Ask the Vet: Nutrition for the Horse

Answered by Reece Myran, DVM, Yonges Ilsand, SC
Courtesy of AAEP

Question: My 3-year-old warmblood keeps getting scratches on all four of his white stockings. I have tried every topical medication and oral medications from my veterinarian, but nothing seems to be working. I am wondering, nutrition wise, is there something I can do for him?

Answer: Does your horse have other white markings, possibly with a “sunburn” appearance? You might consider asking your vet about running some blood work on your warmblood also. I have had some success adding an Omega-3 fatty acid supplement to these horses, which seems to improve their general skin health. Also, I’d pay particular attention to keeping his feet dry: critically evaluate his pasture/turnout, and see if there are any ways to keep his feet more dry.

Question: I was wondering if Vitamin E supplementation helps a horse’s immune system? I have a 3-year-old warmblood that has four white stockings. He constantly gets scratches. I am wondering if it is diet related, grain, hay, etc.? Would it help to give him Vitamin E and an Omega-3 supplement? Also, are there any grains that you know are allergy free? 

Answer: I’ll answer your last question first: in short, it is very difficult to “prove” a grain to be an allergen to an individual horse. As a consequence, food allergies in the horse are poorly documented, but it’s reasonable to assume that if grains are true allergens, potentially all of them could be culprits. With all that said, I have had a fair amount of success supplementing horses under my care with Omega 3, which seems to generally improve immune function and skin/hair/hoof quality. Vitamin E could also be beneficial for your horse. However, not all of these products are created equally. I can’t mention any by name here, so I recommend you talk to your veterinarian about products they have tried and had success with, particularly in regards to bioavailability.

Question: I have a healthy 2-year-old that is currently receiving a healthy grain, but I want to switch to a feed with higher protein. Will that affect his temperment?

Answer: Anecdotally, a person will hear things along the lines of “higher protein will make a horse hot”. In my experience, however, protein percentage doesn’t play much of a role in a young horse’s temperament, within reason of course. For a healthy two year old, there is a range of protein content that I would consider acceptable, mostly depending on his current size, projected adult size, and breed. Somewhere in the range of 12% to 16% is acceptable. Talk to your veterinarian and get their specific recommendations. If your horse were under my care, I would base my recommendation on how “growthy” your 2-year-old appears (i.e., how much filling out of his body does he still have to accomplish).