Wide-Reaching Effects of Hemp

Cannabinoids balance the activity of multiple body systems in all mammals.

Growing number of hemp products for dogs and horses

Hemp is trending as an ingredient in both human and animal supplements but it’s far more than just a fad. Research is showing us many uses for this versatile plant.

In his extensive review of the endocannabinoid system of animals, Robert Silver states “Our understanding of the Endocannabinoid System of animals, and its ubiquitous presence in nearly all members of Animalia, has opened the door to novel approaches ….” 1

The affinity of hemp’s phytocannabinoids for receptors in the endocannabinoid system fit perfectly with the goal of holistic natural treatments in supporting health by promoting homeostasis. Homeostasis refers to a balance between “pro” and “anti” forces in the body’s reactions. Endocannabinoids are an integral part of the homeostatic mechanism which operates in tissues at the local level. 2 Instead of blocking or disrupting the body’s reactions, they support the body’s natural response of balancing using endogenous pathways.

Gamble studied the oral bioavailability and kinetics of cannabidiol (CBD) in oil given to dogs. 3 No side effects were noted, with no changes in blood counts or serum chemistry over a 4 week treatment period. A significant improvement in movement was observed. Hemp phytocannabinoids are perfectly positioned as a new addition to established joint support ingredients such as glucosamine, chondroitin and hyaluronic acid because of their unique mode of action. They are also compatible with commonly used herbs such as Devil’s Claw and bring a new dimension to the mechanism of action of these supplements.

Although pet animal research remains to be published, owners are reporting use of hemp phytocannabinoids for calming their animals. 4 While the companion animal studies are lagging, there are over 1,000 published articles on this application for phytocannabinoids. 5 Separation distress, fear of loud noises and unusual situations or people are significant issues in dogs.

There is even an established potential role for phytocannabinoids in skin irritations.This is consistent with the known role of cannabinoid receptors in modulating skin reactions in other species.

Cannabinoid rich products have similar applications in horses. In addition, hemp seed hulls are being used as a high fiber, low simple carbohydrate feed ingredient. Fiber from the hemp plant may be used as a bedding. Hemp seed meal is receiving interest as a plant-based protein supplement with documented high digestibility. 7

The future looks bright for hemp as a functional ingredient; not because it’s trendy, but because a growing body of knowledge is showing how beneficial it can be in a wide range of applications.

1. Silver RJ. “The endocannabinoid system of animals”. Animals (Basel). 2019 Sep 16;9(9). pii: E686. doi: 10.3390/ani9090686.

2. Szabady SL et al. “Intestinal P-glycoprotein exports endocannabinoids to prevent inflammation and maintain homeostasis”. J Clin Invest. 2018 Aug 31;128(9):4044-4056. doi: 10.1172/JCI96817.

3. Gamble LJ et al. “Pharmacokinetics, safety and clinical efficacy of cannabidiol treatment of osteoarthritic dogs”. Front Vet Sci. 2018 Jul 23;5:165. doi: 10.3389/fvets.2018.00165.

4. Kogan LR et al. “Canadian dog owners’ use and perception of cannabis products”. Can Vet J. 2019 Jul;60(7):749-755.

5. Shannon S et al. “Cannabidiol in anxiety and sleep: a large case series”. Perm J. 2019;23:18-041. doi: 10.7812/TPP/18-041.

6. Campora L et al. “Cannabinoid receptor type 1 and 2 expression in the skin of healthy dogs and dogs with atopic dermatitis”. Am J Vet Res. 2012 Jul;73(7):988-95. doi: 10.2460/ajvr.73.7.988.

7. Mattila P et al. “Nutritional value of commercial protein-rich plant products”. Plant Foods Hum Nutr. 2018 Jun;73(2):108-115. doi: 10.1007/s11130-018-0660-7.

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Are Supplements Really Needed?

Odds are the answer is yes.

As the term implies, supplements are nutrients added to supplement those already present in the horse’s base diet.  At the most basic level, supplementation is done to provide nutrients that are not present in adequate amounts (deficiencies) or to correct imbalances.

