Iron Overload in Horses


Hi! My name is Casie Bazay. I'm a mom, a freelance writer, and a certified equine acupressure practitioner.

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39 Responses

  1. Tina Bolton says:

    I find this article very interesting. In Oct 2011 I bought a filly and after about 6 weeks I was dumbfounded as to why her coat looked dull and felt rough, no shine at all. After about 4 months I decided to have a mineral analysis done and the analysis showed my mare is sensitive to sugars, she had off the charts levels of other minerals and one was iron. I was advised to never give her red cell, (which I haven’t). Now I read this article that states IR are likely to have high levels of iron. Changing my mares diet to remove all molasses and sugars, has made a big difference in her appearance and attitude. I wish more people and especially Veterinarians would have mineral analysis test run on their horses, takes so much guess work out of feeding.

    • then5925 says:

      Yes, there definitely seems to be a link between excess iron in the diet and IR. As far as I’m concerned, no feed or supplement should have added iron as horses likely get plenty of iron from pasture, hay, dirt, and water. Horses rarely seem to suffer from iron-related anemia either. Glad you found the problem with your filly though!

  2. Susan says:

    I have a horse with dull coat, all the hoof problems listed, seems to IR – BUT when a CBC is done he is low in iron! Any ideas what could be going on or how to address this?

  3. Rodger Pyle says:

    Nice article and thank you. I have been trying to get across to a couple of my client as to why they are having hoof wall connection problems. I sent them your link.

  4. Susan says:

    We have a lot of iron in our water. While I am not seeing any problems in my horses; is this something I should be concerned about?

    • then5925 says:

      If the iron in the overall diet (including water) is high, it can create a problem with the absorption of zinc and copper. That’s what I would be most concerned about since most horses are already deficient in these two minerals. Might be a good idea to supplement zinc/ copper to bring the trace mineral ratio into balance.

  5. vickie says:

    I’m really struggling with grazing over in the uk… for 12 years, grass ad-lib in summer and ad-lib hay with a little hard feed has been enough to keep both my tb and tbx in prime condition, beautiful coats, weight, hooves etc. in the last year or two, they’re having chronic hoof problems on both, though the grass especially. after abscesses in quick succession in both horses, following brittle hooves, the hard-feed started. now the old gelding is becoming stiff and although they both have good coat condition, the mare is stripping weight off the topline fast (stabled due to hoof problems by vets orders) and their hooves are deteriorating. there appears to be a recurrent thrush infection that just won’t clear out on them all, the gelding is still growing out the false sole from last summer’s abscess, the mares feet are so soft the walls are flaring instead of supporting the weight and growing down. It has been particularly warm and wet without the usual freeze here the last couple years and the vet thinks the warm, wet weather along with the subsequent change in the grass nutrients is at fault. I don’t know whether an all-round balancer would be the best approach, or if there is a specific area to try instead of o/d things they may already have in excess as symptoms look similar to excess iron… so far we’re using ‘happy hoof’ along with ‘sixteen plus mix’ seaweed, oil and garlic licks and a similar based maintenance nut, along with ‘biotin plus’ with added zinc….. they’ve been purple-sprayed, tarred, hp’d, kerratex’d, hibiscrubbed and Epsom tubbed, all to no avail and everything has had pleanty trial time, any advise?

    • Susan says:

      Because our water is high in iron we have started out horses on a supplement called Avila. It is from ZinPro . It is Cu, Zn,manganese and cobalt.

      We had a horse with all of the discussed issues who foundered last year and had to be put down. I think this would have helped him. I would have also not fed garlic to him…I would have tried Tumeric, with oil and pepper….it is heart breaking to have a horse with an uncontrollable issue. I wish you the best of luck. He was on Prascend for Cushings like issues…I would have switched to Metformin. Best of luck

    • Casie says:

      Hi Vickie–sorry to hear about your horses. I know it can be frustrating. I’m not sure what’s in the supplements you’re using, but I’m guessing they probably don’t have near enough zinc or copper–most supplements don’t. I also wouldn’t feed one if it had any iron at all in it. You can buy zinc and copper individually, but you would just be guessing at how much to feed if you don’t have a hay analysis. The only mineral supplement I know of with plentiful zinc/ copper is California Trace. Not sure if it’s available in the UK though. There is another company that might have a good one and that’s Forage Plus located in Wales.

      I would also be concerned with providing the garlic lick (on a continual basis anyways) as too much garlic can cause Heinz body anemia. Also, what type of concentrate and hay are you feeding? That can make a big difference as well. And to me, allowing for plenty of movement is more important than keeping a horse stalled to ‘correct’ hoof problems. . .


