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What It Is & Who It’s for:
Omega 3 fatty acids are named for their chemical structure but valued for their many health benefits in the horse’s body. Believed to be essential to the diet because horses and other mammals lack the enzymes necessary to synthesize them from scratch, research in horses has demonstrated positive effects across many systems, including skin, airway, joints, hooves, reproduction, immunity, and others.
Source and Bioavailability: One of the best sources of Omega 3 fatty acids is flaxseed, which contains the highest amount of omega 3s among plants, followed closely by chia seed. Fish oil and algae are naturally high in two specific omega 3s, EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). While forages such as grass and hay do not contain high levels of fat in general, they do provide some omega 3s and the related omega 6s.
Serving Size: Because research is ongoing, there is little consensus yet among experts regarding the ideal amount of omega 3s to feed to horses. Study amounts have ranged from as much as 1 pound of flax seed to horses with “sweet itch” to as little as 1.5 grams of DHA to horses with recurrent airway obstruction. When feeding omega 3 fatty acids, it is best to begin with a small amount and increase gradually to give the horse’s digestive tract time to adapt.
Complementary Ingredients: The horse’s body requires both omega 3s and omega 6s for a proper inflammatory response, healing, and other functions, so it is important to strike the right balance between the two. Because the horse’s natural diet of grass is somewhere in the 2:1 to 4:1 ratio of omega 3s to omega 6s, it is generally recommended that the modern diet of hay and grain also fall within this range.
Toxicity/Side Effects: Flaxseed and other sources of omega 3 fatty acids have a long history of safe use in the horse. In addition, specific studies in horses looking at the effects of omega 3s have not demonstrated any adverse effects.