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My Horse’s Mineral Status – How do I know if my horse needs a mineral

07 Jul, 2016

My Horse’s Mineral Status – How do I know if my horse needs a mineral supplement or not?

In a previous issue we discussed when a particular type of supplement may be beneficial to your horse, in this issue we will discuss the best way to determine if your horse’s mineral intake meets their requirement so you know if additional mineral supplementation might be beneficial or not.

Mineral functions and status:

Minerals play many key roles in the body – they serve as integral parts of your horse’s structure (bone, hoof, hair, blood vessels, organs, soft tissue, etc) and as co-factors in metabolic processes that keep your horse alive and healthy. The mineral status of your horse can be classified one of 4 ways: 1) adequate, 2) deficient, 3) toxic or 4) unbalanced. The only mineral status that will support optimal health and performance over a long period of time is “adequate”.

Determining mineral status:

How can you determine the mineral status of your horse? Are there blood tests, hair analysis tests, saliva tests or other diagnostic tools that we can use to determine if our horse’s mineral intake is adequate, deficient, toxic or unbalanced? The best way to evaluate the mineral status of your horse is to calculate mineral intakes based on the mineral composition of your horse’s dietary components. This is the only way to accurately know how much of each mineral your horse is ingesting and thereby also be able to determine if the amount is adequate, deficient, toxic or unbalanced with other minerals.

Hair analysis is affected by blood composition and many mineral levels in blood are controlled by homeostatic processes in the body and do not necessarily reflect dietary intake levels. Likewise, relatively few minerals are secreted in saliva so this does not provide a comprehensive way to evaluate all mineral levels we should be interested in. Additionally, performing blood analysis on some minerals such as selenium can sometimes be used to measure dietary intake status, however, it can only measure dietary intake status at that one moment in time when the blood sample is drawn. The actual blood level of certain minerals such as selenium can be affected by time of ingestion or exercise which can affect the blood level significantly. I have observed blood selenium levels in an individual horse range from “below normal range” to “within normal range” to “above normal range” back to “within normal range” in 4 consecutive blood draws completed within a period of 4 weeks even though selenium intake based on dietary composition and ingestion calculations indicated selenium intake to be “adequate”. So should the horse owner in this case be concerned about their horse’s selenium status? No, the variation in blood selenium levels in this case simply reflects the variability in blood selenium levels as affected by both dietary intake and physiological status (time since ingestion, exercise, stress, etc). Hair concentrations of certain minerals are not as variable as blood levels but they also fall short of providing a current evaluation of mineral status. For example, high selenium intake can be measured in hair selenium levels but this is measured after the fact when selenium levels in hair finally reflect the high selenium intake that occurred previously. At this point you might raise the question – but how do I know that my horse’s selenium intake level is not too high now? That’s the point – you don’t! Once again, a calculation of mineral intake based on ingredient mineral composition and intake will prove to be the superior and cheaper method to determine mineral status. In fact, when high selenium levels are measured in either blood or hair, selenium intake from the various components of the horse’s diet is then calculated to determine where the high selenium level is coming or came from. Would it not be more efficient to perform this calculation in the first place? Now you know if your horse’s selenium intake level is too high or not.

When should I determine my horse’s mineral status?

You should determine your horse’s mineral status:

  1. When your horse is symptomatic: (examples)
    1. poor hair, hoof or skin quality
    2. abnormal immune response
    3. poor digestive function
    4. poor weight maintenance
    5. insulin resistant
    6. other
  2. You make changes to your horse’s feeding program
  3. You mix your own ration using raw ingredients
  4. You mix raw ingredients such as oats or beet pulp with a commercially prepared feed
  5. Anytime you question if your horse’s mineral status is adequate or not

Where do I go to have my horse’s mineral status evaluated?

I highly recommend you utilize the services of a competent and well trained equine nutritionist to evaluate your horse’s mineral status. A trained equine nutritionist has the ability to detect problems even when mineral intakes appear normal to the untrained eye. Your feed or supplement company of choice should have a nutritionist available who is capable of evaluating your horse’s mineral status. Even if you are able to complete the required calculations yourself I still recommend having an equine nutritionist evaluate the results to detect possible adverse mineral interactions that may not be readily apparent to someone without proper training.

What do I need to complete a mineral status evaluation for my horse?