A vibrant coat, healthy hooves, high energy and freedom from diseases are outward ——————————indicators of a solid diet.—————————————

It’s important to realize that nutritional problems are not necessarily a matter of life and death – although when severe they can be.  The most common scenario is a horse that is not functioning in optimal health.  This can manifest in many different ways including skin/coat issues, hoof quality, muscling, fertility, performance, bone/joint/tendon health, disease resistance and more.

The wide spectrum should be no surprise since the horse’s body does not function on air.  Growth, strengthening and the maintenance of all body systems depends on nutrition.  The horse’s body is equipped with mechanisms that allow survival in the face of nutrient issues but surviving is not the same thing as thriving.

Supplementation is more important for the horse than for you or I.  The reason is simple.  We eat a very varied diet that incorporates different foods on a day to day basis.  The horse on the other hand typically eats the same meal every meal, 24/7 for months on end.  In contrast, a feral horse will have a range of hundreds of miles, roam over as much as 20 miles a day, consuming a variety of vegetation growing on widely divergent soils and nutrient contents.

At least 50% of the horse’s diet is hay or pasture.  It is the major source of protein, vitamins and minerals.  Nationwide surveys of different hay types performed by the USDA has revealed widespread mineral deficiencies and imbalances.  Protein levels also have a wide range.  It is clear that supplementation is in order.  The question is what and how much for the individual situation.

If you  need help in deciding what you may need, use our Ask The Vet feature.

Eleanor M Kellon, VMD

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Stallion Handlers Should Be Moms

Some mom skills come in really handy – like sensing when things are too quiet and having eyes in the back of your head.  In many ways stallions are like overgrown kids.

This is not to make light of interacting with stallions. They are quick, powerful and no mere human is a match for a stallion in a flat out battle. However, the common perception of stallions as aggressive and inherently dangerous is not accurate.  They are also not sex crazed maniacs that will hurt a mare and kill foals.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Mares are much more of a threat to the stallion than the other way around and stallions are normally very protective of foals.

Stallions mellow with advanced age to rather stately and dignified gentlemen but in their younger days can be challenging.  It starts early. Colts are more active and physical than fillies, tormenting their dams from an early age with their penchant for mounting.  Rearing and mock fighting with their pasture mates is also a favorite.  As they become sexually mature, feral males form bachelor bands where they peacefully coexist but with an obvious herd hierarchy that is established through posturing and threats much more often than any actual physical contact. The posing is part of their daily interchanges with herd mates.

This behavior carries over to human interactions with domesticated stallions. The dominance  behaviors almost become a form of play where the horse is constantly trying to sneak in a nip, invade your space or keep you from entering his.  Calling his bluff with a sharp word and tap is sufficient to “win” if you are operating from a position of strength – i.e. have adequate restraint on the horse if he is out of the stall or have yourself in a position of power and movement if you are in an enclosed area with the horse loose. These encounters won’t be a once and done phenomenon.

The stallion will continue to challenge you every day and several times a day.  As handler and horse get to know one another, these exchanges can be almost invisible to an observer as a subtle change in body language communicates both the posturing and the response.  Like a mom, an experienced stallion handler can read their minds and convey the don’t-you-even-think-it message with as little as a sideways glance. The horse appears to only be quietly behaved but let someone else try to work with him and he can seem to be a different animal, immediately “in your face”. 

I’m leaving a lot out here, most notably the ground work training of breaking, leading, respecting your space, teaching the absolute zero tolerance for serious behaviors like rearing, striking and aggressive biting and making sure the animal has sufficient exercise and social interaction, with other horses at least visible. However, stallions are trainable just like mares and geldings.  On the whole, dangerous stallions are made not born.  They are a product of poor management and abysmal horsemanship coupled with excessive physical force.

It’s unfortunate that many horsepeople will go their whole lives without ever getting to know a stallion. They can be a challenge and keep you on your toes but their unique zest for life is the essence of horse.

Eleanor Kellon, VMD

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Understanding Mares

In my younger (OK, MUCH younger) days, I didn’t like mares. They seemed unpredictable and difficult compared to geldings, or even stallions. I was wrong.

In the feral society of horses, mares have tremendous responsibilities. The stallion is the lookout, will move them in times of imminent danger and directly take on predators but the day to day social management falls on the mares. The band moves whenever and wherever the alpha mare directs them. She also maintains order. All the mares below her fall into a defined social framework and do their part in policing the band.

