Benefits of Omega-3 Fatty Acids in the Equine Diet

What Are Omega-3 Fatty Acids?
Omega-3 fatty acids are compounds found in our diets that are very beneficial as natural ANTI-inflammatories. Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to reduce inflammation and support immune function. We often recommend them as adjunct therapy for many conditions including:

  • Inhalant Allergies (Heaves, RAO, Equine Asthma);
  • Skin Allergies (Sweet Itch, Culicoides Hypersensitivity);
  • Other Skin Conditions (Dry Skin);
  • Respiratory Issues;
  • Arthritis and Joint Pain;
  • Reproductive Issues – Omega 3s improve fertility, and increase sperm concentration, motility and viability.; and
  • enriching colostrum quality and improving colostral antibody absorption in foals.

Are All Omega-3 Fatty Acids the same?
No. Of the omega-3 fatty acids, docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) have the most efficient biologic activity and therefore, are the most beneficial. As a result, we recommend sources that are specifically high in these types of omega-3 fatty acids.

What Are the Best Sources of DHA and EPA?
The best sources of DHA and EPA omega-3 fatty acids are fish oil, safflower and sunflower oil. This poses a challenge for horse owners because fish oil is not very palatable to our equine companions.

What Are Omega-6 Fatty Acids?
Omega-6 fatty acids are commonly found in the same sources that have omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-6 fatty acids are, however, PRO-inflammatory. Therefore, our goal is to find a source with high omega-3 fatty acids and low omega-6 fatty acids. Unfortunately, many ingredients commonly used in equine diets are low in omega-3 fatty acids and higher in omega-6 fatty acids. These include cereal grains such as oats, corn and many vegetable oils.

Where Do Flaxseed and Flaxseed Oil Fit in?
Flaxseed oil has alpha-linolenic acid in it that is converted to DHA and EPA by the body; however, it is unknown how efficiently this conversion occurs. Therefore, flaxseed and flaxseed oils are a reasonable choice, but may not be as effective as some other sources.

So, Now I Am Confused. What Do I Feed My Horse?

  • Feed your horse good quality hay and pasture. Although low in total fat content, hay and pasture have a high omega-3 to omega-6 ratio.
  • When feeding fats for weight gain, feed flaxseed oil or flaxseed. Avoid corn oil.
  • When feeding omega-3 for anti-inflammatory effects, we recommend EO-3™ from Kentucky Equine Research. However, there are several other brands on the market as well.

Are There Any Side Effects to Feeding Omega-3 Fatty Acids?
With increasing amounts of fat in the diet, some horses may develop soft stool. This is unlikely to occur when feeding fat for anti-inflammatory effects but may occur when feeding larger amounts for weight gain.