Trending in the equine nutrition world are the words ‘Essential Fatty Acids” so what are they?  Do I need to add these to my horse’s diet?

We hear a lot about the three Omega 3 fatty acids Alpha Linolenic (ALA), Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA).  But did you know there are many more?

“Flaxseed ALA must be converted first by a limited supply of enzymes into EPA and DHA. As a result, only a small fraction of it has omega-3’s effects — 10%–15%, maybe less. The remaining 85%–90% gets burned up as energy or metabolized in other ways”

Mammals are unable to synthesize omega-3 fatty acids.  Supplement feeding has taken popularity with the plant based omega 3 ALA found in Flaxseed, but only a small amount as low as 5% is actually converted into the necessary EPA and DHA. Fish oil (Cod Liver Oil) & Hemp Seed Oil on the other hand provides pre-formed ready to be utilised EPA and DHA Omega 3s in the right ratio.

Surprisingly for some, Pasture grass naturally offers a ratio of 1:4 (Omega6:Omega3) it simply can’t be beaten as the best source for your horse.  When pasture is unavailable, then it is recommended by Kentucky Equine Research to supplement 60 ml/day of fish oil (or Hemp Oil). (Pagan, Lawrence, Lennox)

Omega 3 Fatty Acids:

  • Alpha linolenic acid – ALA
  • Eicosapentaenoic acid – EPA
  • Docosahexaenoic acid – DHA
  • Hexadecatrienoic acid- HTA
  • Stearidonic acid – SDA
  • Eicosatrienoic acid – ETE
  • Eicosatetraenoic acid – ETA
  • Heneicosapentaenoic acid – HPA
  • Docosapentaenoic acid – DPA
  • Tetracosapentaenoic acid
  • Tetracosahexaenoic acid

We hear about the excesses of omega 6 fatty acids in the diet.  High proportions of Omega 6 to Omega 3 fat in the diet shifts the physiological state in the tissues toward pathogenesis of many diseases. Omega 6 increase inflammation.

Animal feeds high in Omega 6 throw the correct dietary ratio out of balance.  Feeds that are proportionately too high in Omega 6 to Omega 3 are vegetable oils (soybean, cotton seed, sunflower seed, corn, grapeseed, rice bran, peanut, sesame oils) Corn oil for example has an omega 6 to omega 3 ratio of about 45:1!  Caution too with seeds like sunflower, sesame & pumpkin along with grains including corn, oats, wheat, quinoa and rice, not to be missed are legumes like soybean and peanuts that are very high in the Omega 6 fatty acids.

Omega 6 Fatty Acids:

  • Linoleic acid (LA)
  • Gamma-linolenic acid (GLA)
  • Calendic acid
  • Eicosadienoic acid
  • Dihomo-gamma-linolenic acid (DGLA)
  • Arachidonic acid (AA)
  • Docosadienoic acid
  • Adrenic acid
  • Docosapentaenoic acid
  • Tetracosatetraenoic acid
  • Tetracosapentaenoic acid

Fortifying your horse’s diet with an omega 3 of at least 2-5 to 1 of omega 6 provides key health benefits.  Bio available feed sources include Hemp Oil and Fish Oil. A healthy diet low in Omega 6 and high in Omega 3 (being naturally anti-inflammatory) can help reduce allergy symptoms.  Research indicates these additional health benefits of increased Omega 3 uptake:

  • Improved skin and hair coat quality
  • Decreased joint pain
  • Improved bone formation
  • Reproductive benefits
  • Prevention of gastric ulcers
  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Alleviate allergic hyperactivity
  • Support horses in heavy work
  • Reduce exercise-induced bronchiole constriction

Technically flax seeds and flax seed oil do not contain omega-3’s. They instead contain alpha-linolenic acid, which a body’s enzymes use as a raw material to synthesize its own EPA and DHA (omega-3 oils). Approximately 5% only convert into the necessary EPA and DHA.  Fish oil and Hemp Oil on the other hand delivers ready to use EPA and DHA.  Kentucky Equine Research recommends supplementing 60 ml/day of fish oil. (Pagan, Lawrence, Lennox)

References of interest:

Semen motility:

Heart disease and ovulation rate:

Hair growth, quality and shine:

Pain and ulcers:

Anti Inflammatory:

Bone/joint disease:

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