How to Choose Quality Nutritional Supplements for Your Horse

Use SMART supplementation strategies and the ACCLAIM system to find a quality product.
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How to Choose Quality Nutritional Supplements for Your Horse
When choosing a quality supplement, follow the SMART supplementation strategies. | Photo: Jennifer Whittle/The Horse

Equine nutritional supplements have become so popular that many owners view them as staples rather than simple additives. Further, manufacturers have designed and marketed these supplements so successfully that horses often receive several products per day to manage various conditions. For example, one study reported that certain populations of competitive horses receive about four nutritional supplements a day (Williams CA et al., 2012).

Offering multiple nutritional supplements can have a number of outcomes, not all of which are beneficial:

  1. Your horse flourishes at the hands of supplementation, benefiting from targeted nutrition strategies.

This is an ideal situation. Having your veterinarians evaluate your horse’s physical condition frequently and reviewing his diet will help achieve the maximal response to any supplementation regime.

  1. An oversupplemented horse receives an excess of certain nutrients.

While this approach might address several health issues simultaneously, nutritional supplements are expensive, making offering excessive nutrients uneconomical. Further, dietary imbalances might develop secondary to oversupplementation that can potentially result in deleterious nutrient interactions. A classic example of this is vitamin E—a popular nutritional supplement. High levels of vitamin E can lower systemic beta-carotene levels, which can potentially result in a vitamin A deficiency. Further, excess nutrients excreted in urine and feces negatively affect the environment.

  1. You don’t see any response.

In this case you must take a step back and critically assess the situation. Is your horse not responding because the diagnosis is incorrect and you are supplementing the wrong product? Or is the product you are offering not up to snuff? In other words, does your selected supplement actually contain the type and amount of ingredient listed on the product label? Because the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t regulate nutritional supplements, poor-quality supplements can surreptitiously infiltrate the market.

When choosing a quality supplement, follow the SMART supplementation strategies:

S—Shop Around. Do your research to identify a quality product most likely to contain the type and amount of active ingredient the label claims. When comparing products, use the ACCLAIM system:

A name you recognize? Do you recognize the manufacturer? Look for products manufactured by established companies that provide educational materials for veterinarians and consumers.

Clinical experience. Companies that support clinical research and test their products for safety, efficacy, and bioavailability with results published in peer-reviewed journals are more likely to have quality products.

Contents. The product label should include all active and inactive ingredients/fillers.

Label claims. Supplements with realistic label claims based on scientific study results, rather than testimonials, are preferable. Avoid products with illegal claims to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent a disease.

Administration recommendations. Look for products with clear administration recommendations with the recommended dosages based on published clinical trials.

Ingredients. Products with some form of pre- and/or post-market surveillance in place and companies that have voluntarily instituted current Good Manufacturing Practices (cGMPs) and other quality-control and -assurance techniques are more likely to be reputable.

Manufacturer information. This should be clearly stated on the label, preferably in concert with contact information or a website for customer support.

M—Monitor Response. Nutritional supplements can take effect immediately or might require prolonged administration prior to having a notable response. Always watch for adverse effects.

A—Avoid Double Dipping/Mixing. Many drug-nutrient interactions can affect the way horses’ bodies metabolize exogenous substances. Offering several medications or supplements might result in unexpected side effects.

R—Re-evaluate Your Choices. If the product is not having the expected effect, consider alternate dosing, sources, or management strategy.

T—Talk to an Expert. Always consult your veterinarian before using any new supplement.

Originally designed for joint supplements, these strategies can be adopted to any nutritional supplement to help horse owners get the most bang from their hard-earned bucks.

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Written by:

Stacey Oke, MSc, DVM, is a practicing veterinarian and freelance medical writer and editor. She is interested in both large and small animals, as well as complementary and alternative medicine. Since 2005, she’s worked as a research consultant for nutritional supplement companies, assisted physicians and veterinarians in publishing research articles and textbooks, and written for a number of educational magazines and websites.

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