The high level of responsibility that mares have carries over into their behavior in domestication. Mares are very sensitive to, and upset by, chaos and turmoil of any kind. They do not respond well to yelling, confrontations, disruptions or physical force. Their goal is peaceful coexistence with well being for themselves, their foals and their band mates.

A common complaint is that mares do not perform as well or consistently when in season. My first advice is – get over it! Understand that this is as basic a drive for survival as are hunger and thirst. When ovulating, announce it and breed.

You can work around this issue with management changes. Don’t expect her peak effort, although many mares with a good work ethic will suspend any estrus behavior under saddle or in harness. Do keep her distracted by exercises including many changes of direction, cavaletti, etc. or go for a relaxed cross-country walk. Picking your battles carefully is most likely to get some behavioral modification. If she vocalizes occasionally, ignore this. A little urine squirting when in the aisle is really not a big deal either. If this is too much for you to deal with, get a gelding.

Regumate (synthetic progesterone) administration has been the go-to solution for eliminating estrus behavior. It doesn’t stop cycling but because estrus is triggered by drops in progesterone it does block the outward manifestations. Drawbacks are that some mares become dull, irritable and listless (if you have ever been pregnant, you can identify) and progesterone can worsen insulin resistance.

There are herbal alternatives for mares that are impossible to work with when in season. Vitex agnus-castus aka Chasteberry supports normal hormonal function, as do combinations including raspberry leaf, magnesium and Dong Quai.

A mare treated calmly and fairly will be a willing partner but if you can really earn her trust and be admitted to her world you’re in for a special experience. One of my favorite horses of all time is a mare that came to us as the stereotypical “bitchy mare”. She was actually dangerous, would try to kick or bite anyone within range.

Her former trainer revealed he never entered her stall without a whip and had used strong arm tactics to deal with her – unsuccessfully. Observing her the first few days one thing was abundantly clear. She was miserable. After some firm but gentle definition of boundaries it was possible to give her a good examination. She had multiple physical problems – feet, joints, back, muscle. All work was suspended and she was given time to heal.

With respectful handling and her pain receding she was a new horse. She would yell in welcome and often “talk” when being groomed or treated.

Because she tended to overdo it when on turnout, we got her a goat as a companion. She became so attached she would stay by the goat and buck in place rather than tear around. Another time a litter of puppies broke into her stall and she was found standing like a statue with puppies jumping on all four legs. When on the home farm, I could leave her stall open for her to graze as she pleased because she didn’t have anywhere else she wanted to be. She was also the fastest racehorse we ever had.

There are many other stories, and anyone who has loved and been loved by a mare has a collection of their own. I just want to say that anyone avoiding mares thinking they are too difficult is really missing out!

Eleanor Kellon, VMD

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What Is “Colt Sore”?

“Colt sore” is a term used by trainers of young racehorses to describe a horse that is not progressing well in training, seeming uncomfortable and showing poor gaits but typically without any obvious source of lameness. This is often assumed to be caused by joint issues but that’s not necessarily the case.

The picture of being “colt sore” can happen at any age and in any discipline.  The most common cause is actually often overlooked completely – poor muscular adaptation. Signs of poor muscular adaptation include:

  • Poor muscular bulk
  • Tenderness on palpation
  • High resting muscle tone (hard muscles)
  • Failure to meet training milestones
  • Difficulty with more advanced movements or gaits
  • Resistance to work, appearance of vices or dangerous behavior

The horse is a tremendous natural athlete but wasn’t designed to do the sustained daily workloads we ask.  The goal of training is to stimulate strengthening and biochemical adaptations that allow the horse to do the required workloads. Part of this is inherent genetic potential, which we can’t change, but a large part is providing the targeted support which allows the horse to correctly respond to training, particularly in muscle which is the horse’s engine.

Muscle is protein, and amino acids are the building blocks of protein. Many people reach for protein when there is a muscle issue but you can’t build muscle or make it work more efficiently just by feeding more protein unless the diet is protein deficient. Even then you need high levels of specific amino acids (leucine, lysine, methionine) to make a difference.

