A question that seems to come up time and time again in relation to equine nutrition is what type of oil is best for feeding to horses or ponies?
Why am I feeding oil or why should I feed oil?
The first and probably most important question in deciding which oil will be the best for your horse or pony is why are you looking to feed oil or possibly already feeding oil and looking to change or looking for reassurance that the oil you are currently feeding is the best type of oil. There are at least EIGHT different reasons why you may want to feed oil to your horse or pony.
- Feeding oil as a source of energy to aid weight gain
- As a source of non-heating energy
- As an additional source of high-density (small volume but high calorie) food for horses or ponies in hard work
- Feeding oil as an alternative energy source to starch for horses or ponies prone to stomach ulcers, laminitis and colic
- Feeding oil as an alternative energy source to starch for horses or ponies with muscle metabolic conditions such as tying-up (recurrent exertional rhabdomyolysis (RER), PSSM, etc)
- Feeding oil for its anti-inflammatory properties e.g. sweet-Itch, equine asthma or arthritis
- Feeding oil to improve skin and coat or hoof condition
- As a laxative/gastro-intestinal lubricant for horses prone to impaction colic
Knowing why you want to feed oil will help you choose which is going to be the best oil for your horse or pony.
Important oil facts
- The difference between an oil and a fat is that oils are liquid at normal temperatures whilst fats are solid.
- Oils or fats don’t contain protein or carbohydrates (starch or sugars or fibre) or minerals and very little in the way of vitamins.
- Horse and pony natural diets contain very little in the way of oils or fats.
- Whilst we can cope with as much as 80% of our total daily energy intake coming from oils and fats, a horse or pony can generally only copes with up to around 15%.
- Oils and fats fed to horses and ponies can come from plants (e.g. avocados) or from oily fish (e.g. mackerel) or from krill or algae. Interestingly algae are not classified as either plants or animals. Krill are small, marine crustaceans.
- Irrespective of where oils come from, they all contain around the same amount of energy; 35MJ per litre (8840 Calories).
- Oils are ENERGY DENSE – 300ml of OIL will provide the same amount of energy as 1kg of OATS”
- Oil should be introduced into the horse or ponies diet slowly as research has shown that it can take 12 weeks for the GI tract to adapt to increased fat.
- PUFA and MUFA are two types of oils and are considered to be more healthy than saturated fats.
- Omega 3 and Omega 6 are two types of PUFA known as essential fatty acids as the horse or pony cannot make them and must obtain them through their diet. It is considered beneficial to have an excess of omega 3 over omega 6.
- Omega 3 fatty acids are a type of PUFA and are considered to be very healthy fats/oils. Omega 3 fatty acids can be sub-divided into α-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).
- EPA and DHA have strong anti-inflammatory action and can improve skin condition, allergy, respiratory allergies and help with joint disease (arthritis).
- ALA is found in plants whilst EPA and DHA are found in fish, krill and algae. In people a small amount of ALA can be converted into EPA (~8%) and DHA (0-4%). Horses and ponies are very poor at converting ALA from plant sources into EPA and DHA. So if you want the anti-inflammatory/immune benefits of omega 3 you MUST feed a FISH OIL (e.g. salmon, cod liver oil, mackerel) or ALGAL source.
- Seaweeds are known as MACROALGAE – lots of individual algae connected together – BUT in contrast to single celled algae, they are relatively low in oil (~10%) and EPA and DHA.
- Oils and fats can easily “go-off”. Ideally don’t buy oils or oil containing feeds in clear packaging and don’t keep it in direct sunlight or warm-conditions. Oils with natural antioxidants such as rosemary extract will last longer.
- To get the most out of oil, your horse or pony should get 1 unit of Vitamin E per ml of oil.
- One of the problems of feeding fish oil or algal oil to horses and ponies is that it has a very strong smell and taste that many animals don’t like so it can be necessary to try and mask it or to use “deodorised” sources.
For more information on oil
- Podcast – Alfalfa, Camelina, Canola Oil, Baking Soda and Gastric Ulcers by Dr David Marlin
- Article – Camelina oil and Canola oil for horses with gastric ulcers
- Article – Cod Liver Oil for horses – safe or not?
- Article – Feed Materials In Focus – Is Feeding Corn Oil Good for Treating or Preventing Equine Gastric Ulcers?
- Article – Feed Materials In Focus – Why and How to Feed Oil to Horses
- Article – Linseed/Flaxseed as a feed material for horses