      • vickie says:

        thankyou for the replies, after a little re-buffing of feeds we did nock out the garlic and seaweed as the garlic seems to have more cons than pros as far as supplementing for health goes and the seaweed didn’t seem to be making any difference in growth rates… the biotin mix hasn’t been making any difference at all and most feeds have way below maintenance levels in them… along with most things. the 16+ mix seems to have good ratios of vitamins and minerals, though a call to the company will follow tomorrow to find out doses as most bags don’t say how much is in there. I really am struggling to find any sort of balancer without added iron at the minute, its a nightmare! the mare (with the nightmare hooves) has recently been switched onto ‘mare and youngstock’ mix, not ideal but seems to be the only feed with enough copper in it so far… the topline seems better after a week on it, but its obviously a stop-gap atm… i’ll be looking into the suggested feeds in the morning too, i’d really prefer to add as much as possible in single powder form rather than adding who-knows-what to their diets. the mare, unfortunately, had an op on her heel after a light overreach injury on her heel (which again was rubbish condition and underrun) cleaved the side off and is on restricted movement, battling proud flesh which she is naturally prone to. our Fleur seems to be another one of those horses everything happens to… poor thing 🙁 I’m giving it a few weeks before we have bloods done, its false economy carrying on like this. We are just away to get our first order of hay from a different area, we have always been using the meadow hay from next door, i’m guessing any difficiency we have would be in the hay too

  6. vickie says:

    *meant to add the hard feed and hay are stabled at winter only and hay is off the field next door

  7. Interesting blog, thank you. I have a question for you! Do you think a rusty trough will be contributing to iron overload in my horses? I have one trough that is old and rust spots form on it in spite of regular cleaning. The water does become discoloured but they drink it happily. I’m about to stop using it – just in case.

    • Susan says:

      I would love to know the answer to this too! We have high iron content in our water and soil. We give a mineral supplement to try and balance what the horses get. It is Zinpro Availa 4.

    • Casie says:

      Hi Linda–Here is a quote from Dr. Kellon, “Usually the forage or water supply does not have to be changed to correct the associated problems. It is the total iron intake that is the problem. That total can be reduced by eliminating supplemental source of iron in the grain-sweet feeds formula and supplements, including phosphorus mineral sources high in iron content.” If you’re at all concerned about the rust, I would go ahead and switch to a different tank though. Definitely wouldn’t hurt.

  8. Iron overload is to a big part due to feeding hay grown on alfisol soil. Alfisol soil is soil with a low pH, which promotes iron absorption into the plants. Seems like Timothy hay is mostly affected. You won’t necessarily see the iron overload in the serum, you have to test the body cell itself, since heavy metals get eliminated from the blood and stored in tissue. I have great results in shifting horses with IR, EMS and even Cushings to a hay lower in iron, detoxing from iron and adding Copper to the diet. US areas with low pH soils seem to have a higher rate of IR horses. We routinely perform a ‘metabolic make-over on these IR horses. Once detoxed, balanced in minerals and on the right calorie-and protein intake, these horses do not have any problems any more.

    • Casie says:

      Very interesting. Thank you for sharing this info., Dr. Gross. How do you go about detoxing the horses from high iron, if I may ask?

      • Justified question, Casie.
        Step 1: Diagnose iron-overload via hair analysis.
        Step 2: Stop overfeeding iron.
        Step 2: One-month detox with sufficient concentration of Zeolites (organic humic-fulvic minerals. I had to develop my own formula for horses, you just pour 2-4 oz per day over feed)
        Step 3: Balance relative Copper deficiency by feeding a Copper-Mineral complex if needed
        Step 4: If you need proof besides clinical results: retest hair.
        Additional advice for owners with “insulin resistant” horses… evaluate daily calorie intake to daily calories needed. Often horses are just overfed.
        Greetings, Dr. Gabi

  9. PS Step 5: Correct the Step count ; )

    • Casie says:

      Hi Dr. Gabi,

      Thanks again for sharing. From what I know, iron is stored in the liver and cannot be excreted in the horse. Can the zeolites actually help remove iron from the liver?

      • Casie, as any metal, excess iron is distributed throughout the body and stored everywhere, while some organs have a prevalence to it (brain, endocrine system incl. pancreas) In addition, yes, the liver has a specific task in storing iron for blood building but that is not the iron which overloads the pancreas. As you know the pancreas has two parts, the endocrine and the exocrine part. A publication actually recited by reports the problematic with iron overload and the challenge of the pancreas’ endocrine (insulin issue). There are other issues which I will not bring up here to not complicate the matter further. Yes, the right amount and quality of Zeolites will detox from most heavy metals, including iron. That is not only in the liver, but in all organs. It is state of the art in my program to demonstrate this with cell analysis before and after detox, along with the clinical results. Part of my mission has been to convert “insulin resistant” seeming horses back to a balanced metabolism. I am not saying true insulin resistance does not exist, but it is rare. Here is my view on it: Most horses are in iron overload which drives the copper out of the body. These horses then have cravings for the deficient minerals and overeat, which makes them overweight and throws their blood work off. In addition, iron toxicity leads to laminitis. Endocrinology is a complex matter, highly dependent on nutrition and under-researched in Equidae. To narrow the gap of open questions, Veterinarians, Agriculturists and Nutritionists have to come together instead of tunnel-viewing their discipline.