Vitamin E and selenium in highly absorbable forms are critical to supporting the antioxidant defenses of the working muscle cell. Exercising muscle generates tremendous amounts of oxygen free radicals in the process of burning fuels for energy. The vitamin E protects membranes surrounding and inside the cells while selenium is important for maintaining activity of the most important antioxidant inside the cell’s fluids – glutathione.

Two scientifically proven supports for muscle metabolism are acetyl-L-carnitine and beta-alanine.  See this discussion for full details of their many benefits to muscle.

A common approach to a horse that is struggling despite the usual methods is to stop training and turn the horse out, which costs considerable time and money. Before going that route, try Muscle EQ. You will typically see results within 3 weeks.

Eleanor Kellon, VMD

 

 

 

 

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Potassium and Insulin

I have received several questions regarding a possible connection between high potassium intake and high insulin in horses. Spoiler: It’s not true.

Pastures have high potassium, especially in Spring, but this is not causing high insulin.

It’s true that insulin stimulates cells to take up potassium. The circulating glucose levels trigger a baseline secretion of insulin, even when fasting. This insulin works with the kidneys (below) to keep blood potassium in normal range.

In a normal, healthy pancreas inside the body,  generous levels of potassium inside the insulin secreting beta cells keeps the cells in a stable/polarized state where they do not secrete insulin. When glucose comes along and enters the cells, the channels that allow potassium in are closed, calcium enters the cell and triggers insulin release. The maintenance of high potassium levels inside cells is a common scenario in all cells.

If you take the pancreas out of the body and expose it to high concentrations of potassium, it will secrete insulin. I suppose this is where the idea of high potassium hay or pasture stimulating insulin originated. It’s not that simple.

The levels needed to release insulin are at least 300% higher than normally found in the blood. This never happens in a live horse even on a high potassium diet or with electrolyte supplements. In fact,  blood potassium that high would kill the horse. High potassium intake stimulates release of the hormone aldosterone which enhances removal of potassium by the kidneys. This is why potassium blood levels stay in normal range even on high potassium intake.

To summarize, the levels of potassium found inside a horse’s blood do not stimulate release of insulin. It takes at least three times upper normal  levels of potassium to cause insulin release. However, potassium levels are tightly regulated as high levels cause potentially fatal arrhythmias in the heart.

Hay and pasture contain 2 to 4 times more potassium than the horse needs but it has nothing to do with insulin.

Eleanor Kellon, VMD

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Electrolytes – The Battery of Life

Electrolytes are minerals existing in the body in an electrically charged, ionized form. Those with positive charges are called cations; negative charges are anions.

Electrolytes direct the movement of water throughout the body, and in and out of cells

The major electrolyte/free ion circulating in blood (the vascular space) and in the fluid surrounding cells (the extravascular space, i.e. outside the vascular space) is the cation sodium, symbolized as Na+, followed closely by the anion chloride, Cl-. Next in line, in much smaller amounts, are the cation potassium, K+ and the anion bicarbonate, HCO3-. In addition, phosphate and sulfate groups circulate as anions in low amounts, as do small amounts of free/ionized calcium and magnesium. Inside cells, potassium replaces sodium as the major ion.

A host of essential body functions depend not only on the presence of electrolytes, but also maintenance of precise concentrations of different levels of electrolytes on the inside versus the outside of cells, and even within different sections of a cell. These include:

  • The production and secretion of sweat, saliva, intestinal tract fluids, urine and mucus

  • Heart contraction

  • Intestinal movement (and other involuntary smooth muscle contraction, such as the uterus)

  • Absorption of nutrients across the intestinal wall and into the body cells

  • Skeletal muscle contraction

  • Nerve function

  • Maintenance of normal acid-base balance (pH)

  • Maintenance of normal hydration (the body containing roughly 70% water)

Sweat can  be a major source of electrolyte loss but there are daily losses in urine, manure and mucus that occur all year. Potassium, sodium and chloride are the major electrolytes of concern. Most hays provide potassium concentrations 3 to 4 times higher than need so a horse getting plenty of hay or pasture will not need potassium supplementation unless sweating heavily.

