Omega-3 fatty acids have proven to be beneficial for horses with arthritis or other inflammatory conditions, but when it comes to choosing a supplement, which one is best? There are two sources of equine omega-3 fatty acid supplements–one derived from algae and fish oil and the other derived from plants. Recent research performed at Colorado State University (CSU) shows that although the equine body incorporates the two supplements differently, each has its benefits.

"(This) study, to the knowledge of the authors, is the first trial to evaluate the effects of supplemental dietary n-3 (omega) fatty acids on skeletal muscle fatty acid composition of horses," reported Tanja Hess, DVM, DSc, PhD, assistant professor of equine sciences at CSU, in the study.

Along with evaluating effects on skeletal muscle, Hess and colleagues also aimed to investigate how both a marine- and a plant-based omega-3 fatty acid supplement would affect plasma and red blood cells (RBC) in the horse.

The researchers acclimated three groups of seven horses to identical diets of alfalfa/bromegrass hay and rolled barley. The first group (marine) consumed 38 grams of a commercial algae and fish oil pellet, containing the following specific n-3 fatty acid amounts:

  • 2 g Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA, essential omega-3 fatty acid, "essential" meaning it must be obtained through the diet and cannot be synthesized by the body.);
  • 7.6 g Eicopentaenoic acid (EPA);
  • 26.6 g Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA);
  • 1.6 g Docospentaenoic acid (DPA).

The second group (plant) consumed 38 grams of a commercial ground flaxsee