Your Guide to Equine Health Care

Vitamin Supplementation for Old Horses

Does your old horse need additional vitamin supplementation in his later years? An equine nutritionist explains what horse owners can do to ensure their senior horses receive proper nutrition.
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2018 KER Conference; Caring for Senior Horses: What to Remember
Old horses might need additional nutritional supplementation if they become deficient as they age. | iStock

Q: My horse will be turning 20 soon, and my barnmate told me I need to be more cautious about how I feed him vitamins and minerals to ensure I meet his daily requirements. Will his requirements change as he ages? Are there any specific vitamins he might become deficient in? 

A: Just as a human’s nutritional requirements change as they age, so will your horse’s; however, working with your veterinarian and an equine nutritionist can help you ensure he is getting the nutrition he needs during his senior years. 

Vitamin C can be particularly interesting for senior horses. In a study that looked at physiologic differences between young horses and older horses, researchers found that older horses had lower vitamin C levels overall. Of course, horses are a species, unlike humans or guinea pigs or any other animals, that can actually synthesize their own vitamin C, so we don’t know if horses just can’t produce enough vitamin C, or perhaps they use more of it because it is a pretty powerful antioxidant. This might mean that it’s necessary to supplement vitamin C if you have an older horse. 

Just like if a child ate too many vitamin C orange-flavored vitamins, oversupplying most nutrients, including vitamin C, is not a major concern because these can be excreted through the urine. However, there are some theories that oversupplying some vitamins, such as vitamin C, could inhibit the horse’s innate ability to produce them, making continued supplementation necessary. 

As horses get older, they might also become deficient in vitamin E and require supplementation, especially if they have little pasture available to them. When evaluating your horse’s vitamin E levels, it is important to analyze your horse’s diet. However, you can also ask your veterinarian for bloodwork to ensure that your horse’s vitamin E status is good.

Vitamin E is relatively safe, even in higher doses, but it can potentially prevent the absorption of other nutrients if overfed in excessive quantities. Ultimately, working with an equine nutritionist to regularly evaluate your horse’s diet, and with your veterinarian to test your horse’s blood levels will help ensure that they receive proper nutrition as they age. 

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Shannon Pratt-Phillips, PhD, received her Master of Science from the University of Kentucky and her Doctor of Philosophy from the University of Guelph, focusing on equine nutrition and exercise physiology. Pratt-Phillips joined the faculty at North Carolina State University in 2006, where she currently teaches equine nutrition in the Department of Animal Science. She is the director of the Distance Education Animal Science Programs, which includes the Master of Animal Science program, and her field of research focuses on glucose metabolism, insulin resistance, obesity, and laminitis prevention and management in horses.

2 Responses

  1. Can you provide those vitamin and mineral needs without using alfalfa meal, soy meal, wheat meddlings? Many EMS horses can not tolerate those fillers.
    Thanks.

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