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  • Q:

    A friend feeds her horse sunflower seeds, claiming a higher gloss to her gelding’s coat. Admittedly, the gelding’s coat is lustrous, but she also grooms like there’s no tomorrow. Are sunflower seeds safe to feed my horse, and will they improve coat condition?

  • A:

    Sunflower seeds are safe for horses, and horses eat them readily. Horsemen typically add them to a horse’s ration to supplement fat in an effort to bolster coat condition. Though your friend also tends to her horse’s coat by thorough grooming, the supplemental fat likely improves shine and texture.

    When choosing sunflower seeds, select black oil sunflower seeds, which are those common in birdseed. Many feed stores have black oil sunflower seeds on hand, so you shouldn’t have too much trouble sourcing them in bulk. Striped sunflower seeds, which are often consumed by humans, should not be fed to horses.

    Most horsemen feed 0.25-1 lb (100-450 g) of sunflower seeds a day. No more than 2 lb should be given daily. Sunflower seeds are high in omega-6 fatty acids and low in omega-3s. Feeding too many sunflower seeds might upset the balance of fatty acids in the diet, so it is best to keep the feeding rate within the target recommendation.

    Though fish oil is not fed to increase the calorie density of a ration, it provides horses with the beneficial omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA. Anecdotal reports suggest that omega-3s increase the health of skin and coat, and omega-3s have become a mainstay supplement for many horses with skin problems. Marine-derived omega-3 supplements are more efficiently used than plant-based sources, such as flax by-products. One research-proven omega-3 supplement is EO•3, developed by Kentucky Equine Research (KER).

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