7 Tips for Equine Immune Health
With everything going on in the world right now, keeping our immune systems strong has never been more important. The way I see it, prioritizing immune health means being proactive and taking preventative measures against illness and disease so that we’re not left defenseless if or when we’re exposed. Our bodies have a natural defense mechanism against invaders, after all, and the same is true of horses.
Unfortunately, in this day and age, many factors are working against the immune system, even from birth. Toxins–passed from mother to child, as well as from the environment–are nearly impossible to escape. Pastures and farm fields may be depleted of critical nutrients and stress can be an ever-present factor, too. Though we may not be able to prevent everything, that doesn’t mean we can’t do something. So with that in mind, here are seven tips for keeping your horse’s immune system strong:
1.) Keep Stress to a Minimum: Stress is one of the biggest offenders when it comes to weakening the immune system, and chronic stress makes horses more prone to illness. One of the most common stressors for horses is an empty stomach, which can easily be remedied by using a slow feeder or changing your horse’s management to allow for plenty of pasture time. Other stressors for horses include being housed alone, high instensity exercise, and travel.
If you’d like to read more about how stress affects horses and how you can minimize it, check out a few of my past posts:
2.) Add Omegas and Antioxidants: Quality pasture can provide many of the vitamins and minerals a horse needs, but horses on a hay-only diet or on poorer pasture can become deficient in omega-3‘s and certain antioxidants, such as vitamins E and A. Older or stressed horses may benefit from supplementation of Vitamin C as well.
3.) Ensure Other Key Nutrient Needs Are Met. The trace minerals copper, zinc, and selenium also play important roles in immune function and are commonly deficient in forage. However, when supplementing these minerals, be sure to feed in the correct amounts, especially selenium which can be toxic at certain levels.
4.) Consider Herbs: Several herbs can help promote a healthy immune system and are great to feed your horse during times of stress or even as a preventative. These include:
5.) Pay Attention to Protein Quality: Many people misunderstand protein, assuming more is better, but with horses, quality is more important than quantity, especially when it comes to keeping the immune system strong. Keep in mind that the average horse gets plenty of protein from forage alone, but horses in hard work, pregnant/lactating or growing horses, as well as older horses may need more in the way of protein. You don’t necessarily need a fancy protein supplement or high-protein feed in these cases though; adding some alfalfa or another type of legume hay, split peas, or even flaxseed meal is a great way to add quality protein.
6.) Avoid Overuse of NSAID’s: Non-steroidal anti-inflammatories weaken the immune system, and though they may be called for in certain circumstances, you should avoid relying on them as your go-to pain management treatment. Consider using alternatives such as turmeric or devil’s claw instead. Here are a few past posts I’ve done related to NSAID alternatives:
7.) Prevent Problems with Pro or Pre-Biotics
You’ve probably heard it said that somewhere around 70% of the immune system is housed inside the gut, so it makes since why nutrition would be so important in keeping the immune system healthy. We should also consider supporting the good bacteria in our horse’s gut with pro or pre-biotics. Here are a couple of past posts on that topic:
Sources and Further Reading