-6 fatty acids (LA).  The little bit of fat found in forages, particularly fresh pasture, is naturally high in ALA (omega-3) whereas oils from grains and seeds tend to be higher in LA (omega-6).  

Diets that include supplemental fat along with grain concentrates may have a skewed ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids, and may not be as beneficial as a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids.  Dietary supplementation with omega-3 fatty acids has been shown to provide numerous benefits to horses, pets, and humans including:

  • Improved skin and hair coat quality
  • Decreased joint pain in arthritic individuals
  • Improved bone formation
  • Reproductive benefits
  • Prevention of gastric ulcers
  • Anti-inflammatory effects:
    • Alleviate allergic hyperactivity
    • Support horses in heavy work
    • Reduce exercise-induced bronchiole constriction

Unfortunately, scientists have not yet pinpointed the ideal ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids for horses, however, fortifying a diet with these fatty acids to achieve a ratio of 2 – 5:1 omega-3 (ALA, EPA & DHA)  to omega-6 (LA) may provide some key benefits to your horse.  

As always, when adding dietary supplements to the diet, make sure the total diet stays balanced and that changes are made gradually so the horse’s digestive track has time to adjust.  Benefits from providing omega fatty acids in the diet are not realized immediately, but take 30 – 90 days of supplementation before benefits are detectable, so be patient and make sure your expectations are realistic.

DIETARY SOURCES OF POLYUNSATURATED FATTY ACIDS
Omega-6 fatty acids Omega-3 fatty acids
Corn oil (LA) Flaxseed (linseed) oil (ALA)
Safflower oil (LA) Fish oil (EPA, DHA)
Rice bran oil (LA) Soybean oil (ALA)
Sunflower oil (LA) Canola oil (ALA)
Borage (starflower) oil (LA) Mustard oil (ALA)
Cottonseed oil (LA)  
Grapeseed oil (LA)  
Peanut oil (LA)  
Primrose oil (LA)  
Sesame oil (LA)  
Soybean oil (LA)