The Benefits of B Vitamins
B vitamins are one of those things–you hear your horse needs them and that some people supplement them, but you might not exactly know why. Or if you’re like me, you learn why they’re important, and then you forget because your head is so full of equine nutrition information!
But while writing an article for someone else, I was recently reminded of the importance of B vitamins. Enough so, that I decided to devote a blog post to them.
What Are B-Vitamins?
B-vitamins are a group of water-soluble vitamins, each with a distinct function. Because they are water soluble, they are not stored in the body, but instead, rapidly excreted in urine. Horses can manufacture most of their own B vitamins through microflora (bacteria) in the hind gut, but B vitamins are also supplemented in the diet via pasture and good-quality hay. B-12 is the only B vitamin not produced in plants, so the horse must rely on the supply from hand gut bacteria.
Function of B Vitamins
The B vitamins include:
Thiamine (B-1): Helps make new healthy cells, protects the immune system, aids in carbohydrate digestion
Riboflavin (B-2): Antioxidant which protects cells, important for red blood cell production
Niacin (B-3): Aids in the metabolism of fats, carbohydrates, and amino acids (protein), promotes blood flow to the extremities
Pantothenic acid (B-5): Helps with fat and carbohydrate digestion, produces sex and stress-related hormones
Pyridoxine (B-6): Helps in serotonin, melatonin, and norepinephrine (stress hormone) production
Biotin (B-7): Associated with healthy hoof growth, maintains steady blood sugar levels
Folate (B-9): Involved in DNA and methionine (an amino acid) creation, especially important for pregnant mares
Cobalamin (B-12): works with B-9 to produce red blood cells and create hemoglobin (oxygen-carrying protein in blood)
And in case you’re wondering what happened to B-4, B-8, B-10, and B-11, these are no longer considered or labeled as vitamins since they aren’t required for normal growth or needed in the diet. However, you may still see some of them added to certain supplements.
Why Supplement B Vitamins?
The majority of horses on good pasture and/or with good-quality hay do not need B vitamin supplementation. However, some horses can benefit from added B vitamins. For example:
- When forage quality is low;
- During high stress situations such as transport, endurance riding, training, or racing;
- During prolonged illness which results in loss of appetite;
- During or after broad spectrum antibiotics (where gut microflora are compromised);
- For horses with compromised digestive systems (diarrhea, recovering from high parasite loads, etc.);
- For young horses with incomplete gut microflora populations; and/or
- For older horses with diminished digestive efficiency.
Ways to Supplement B Vitamins
Most complete feeds will include B vitamins, but in order for your horse to get the full benefits, you must feed the recommended amount of feed. Since many people don’t want to do that, one of the easiest and most inexpensive ways to supplement B vitamins is to feed yeast. Brewer’s yeast is probably the most popular form to feed to horses, however you can also feed nutritional yeast, or selenium yeast.
There are also a number of vitamin B supplements geared towards horses, such as this one.
So yes, B vitamins are very important, but no, not every horse needs supplementation. Hopefully the information provided here has shed some light on this group of vitamins for you.
Sources and Further Reading