You will need the mineral composition of all components of your horse’s diet. Pasture and hay samples can be submitted to equi-analytical laboratory (www.equi-analytical.com) for mineral analysis at a reasonable cost. Feed and supplement products can also be submitted to equi-analytical labs or you can use the information provided on the product label if it is complete enough. You will also need an accurate weight, not scoops or quarts, of the amount of each dietary component your horse is actually consuming. (Note: pasture intake can be estimated based on energy requirements)

FAQ’s about minerals:

What is an acceptable calcium to phosphorus ratio?

Blood calcium levels are regulated by the body’s homeostatic processes and therefore blood calcium levels are not a reliable indication of dietary calcium status. The body always requires more calcium than phosphorus in order to properly regulate bone mineralization levels. The ideal dietary calcium to phosphorus ratio is dependent upon age and metabolic status of the horse. However, our horses do not live in an ideal world so it is always best to error on having a higher calcium to phosphorus ratio compared to the ideal than a ratio that is too low. For example, young growing horses need a calcium to phosphorus ratio of approximately 1.8 gm of calcium per gram of phosphorus while lactating mare need approximately 1.5 and mature horses need approximately 1.4 gm calcium per gram of phosphorus. A calcium to phosphorus ratio less than 1.1 gm calcium per gram of phosphorus will eventually lead to metabolic problems. However, research has indicated that horses can ingest a calcium to phosphorus ration as high as 7 gm calcium per gram of phosphorus without any adverse effects.

Which minerals can be toxic?

Selenium can be chronically toxic when fed at a rate of 10 mg per day or more for an extended period of time. Selenium can be acutely toxic (immediately toxic) if a horse receives 50 mg or more of selenium at one time.

Iodine can be toxic if fed at a rate of 50 mg or more per day for an extended period of time.

Cobalt can be toxic if fed at a rate of 50 mg or more per day for an extended period of time. (Note: cobalt levels that are receiving attention in race and performance horses are related to injected cobalt not dietary cobalt.)

What is the recommended balance between critical minerals?

Calcium to phosphorus ratio was discussed above.

Zinc to copper should be between 3 and 4 mg zinc per mg copper

Zinc to manganese should be approximately 1 mg zinc per mg manganese

Zinc and manganese to iron should be between 1 and 1.5 mg zinc or manganese per mg iron

Does high iron intake cause insulin resistance?

Not per se. In most cases high blood iron level is a result of insulin resistance and not the cause of insulin resistance. Many horses consume high iron levels with no adverse effects. That being said, high iron intake levels, especially if they are unbalanced with other trace minerals such as zinc and copper, can exacerbate insulin resistance in metabolically challenged horses. Therefore, iron intake and iron balance with other minerals in insulin resistant horses should be monitored and adjusted if necessary.

My horse is insulin resistant – how should I manage iron intake?

If your horse has been diagnosed with insulin resistance the most important parameter to manage is the balance between iron, zinc, manganese and copper as discussed above. Many horses will consume higher than required amounts of iron due to the naturally occurring iron levels in forage. However, ensuring that iron levels are brought in balance with other minerals will help minimize any negative effects of insulin resistance and accumulated iron in the body. Keep in mind that iron from forage is usually the predominant source of iron in your horse’s diet, therefore, forage iron levels should be monitored in insulin resistant horses.

Your horse’s mineral intake should be adequate if:

  1. You are feeding more than 6 pounds per day of a commercially mixed horse feed
  2. You are feeding a commercial feed designed for easy keepers and the recommended feeding rate is between 1 and 4 pounds per day.
  3. You are supplementing with a mineral supplement to ensure adequate mineral intake.
  4. The best way to supplement minerals is to top dress your horse’s daily ration with a complete mineral and vitamin supplement such as Triple Crown 30 or EquiVision’s Equine Nutrimix.
  5. Free choice mineral supplements are an acceptable means to provide supplemental minerals but are not the best choice due to the fact that voluntary intake of free choice mineral supplements by individual horses is too variable to ensure a constant and long term supply of essential minerals. Keep in mind that mineralized salt blocks are primarily salt and do not provide all essential minerals, therefore, they should be used to supplement salt but not minerals.

What is the best way to supplement minerals?

  1. The best way to supplement minerals is to top dress your horse’s daily ration with a complete mineral and vitamin supplement such as Triple Crown 30 or EquiVision’s Equine Nutrimix.
  2. Free choice mineral supplements are an acceptable means to provide supplemental minerals but are not the best choice due to the fact that voluntary intake of free choice mineral supplements by individual horses is too variable to ensure a constant and long term supply of essential minerals. Keep in mind that mineralized salt blocks are primarily salt and do not provide all essential minerals, therefore, they should be used to supplement salt but not minerals.
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