The Role of Nutrition in Equine Hoof Health
By Dr. Daniel J. Burke, Ph.D.
Director of Equine Nutrition, Tribute Equine Nutrition/Kalmbach Feeds, Inc.
The horse’s environment and genetics play a significant role in the quality of hooves. Genes were inherited from the sire and dam at conception and in turn express specific traits, but cannot be changed. Environment is comprised of everything else that affects the horse, including nutrition, hoof care, management practices, health care, and more.
FACTORS AFFECTING HOOF GROWTH
General factors include the following, the last three being of significant importance:
- Metabolic rate
- Hoof care – trimming and shoeing
- Environmental temperature and moisture
Nutritional factors include:
- Energy (calorie) intake, which relates to growth rate of hooves.
- Calorie sources: (A) Sugar/starch, which can be related to laminitis; and (B) Fat/fibre, which are safer calorie sources than sugar and starch.
- Protein (amino acids) influence the growth rate and quality of hooves. Amino acids affect the metabolism of the hoof and should be in appropriate intake amounts – a balance of amino acids is more important than mere protein intake.
- Minerals: zinc and calcium.
- Vitamins: biotin and vitamin A.
Photo courtesy of Tribute Equine Nutrition
Dry, brittle hooves
Defects can occur in either or both of two major layers of the hoof wall. Nutritional contributors differ between layers, but because the affected layer cannot be differentiated in the field, all relevant nutrients must be addressed.
The most likely to be involved are zinc, the amino acid methionine and, in some cases, biotin. Biotin seems to help the most in horses with genetically poor hooves, especially Thoroughbreds and draft horses.
The organic form of zinc is absorbed more readily than inorganic forms, thus is more effective in supporting hoof health.
White line disease
White line disease is a progressive separation of the inner zone of the hoof wall, beginning at the sole. The separation occurs in the non-pigmented horn at the junction between the two main layers of the hoof horn. Opportunistic bacteria or fungi may invade the separation and cause further disease. Field studies suggest that a higher dietary level of iodine, an anti-fungal, may help resolve white line disease over a period of weeks.
Tribute’s new hoof supplement, Tough As Nails, is formulated with well-balanced amino acids, including methionine, higher levels of organic zinc, and higher but safe levels of iodine, and is proven in field studies to help improve and maintain hoof health.
Laminitis is inflammation of the sensitive structures in the hoof called the lamellae. The lamellae hold the coffin bone tight within the hoof horn. This condition is extremely painful and can lead to rotation of the coffin bone known as founder.
Nutritional causes are related to a high intake of sugar and starch, primarily from high intake of grain mixes that are high in cereal grains and molasses. Another common cause of laminitis is overconsumption of pasture grass, especially when the grass is actively growing, typically in the spring or after a good rain.
Minimizing the horse’s sugar and starch per meal is the best way to prevent or manage laminitis. Feeding low amounts of sugar/starch, or a low sugar/starch product like Tribute’s Essential K or Kalm N EZ in multiple meals per day is the best approach.
Visit Tribute Equine Nutrition for more information.
This information was contributed by Tribute Equine Nutrition.
Main article photo: Waltenberry, courtesy of Tribute Equine Nutrition