  10. Annie says:

    I have read the article and questions with interest. We currently have a problem with horses legs turning rusty brown and a vet has said its iron staining. Nothing takes the rusty colour out, the field has horses that don’t have the symptoms, it’s only the ones with lots of feathers who get it and I am tearing my hair out wondering what it is and what is causing it as its never happened before

    • Hi Annie, it’s most likely a cellular iron overload which produces a low iron/copper ratio . I recommend 1) reducing the iron intake if possible. Timothy hay seems to be in particular high in it on alfisol soil. You can pull up a map from the Dept. Of Agriculture to see if your area has alfisol soil. 2) Add a Copper mineral salt. I currently have a case study posted on FB showing a Friesian turning from ‘blonde’ coat color to black within a week taking these measures. FB Gabriele Gross VetMed .

  11. Marlene Schwarz says:

    I was surprised to see the problem of iron overload in horses, but can vouch for the effect of too much iron . As I have HH or Hereditary Haemochromatosis, which is genetic disorder that causes iron overload and if undiagnosed, causes all sorts of organ failure/ higher risk of some cancers. As found with horses, iron is not excreted from the body (the exception is woman : child birth, menstruation.) this account for early death in undiagnosed males and females diagnose later in life. First & foremost treatment is by venesection/phlebotomy.

  12. Terri Law- Terry says:

    I have a mustang mare that has been having problems with itching, some it is from there flies, but I think it might be something else , I feed her bermuda hay from southern calif, and a mixed hay from colorado ( small amt) could this be from too much iron . also can iron be in the ground and dirt as well. if it is should the eat out of hay bags !!

    • Casie says:

      Hi Terri–It’s possible your horse’s problem is from iron overload, but more likely just an overall mineral imbalance. The trace minerals copper and zinc and play a role in skin allergies as well. I have several blog posts on skin allergies if you’d like to do a search for them.

  13. Lisa L says:

    Just wondering if Natural Iron vs added Iron makes any difference? Found a hanging salt lick from Redmond Rock on a Rope. Doesn’t list Iron; however, when I called they told me that it has “natural” iron that is not a determintal as “added iron”…..your thoughts?

    • Casie says:

      This is a good question, Lisa, and definitely one I’ve thought on some. There are quite a few opinions on this, but personally, I’ve quit worrying about iron when it comes from more natural sources like the ones you’ve mentioned. Dr. Mark DePaulo relayed some good information about this in his comment on this post (which I’ve discussed with him via email)

  14. Vicky Atkins says:

    My horse is currently suffering from excessive iron in his system it has been diagnosed as hemochromatosis. Vet has tried blood letting and steroids but his condition is slowly worsening, and no known cure. Has anyone come across this before? Can anyone offer any alternative ways of treating this?

    • Casie says:

      Hi Vicky,
      I’m sorry to hear that you’re horse isn’t doing well. What test did your vet use to determine this? What symptoms does your horse have?


  15. Carol says:

    I have been researching this for our horses also. Our water is really high in Iron.
    What peaked my interest is I have Hemochromatosis which is mu body stores iron and does not use it or release it.
    With the symptoms I have and looking at the horses I figured it was a huge issue for them.
    I had to put my amazing mare down for reasons we couldnt figure out. I spent thousands trying to figure it out 🙁
    Thank you for this article but please also check out Hemochromatosis in humans, it will help you understand more!

    • Casie says:

      Hi Carol, so sorry about your mare. I just wrote an article (not yet published) for The Horse on iron overload and hemochromatosis in horses and donkeys. It’s based on this study: I think researchers are still learning about the effects of chronic iron overload. Hopefully this information will become more readily available very soon though!

  16. Elaine says:

    What happens if your horse get to much copper how to get rid of it?

  17. Jen says:

    This is all very interesting. I have a medical background and have worked with animals also. I was diagnosed with high iron saturation (not ferritin), and have partial hemochromatosis genetics. This shouldn’t be a problem usually (and I was vegetarian for years), but apparently the iron fortification in grains did it, and probably the now severely depleted low copper soils (copper regulates iron). And yes it then causes all manner of problems. I felt like I was dying and mostly bedridden.
    I was not a good candidate for bloodletting so researched natural treatments, and these worked. If these can correlate to horses… I used turmeric/ curcumin, cabbage, Bragg Apple Cider Vinegar, IP6, lactoferrin, green tea. I also took some zeolites and chorella and followed the Morley Robbins protocol to fix the damage.
    Due to the insanity of iron fortification, we have a worldwide problem of rusty people and animals. ‘Anemia’ is usually not an iron problem. And the iron they put in things like breakfast cereals is basically iron filings – look at the videos on youtube. Countries like Sweden and Denmark ban even the import of iron fortified goods due to lack of evidence it is beneficial.. Doctors have no clue, yet. But there are so many studies coming out linking iron to A LOT – diabetes, parkinsons, cancer etc etc. Iron also feeds most infections. eg candida/ thrush.
    Hope that might help.

  1. November 19, 2013

    […] Iron to copper to zinc to manganese should be 4:1:3:3 to 10:1:3:3 (with the first ratio better for insulin resistant or iron overloaded horses. […]

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