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Dietary Supplements for Humans and HorsesBy Kentucky Equine Research Staff · July 1, 2014

Dietary supplements that are designed for humans are regulated under the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA) passed in 1994. This act does not permit the Food and Drug Administration to consider a new product a “drug” or “food additive” if it falls under the definition of a “dietary supplement,” which includes among other substances any possible component of the diet as well as concentrates, constituents, extracts, or metabolites of these components.

This act gives manufacturers of human dietary supplements a wide range of substances that may be able to satisfy these requirements. The other major component of this act shifts the burden of safety. The FDA now has to prove a substance is unsafe rather than the manufacturer proving the substance safe.

These DSHEA rules do not apply to dietary supplements intended for horses and other animals. The federal government has cited differences in metabolism of substances between humans and animals and potential safety issues with supplements used in food-producing animals as reasons to exclude animals from provisions of the DSHEA. Therefore, expressed or implied claims relating use of a product with the treatment or prevention of disease, or with an effect on the structure or function of the body in a manner distinct from what would be normally ascribed to “food” (e.g., that it does something other than provide known essential nutrients), could cause a product to be subject to regulation as an unapproved “drug.”

Dietary supplements that promise to deliver certain specific health benefits or positive performance effects for your horse may be skirting the line that separates product information from drug claims. Horse owners who are choosing dietary supplements for their equines should evaluate these statements before beginning to use the products.