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Omega-3 Fatty Acids for Horse HealthBy Kentucky Equine Research Staff · March 8, 2016

Modern equine diets tend to provide a skewed ratio of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, underproviding omega-3s and oversupplying omega-6s. Cereal grains such as oats and corn, as well as many vegetable oils, are high in omega-6s, while hay and pasture provide omega-3s, despite being low in total fat content. Canola and soy oil have an adequate omega-3 content, though still lower than the amount of omega-6 provided.

Too many omega-6s and too few omega-3s can result in excessive inflammation in the body. Therefore, having adequate amounts of omega-3s in the diet to moderate the pro-inflammatory response of the omega-6s is desirable. The most useful omega-3 fatty acids for conferring health benefits are docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), as they have the most biological activity.

Optimal levels of omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to reduce body-wide inflammation and to support immune function with specific applications for allergies, skin conditions, respiratory issues, and joint health. Reproductive benefits include improved fertility, enriched colostrum quality, enhanced passive transfer of antibodies to foals, and increased sperm concentration, motility, and viability.

Flaxseed and flaxseed oil add alpha-linolenic acid to diets, which must then be converted to DHA and EPA in the body, though this conversion process is not well understood and may be inefficient.

How can you increase the omega-3 fatty acids in your horse’s diet?

  • When feeding vegetable oil for its caloric benefits, replace corn, safflower, and sunflower oils with a product higher in omega-3 fatty acids, like canola or soy oil. Corn oil contains a ratio of 1:27, omega-3 to omega-6, while canola weighs in with a ratio of 1:2.
  • For specific omega-3 supplementation, choose a marine-derived product such as EO•3, developed by Kentucky Equine Research (KER). Fish oil has direct sources of DHA and EPA, so the benefits are more readily conferred to the body. As a point of comparison, fish oil has a ratio of 6:1, omega-3 to omega-6. Because DHA and EPA are found predominantly in fish and other aquatic life, they are sometimes referred to as “marine omega-3s.”

Would your horse benefit from DHA and EPA supplementation? Start a conversation with a KER nutrition advisor today.