Fish Oil as an Omega-3 Source for Horses
A: Indeed, horses do not eat fish as part of their natural diet, although horses in Iceland are sometimes fed salted herrings in winter as a way of providing protein. Owners providing their horses fish oil, however, are not doing it for the protein, because the oil doesn’t contain protein. Rather they’re doing as a way of providing supplemental omega-3 fatty acids.
Long-chain poly-unsaturated fatty acids are essential fatty acids (EFAs), which horses require in their diets, and are often referred to as omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. In other species the commonly recognized EFA’s are linoleic acid (LA, 18:2, n-6) and linolenic acid (ALA, 18:3, n-3). The guidelines in the 2007 National Research Council’s (NRC) Nutrient Requirements of Horses for feeding horses suggests a dietary intake of LA of 0.5% of dry matter intake per day. However, the NRC makes no such recommendation for equine ALA intake. Fresh grass tends to provide a good source of plant-based ALA, often in amounts greater than LA.
Research shows that supplementing diets with plant-based omega-3 fatty acids alters the fatty acid composition of cell membranes, as well as decreases the synthesis of inflammatory mediators. Feeding a pound of flax seed (a rich sources of ALA) per day to horses suffering from sweet itch was associated with a significant decrease in reactivity to the Culicoides extract used during intradermal allergy
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