Vitamin E a must for horse health

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Photo: Myrna MacDonald.

Horses need to eat their greens, too — and if they can’t get the proper nutrients through grazing, it’s important for owners to be aware of how to ensure nutritional needs are met.

One important nutrient for horses is vitamin E. This powerful antioxidant keeps equine muscle and nerve cells healthy and helps to support the immune system. Because horses can’t make their own vitamin E, it’s important that they get enough through diet. Working horses, lactating mares and growing horses all have higher vitamin E needs.

While several of the conditions caused by vitamin E deficiency are preventable, not all can be treated successfully — especially when they present in foals. Not all horses show clinical signs of vitamin E deficiency, but those signs that do appear are related to the muscles. They can include muscle tremors, lying down excessively and difficulty standing, a stiff and unco-ordinated gait, shifting leg lameness, a poor topline, weight loss and muscle atrophy, and decreased energy.

Fresh grass is the best source of vitamin E. Horses that don’t have access to fresh grass may need daily supplementation. While hay can provide the nutrient, the amount it contains begins to decrease as soon as hay is harvested and stored, with losses of up to 50 per cent after only one month of storage.

Different types of commercially available vitamin E supplements include liquid, pellets and powder. Check with your veterinarian to learn more about your horse’s specific nutritional needs and what type of supplementation is best.

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