Diatomaceous Earth for Horses
I don’t recall where I first heard about Diatomaceous Earth (DE), but I do remember wondering what in the heck it was when I first saw that strange name. As a former science teacher, I knew the root word–diatom, a one-celled plant—but I still wasn’t exactly sure what this product was or why people were feeding it to horses.
Well, I would soon learn more about DE, and after reading Joe Camp’s book, The Soul of a Horse: Life Lessons from the Herd, I decided to give it a try for myself. I was hoping to reduce my dependency on chemical dewormers and DE seemed like a good way to start.
My horses ate the fine white powder mixed in their feed willingly enough, but eventually I forgot to keep feeding it, and DE and its proclaimed health benefits slipped from my mind.
But since my last fecal egg count (FEC) revealed that two of my horses were carrying a medium worm load, I decided to start my horses back on DE once again to see if it would help. My plan is to use it for a month or so and then re-test.
But since DE has other benefits aside from its supposed parasite control benefits, I figured it was worthy of a blog post.
Increases Mineral Absorption
DE is a made up of fossilized diatoms and is found in ancient sea beds all over the world, including the U.S. Because of its high silica content, one of the most well-known benefits of DE is its ability to help the body absorb calcium as well as other minerals. Studies have also shown that dietary silica is beneficial for bone and connective tissue health.
DE is also said to absorb many toxic agents, including mercury and other heavy metals, pesticide and drug residue, e-coli, and even some viruses. It works in a similar way to antioxidants, helping to fight free radical damage. After consumption, silica particles carry an electrical charge which attaches to free radicals and other harmful toxins, allowing them to be excreted from the body through sweat, urine, or feces.
DE is also commonly used around yards and household to kill insects. It works by absorbing lipids from the insect’s waxy exoskeleton and causing them to die of dehydration. Some feed companies run DE through their mills in order to get rid of grain moths and weevils.
DE can also be used around the barn and pasture to help eliminate unwanted insects such as cockroaches, ants, flies, etc. Additionally, it may help control flies simply by feeding it since the undigested portion can pass through manure and kill fly larvae after flies lay their eggs in the manure.
Many people do feed DE as a form of parasite control, and the belief is that the microscopically sharp edges can perforate the outer protective layer of parasites and cause them to dehydrate, just like it does insects. One study did show that hens fed DE had lower FEC’s than a control group. These hens also produced more eggs and consumed more feed than the control group.
If DE improves mineral absorption and detoxifies the body, then it’s going to automatically strengthen the immune system and improve the health of the horse. And in my opinion, a horse with a strong immune system is less likely to carry a high worm load.
As I stated earlier, I haven’t completely made up my mind as to DE’s parasite control claims, but being that it has several other benefits, I still believe it can be beneficial to feed and also use around the barn.
Cautions with DE
There are two important cautions everyone should be aware of when using DE. Number one, it is essential that you only use FOOD GRADE diatomaceous earth. Pool Filter grade diatomaceous earth has been heat and chemically treated and is TOXIC if consumed by animals or humans.
The second caution involves taking care not to breathe in DE when mixing or feeding it to horses or other animals. DE is a very fine powder that can easily be inhaled and cause respiratory problems.
Sources and Further Reading