Sodium and chloride are another story.  Sodium is the major electrolyte holding water in the body. Levels are very low in the diet. Hay/pasture is the major source of chloride but levels may be borderline and horses not getting generous amounts may be deficient.

Fortunately, there is a simple solution.  Plain salt is sodium chloride. An average size adult horse requires a minimum of 1 ounce of salt per day in cool weather; 2-4 in hot weather. Salt is the only mineral for which the horse has a natural “taste”/appetite, but they do not necessarily take in the optimal amount, especially if they have been deprived of adequate salt for an extended period and/or if the only available source is a brick. It’s better to add salt to meals or dissolve and spray on hay. Use coarse, loose salt in a separate small feeder for additional  free choice intake.  Horses exercising enough to sweat will also need supplementation with an electrolyte balanced to sweat losses.

Eleanor M Kellon, VMD

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How Does Insulin Cause Laminitis?

It is now widely recognized and accepted that insulin resistance can cause laminitis.  Research has shown that it is the high insulin levels themselves that have this effect, even in normal horses that are experimentally infused with insulin.  The question remaining is how does insulin do this.

It has been suggested that high insulin levels cause inflammation and inflammatory cytokine release which then causes laminitis but research on tissue levels so far says no, that’s not the case: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24246153. Furthermore, equine obesity and blood insulin levels do not correlate with blood levels of key cytokines called Il-1, Il-6 or TNF-alpha, which are increased in human metabolic syndrome: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23216530. Likewise, levels of cytokines in fat depots were no higher in insulin resistant horses than in insulin sensitive ones: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20649750 One study did find higher levels of the cytokine TNF-alpha in ponies with a history of prior pasture associated laminitis but seven other markers of inflammation showed no difference compared to ponies that had never had laminitis: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19108899

It is known that disorders that cause severe hind gut acidosis and damage, such as overload of grains or chickory root fructan, trigger laminitis by activation of tissue destroying enzymes called matrix metalloproteinases.  That’s not the mechanism with insulin induced laminitis either: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21333362

There is one thing linked to IR that might be an important factor.  That is elevated levels of endothelin-1.  Endothelin-1 is a very potent vasoconstrictor.  High insulin exposure also causes increase in receptors for endothelin-1 within the hoof, increased resistance to blood flow, tissue edema and changes in the laminae typical for metabolic laminitis – elongation of the secondary laminae.  The detailed mechanism for the changes in the laminae is not known but the overall situation is similar to a heart attack in the feet. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=horse+laminitis+endothelin

We have much more to learn but by discarding the mechanisms that do not apply, and focusing on the unique changes associated with laminitis in insulin resistance, progress will be made in understanding the mechanism and the best way to treat these horses.

Eleanor Kellon, VMD

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Conditioning The Older Horse

I remember quite well the time when a show horse over the age of 8 or 10 was considered “old”.  Those days are long gone as the experience and levelheadedness of older horses has become appreciated.  Nevertheless, there are some special considerations with exercising an older horse.

seniors-lesson

It’s a win-win when an older horse can get basic conditioning taking care of a novice rider. [Photo NickaJack Farm]

What constitutes “old” can be highly variable.  One of my favorite mounts, a grade palomino named “Snoopy”, was being used to pony pretty fractious racehorses at the trot and canter across open farm fields when he was 35.  For most horses though, when they hit their late teens to early 20s there are age related changes that need to be taken into consideration.

The best way to keep a horse going well into their teens and twenties with no special conditioning considerations is to keep them moving all year.  Layoffs longer than 4 weeks are associated with measurable changes in muscle mass and fiber type, muscle biochemistry, exercise capacity, etc.. Regular formal exercise, even at a reduced intensity, will largely prevent this.

Whether barefoot or shod, start with a meticulously maintained physiologically sound trim.  A properly functioning hoof is a major shock absorber while one that is not in correct form creates abnormal stresses on the joints and tendons/ligaments.

One age-related concern is sarcopenia, loss of muscle mass.  This is largely preventable and even reversible with exercise but there is also a nutritional component. In both humans and horses, exercise effects are magnified by supplementation with either high grade protein (whey) or specific amino acids (lysine, threonine) even if the diet is not obviously protein deficient.  This is cheap insurance, especially if you go the essential amino acid route with 10 to 20 g of L-lysine and 2.5 to 5 g of L-threonine supplemented.

