Sign Up for Newsletters

Maximizing Foal Health: Omega-3s for BroodmaresBy Kentucky Equine Research Staff · November 24, 2015

Omega-3 fatty acids are widely advocated in both equine and human medicine for a variety of conditions and disorders. Fish oil, a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids, contains both docosahexaenoic and eicosapentaenoic acids, easily referred to as  DHA and EPA. DHA is a common ingredient in many infant formulas that purportedly supports growth and development, and is thought to be equally beneficial in horses.

During recent Equine Science Society symposiums, researchers reported***, their findings on the impact of omega-3 fatty acids on foal bone metabolism, memory, and cognition.

Data in other species indicate that long-chain omega-3 fatty acids can have a positive effect on bone metabolism. In the first study, mares were fed 13 grams EPA and 11 grams of DHA daily for 60 days before the expected foaling date. Despite an increase in plasma levels of EPA and DHA in supplemented mares and foals, no effect on bone metabolism in foals from supplemented mares was noted in blood samples compared to foals from unsupplemented mares. Buist and coworkers concluded, “Further research is necessary to determine if different supplementation levels, a longer supplementation period, or feeding excess energy/protein will have an altered effect.”

In a second study, mares were supplemented with either an algal source of DHA or a placebo fat source from day 250 of gestation through day 74 of lactation. Memory recall of foals from supplemented mares was no different than the placebo group as weanlings but was superior as yearlings. Results indicate that exposure to DHA during the perinatal period may improve long-term memory recall and enhance learning ability in young horses. The cognitive benefit of DHA was confirmed in a subsequent study***, but additional research is needed before concluding that maternal DHA supplementation augments cognitive function of young horses.

“KER offers many products appropriate for breeding lactating mares, including EO•3, an omega-3 supplement rich in DHA and EPA that supports sperm motility and viability, and boosts cold shock resistance,” recommended Peter Huntington, B.V.Sc., M.A.C.V.Sc., director of nutrition at Kentucky Equine Research (Australia).

Seek the assistance of an equine nutritionist when designing diets for broodmares and avoid abrupt changes in the diet, especially late in gestation. KER nutrition advisors can help.

*Buist, S.E., J.M. Kouba, J.D. Lillich, et al. 2015. Peripartum maternal DHA/EPA supplementation and the effect on mare reproductive parameters and foal bone metabolism. Journal of Equine Veterinary Science 35(5):441.

**Hansen, T.L., A.M. Adkin, and L.K. Warren. 2013. Effect of early exposure to maternal docosahexaenoic acid on memory and cognition in weaned foals. Journal of Equine Veterinary Science 33(5):364.

***Adkin, A.M., A.V. Muniz, C.J. Mortensen, et al. 2015. Maternal fatty acid supplementation influences memory and learning ability in yearling and 2-year-old horses. Journal of Equine Veterinary Science 35(5):419.