Nutrients that Influence Hoof Health
The nutritional demands of domesticated modern horses are much different than the nutritional demands of wild horses. A myriad of feed stuffs and supplements have been developed and marketed in reaction to these changing needs. While proper supplementation can provide numerous benefits, insufficient or excessive supplementation of any nutrient can be detrimental for hoof health.
Methionine, proline, glycine and glutamine are some of the amino acids that are major protein building blocks of healthy connective tissue (hooves are primarily composed of connective tissue). An imbalance of the amino acid ratio leads to inefficient protein production.
Tyrosine and Iodine
The amino acid tyrosine and the mineral iodine are components of thyroid hormone. A deficiency of either of these nutrients can lead to low thyroid function, obesity, and poor hair coat and hoof quality. The relationship between tyrosine, iodine, hoof problems and obesity is very strong.
Methionine is important for the proper utilization of lipids and for building the sulfur crosslinks that add strength to connective tissue. Methionine is a sulfur containing amino acid that is commonly deficient in grasses and grains.
Vitamins are necessary for many metabolic processes and the general health of the horse and the hooves.
Either an excess or deficiency of vitamin A can result in poor hoof quality and predispose the invasion of microorganisms into the hoof wall, creating a hoof defect pattern in which the outer hoof wall flakes off. Hair-like projections emerging from the hoof wall or the sole of a horse’s hoof is also an indicator of Vitamin A excess or deficiency.
Vitamin C, along with copper, serves as a catalyst in the formation of strong and healthy horn. Supplementation of vitamin C, or ascorbic acid, is traditionally believed to be unnecessary in horses. However, research conducted by Dr. Frank Gravlee, founder of Life Data Labs, established that stabled or stressed horses often have minimal blood levels of ascorbic acid and can therefore benefit from vitamin C supplementation.
Biotin is necessary as a coenzyme for a multitude of metabolic functions, and is significantly important in the proper growth and strength of connective tissue. Supplementation of biotin is safe because it is a water soluble vitamin, which means biotin is not stored in the body in any significant amounts. Biotin is found naturally in pasture grasses and in many feedstuffs fed to horses. Hindgut microbes normally manufacture sufficient biotin to meet the horse’s daily requirement.
Minerals are responsible for the structural integrity of the body, energy production, immune health, and perform other functions such as co-factors for enzymatic and metabolic reactions.
Copper is a mineral that is an important component of a multitude of metabolic functions. Copper deficiency leads to a number of abnormal conditions, including defects in the pigmentation and strength of the hooves. Forages can be copper deficient, especially if grown in high rainfall areas.
Zinc is a mineral required for the healthy maturing of keratin – a major component of the outer layers of dermal tissue. Proper keratin formation is important for wound healing, skin health, and hoof structure. Zinc can be present in less than ideal levels in forages.
Calcium and Phosphorus
Calcium provides the adhesive “welds” between cells. Excess phosphorus in the diet can interfere with calcium absorption. In the presence of hoof problems, bran should not be fed. Whether it’s from wheat, rice, oats or other grains, bran contains phytates. Phytates block the absorption of calcium predisposing the horse to a calcium deficiency and other mineral imbalances. Calcium deficiency results in crumbly hoof horn.
Sulfur is required to build the strong cross links necessary for healthy hoof horn. However, excessive sulfur interferes with copper metabolism leading to weak connective tissue structure and poor hoof quality.
We are unaware of a selenium deficiency causing poor hoof quality. A selenium deficiency in horses will lead to other problems such as muscle deterioration long before any effects could potentially develop in the hooves. However, horses supplemented with excessive selenium develop a lack of structure in the hoof horn. The excess selenium replaces the stronger sulfur bonds resulting in weak hoof horn. As selenium toxicity progresses, the outer hoof wall becomes brittle, noticeable horizontal rings appear, pain develops at the coronary band, and the outer hoof wall may slough.
Fatty acids and phospholipids
Fatty acids and phospholipids (phosphatidylcholine) add strength and pliability to connective tissues of the hooves, are critical for healthy moisture balance, and are necessary for a healthy, shiny coat. Phospholipids are important for healthy cell membranes.
We are faced with the nutrition challenge to fortify the horse’s hoof health without producing nutrient excesses and/or deficiencies. When choosing a hoof supplement, ask your farrier which one does he or she recommends. Chances are it’ll be Farrier’s Formula®, the #1 recommended hoof supplement by Farriers in the USA.
J. Frank Gravlee, DVM, MS, CNS
Founder of Life Data Labs, Inc.
H. Scott Gravlee, DVM, CNS
Equine Nutrition Consultant