Omega-9 Fatty Acids for HorsesBy Dr. Clarissa Brown-Douglas · July 26, 2011

Many horse owners and managers know that omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids play important roles as precursors in the production of local hormones known as eicosanoids. But what about omega-9 fatty acids? Increasing interest surrounds omega-9 fatty acids and whether or not they are just as important as the others.

Omega-9 fats are the most abundant in nature, and most oil products contain them. The two most common fatty acids highest in omega-9 fats are oleic acid, which is the main component of olive oil, and erucic acid, which is the main component of canola oil.

Omega-3 and -6 fatty acids are long-chain polyunsaturated fats. They contain more than one (poly) double bond (unsaturated) between the carbon atoms in the fat. Omega-9 fats are monounsaturated because they only have one double bond that is in the ninth position of the carbon chain.

Companies selling omega oils will state that omega-9 fatty acids need to be provided in the horse’s diet to support the actions of omega-3 and -6, which is not entirely true as the horse can manufacture omega-9 fats in the body.

Unlike omega-3 and -6, which are essential in the diet, omega-9 fats are considered nonessential fatty acids because the animal can synthesise omega-9 fats in its body from other unsaturated fats. Omega-9 fats do not contribute to the production of eicosanoids, and thus do not partake in the anti-inflammatory and other beneficial pathways that omega-3 fats contribute to.

Horses are often fed diets composed entirely of grain mixes and hay. Such diets are rich in omega-6 fatty acids but extremely low in omega-3 fatty acids. To help counteract this imbalance, horses should be supplemented with omega-3 fatty acids, the richest sources of which are fish oils. Once there is balance with omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids there need not be concern for the omega-9 fatty acids, but adding a little canola oil can give reassurance that there will be a complement of fats in the horse’s diet.

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