What are Mineral Deficiencies?
Lack of minerals in your horse’s diet can lead to serious health issues and cause your horse to feel poorly. It can be extremely difficult to diagnose mineral deficiencies in horses. For example, an imbalance of calcium within your horse’s diet can result in lameness on the front end can be many times contributed to over-exercising or an accident and not a lack of calcium within their diet.
There are certain horses that are more at risk of developing mineral deficiencies. These include young horses, up to two years of age and high performance horses. Pregnant and lactating mares are also at a higher risk. If your horse is stalled on an all hay diet and has no access to pasture forage, they are at the highest risk of developing mineral deficiencies.
With commercial horse feed that is well balanced with protein, fat, vitamins and minerals, it is not usually a horse owner’s worry that their horse has mineral deficiencies. Research the different brands of horse feed available and speak with your veterinarian about which feed is the best option for your horse.
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Symptoms of Mineral Deficiencies in Horses
You may assume that your horse is suffering from some other ailment instead of a mineral deficiency. If you notice any of these symptoms, you need to contact your veterinarian for a full physical to determine what can be done to get your horse back to optimum health.
- Chronic diarrhea
- Scruffy coat or severe coat shedding
- Chronic weight loss
- Susceptible to infections and/or diseases
- Tight or sore muscles
- Orthopedic problems
- Not wanting to move or exercise
- Severe lack of energy
- Dental issues
Causes of Mineral Deficiencies in Horses
There has been little research done on nutritional deficiencies in horses, including mineral deficiencies. Most hay is lacking in the necessary minerals to keep your horse healthy. This is because most of the fields that produce hay are overworked to the point that the soil no longer is rich with the necessary nutrients. Therefore, the hay does not contain many natural vitamins, minerals, enzymes, proteins and bacteria that a healthy horse needs to maintain their body weight and overall health.
Horses that are allowed to graze in a pasture that has not been overly grazed will obtain the necessary minerals from the forage. If the pasture has been overgrazed, your horse will need to have their diet supplemented with minerals and vitamins.
Diagnosis of Mineral Deficiencies in Horses
It can be extremely difficult for your veterinarian to properly diagnose a mineral deficiency in your horse. Your veterinarian will need to know what symptoms you have witnessed in your horse and then they will complete a full physical examination. Routine blood tests, fecal exams, and urinalysis will also be completed.
There are some blood tests that can measure certain vitamins and minerals within your horse’s body and if those come back as abnormal, then your veterinarian will know what treatments need to be started. However, many times the blood tests will appear normal even though your horse is deficient.
Process of elimination is typically used to determine the cause of your horse’s ailment. Your veterinarian will have to rule out any disease or condition that can be positively tested for before moving on the other more obscure illnesses that testing is not always reliable.
Your veterinarian will need to know about your horse’s diet, including any commercial feed they may be on as well as the ratio of hay to pasture grazing. Your horse’s diet may have the information that your veterinarian needs to make a diagnosis of a mineral deficiency.
Treatment of Mineral Deficiencies in Horses
Caution must be exercised when correcting a mineral imbalance in your horse’s diet to ensure that your horse is not given too much of the mineral and cause even more health issues. Follow your veterinarian’s instructions to ensure that your horse is properly treated.
Your veterinarian will set up a treatment plan that will treat the symptoms that have presented. In severe cases, your horse may need to be hospitalized until the deficiency is corrected and no more symptoms are present.
In mild cases, a simple change of diet may be the only thing required. Adding a quality commercial feed to your horse’s all hay diet is an option if you do not have a nutrient rich pasture available for your horse to graze. However, it is unusual for a mineral deficiency in your horse to be detected until your horse’s health is severely affected.
Recovery of Mineral Deficiencies in Horses
Depending on the severity of the symptoms that are present, your horse’s prognosis is guarded. Once your veterinarian sees how your horse responds to treatments, a more precise prognosis will be given.
Researching your horse’s nutritional needs and determining which feed is the best choice for your horse is paramount in keeping them healthy. Do not feed an all hay diet to your horse; instead, add a balanced commercial feed if pasture grazing is not an option.
Feed your horse regularly, generally more than twice a day to keep their digestive tracts properly moving and prevent problems from arising. Do not feed overly processed, frozen, sweetened or dusty feed; this includes hay.