Fat as an Energy Source During Injury Recovery in HorsesBy Dr. Peter Huntington · March 30, 2011
Horses require optimal nutrition during convalescence from injury. The importance of energy was discussed in a previous article.
Horses derive energy from various sources. Fat is an important energy source for all equine athletes, and it can be used to maintain a positive energy balance after an injury, particularly if pain and stress suppress appetite for a length of time.
Fat is very well digested by the horse, and its use does not lead to digestive upsets or laminitis. Common sources of fat are vegetable oil, sunflower seeds, rice bran, and premixed feeds that have added fat. A cup of oil supplies as much energy as 1.5 pounds (700 grams) of oats. Sunflower seeds contain 25-40% sunflower oil, while rice bran and full-fat soybean meal contain 20% fat.
Some premixed feeds contain no added fat while others may contain up to 10%. Look at the crude fat content on the label as this is a reliable guide to the energy content of the feed. Feeds that contain above 8% crude fat may not be as palatable to the horse as those with lower quantities.
Recycled oil should not be fed to horses, as it has a higher risk of being oxidized and containing large quantities of free fatty acids and free radicals. Do not feed rancid oil to horses. Remember that palatability is important because you will not get any benefit from the oil if the horse leaves feed. If the horse refuses feed with additional fat, you can use a concentrated low-intake product like fish oil and syringe it into the horse's mouth.
Recently attention has been placed on the omega fatty acid content of various oils, and we have become aware that there are benefits in increasing the intake of omega-3 fatty acids for horses. Oils that contain higher amounts of omega-3 fatty acids aid anti-inflammatory processes and improve immune function. Omega-6 fatty acids play an important role in initiating inflammatory responses, and it must be remembered that an initial inflammatory response is necessary for healing to take place.
More research is required before the amount or form of omega-3 fatty acid supplementation for horses can be defined. However, it has been suggested that an omega-3 to omega-6 intake ratio of 1:3-10 is acceptable.If you wish to feed high levels of omega-3 fatty acids, use fish oil (the most concentrated and potent source), linseed oil, canola oil, or soy oil. The vegetable oils contain short-chain 18-carbon omega-3 fatty acids, whereas fish oil contains the long-chain biologically active forms EPA and DHA. Most of the positive research results have occurred with supplementation of EPA and DHA from fish oil, and fish oil can be given in lower doses than the omega-3-rich vegetable oils.
Fish oil is often not very palatable and must be deodorized before horses will eat it. The benefits of feeding fat to horses do not begin immediately, and there is a time delay of four to eight weeks before the omega-3 fatty acids can be incorporated into cell membranes in sufficient quantity.
Editor's note: EO-3, a flavored fish oil supplement created by Kentucky Equine Research, is a deodorized omega-3 product.