As the horse ages, tendons and ligaments become less flexible and repair capacity diminishes, to the point that it is “normal” for aged horses to have core lesions in their flexor tendons.  Older horses with Cushing’s disease are at particular risk because this weakens tendons and ligaments.  Avoid extreme up or down inclines, speed work over rough ground, slides, etc..  Conditioning cannot reverse these changes but a fit horse with good muscle tone and flexible joints is far less likely to have an injury.

Speaking of joints, few horses that have led active lives reach their later years with no issues.  Things like ringbone and hock changes are extremely common.  These may interfere with activity at times but the best management for joint issues is to keep the horse moving.  Exercise stimulates the production of growth factors and antioxidant defenses which help protect the joint cartilage.

If you find yourself faced with the task of conditioning an older horse after a long layoff, let take it slow be your mantra. Never push the horse to the point of heavy sweating and heavy breathing.  Avoid very rough ground and extreme inclines. Long walks are a great place to start. Introduce trotting in 5 to 15 minute increments and no cantering until that is well tolerated.  As with any horse, routinely check the legs for heat or swelling and palpate muscles.  Remember a negative change in attitude is often caused by pain.

Riding an older horse is one of life’s greatest pleasures.  With a little extra care and attention to detail, an older horse can continue to serve for a very long time.

Eleanor Kellon, VMD

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Delayed Shedding

Are other horses shedding like mad while yours remains woolly? Are there patches of hair that refuse to budge? Has the coat taken on a stark mustard-like color? If so, you have delayed shedding.

Delayed shedding with the bleached out coat can also be seen in foals

In older adults, the most common cause of delayed shedding is PPID – pituitary pars intermedia dysfunction, aka Cushing’s disease. The coat may also be curly and long “guard hairs” may be present on the head or belly. PPID can have serious consequences including impaired immunity, muscle loss, tendon/ligament breakdown, diabetes and laminitis.  If you suspect this, get your veterinarian involved.  The treatment is the medication pergolide.

Parasitism can cause delayed shedding and is a particularly common cause in foals.  Foals normally shed their baby coat within 3 to 4 months. The body gives nutrient preference to the key organs. As a result, alterations in the coat (and hooves) are common outward manifestations of the disrupted nutrient supply caused by parasites. This is also often accompanied by an abdominal girth out of proportion to the rest of the body. Treat with deworming drugs appropriate for the involved parasites and be sure to repeat a fecal exam 2 weeks after treatment.

Surgical removal of the thyroid gland to induce hypothyroidism delays shedding. A situation of similar severe hypothyroidism rarely, if ever, occurs under normal circumstances but thyroid function can be impaired in what is called “euthyroid sick syndrome”.  In this condition, the stress of a chronic health problem causes the body to suppress thyroid function to lower metabolism and conserve nutrients for  whatever the chronic challenge may be.  It will improve spontaneously when the underlying problem is treated.

Thyroid function can also be impacted by deficiencies of  iodine and/or selenium in the diet. Iodine is essential for the production of thyroxine hormone, T4. Selenium is needed to convert  T4 to the active form, T3.  Goitrogens in the diet can interfere with the utilization of iodine to manufacture thyroid hormones. These include nitrates from water or forage, raw soybeans, cabbage, kale, rape and turnips.

Horses that are stall-bound and getting little to no exposure to sunlight and exercise commonly are slow to shed. Light is a potent trigger and exercise improves blood flow to the skin and activation of sebaceous glands helps move out the old hair. Getting the horse out and moving is one of the best ways to speed up shedding.

Finally, malnutrition in general interferes with the normal cycle of hair production. There’s no problem in spotting an undernourished horse but  deficiencies of specific key nutrients could also cause delayed shedding. These include essential amino acids, zinc, vitamin Abiotin (and other B vitamins in horses with intestinal disease) and omega-6 essential fatty acids.

If you notice delayed shedding, don’t ignore it. Consult your  veterinarian and a nutritionist you trust to get to the bottom of the issue.

Eleanor Kellon, VMD

 

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