There is plenty of evidence to suggest a relationship exists between food choice and health. People often make daily food choices to benefit their health, such as eating a balanced diet rich with fruit and vegetables to benefit immunity among other things. Nowadays, people are also choosing vegetarian and vegan diets to improve their health.
There are huge numbers of domesticated animals who rely on man-made feed given by their owners. There is therefore increased interest in how the quality of feed can better optimise the health of domesticated animals. For horses, it’s important that horse feeds contain the right amount of nutrients and vitamins to benefit their immunity.
What is the immune system?
For optimal horse health, a robust immune system is required. The role of a horse’s immune system is to defend the horse’s body against foreign invaders which may cause disease or infections – including bacteria, viruses, fungal invaders, foreign proteins, or parasites – sometimes collectively referred to as antigens.
Like our own immune system, the horse’s immune system is hugely complex but generally very effective at repelling disease causing agents. Much like humans, there are several factors that can influence how well a horse’s immune system functions, including age, nutrition, and stress.
Within the equine industry, there is huge interest and attention paid to the role of nutrition in the overall health of a horse. Owners spend lots of money on nutritional supplements since the processes of digestion and immunity are interwoven.
The Role of Nutrition & Diet in a Horse’s Immunity
The horse’s underlying health is key to them being able to fight off infections and disease. Just as for humans, those that are immune-compromised are more susceptible to disease. A sound vaccination and deworming plan is also key. Another very important consideration is a horse’s diet. Making sure your horse gets a high quality, fully balanced diet with all the vitamins and minerals he needs is essential for a healthy immune system.
Appropriate feeding that meets (but not exceeds) the horse’s nutritional needs can help prevent immunity-related problems developing.
What Are the Most Important Nutrients for a Horse’s Immunity?
There are several key nutrients that are very important to the immune system and general health of a horse. These include protein, fat, vitamins, and minerals.
Proteins: Like us, horses need high quality protein. The amino acids received from protein are critical in a horse’s immunity and help form important component of immune cells, enzymes, and other strategies used to maintain health.
Fatty Acids: There has been plenty of research into the effects of fat and fiber on horse’s immune health, and omega-3 fatty acids are promising for anti-inflammatory properties with respect to osteoarthritis and inflammatory airway disease. According to research, functional fibers (prebiotics such as beet pulp and oat hulls) help stimulate beneficial bacteria in the gut which enables them to fight off pathogenic bacteria – a process known as competitive exclusion.
Vitamin E, Vitamin C, and Selenium: These act as “antioxidants.” Antioxidants help reduce or prevent damage to cells and tissues during times of stress or illness.
Vitamin A: Another important vitamin that helps enhance the function of many horses’ immune cells is vitamin A. Grazing horses generally receive generous amounts of beta carotene, which is converted to vitamin A in the horse’s digestive system. In turn, vitamin A not only enhances immune cells receptivity, but also works to enhance the antioxidant vitamins C and E.
Copper & Zinc: Copper and zinc work synergistically to improve the over health of a horse, with zinc having anti-inflammatory effects on the immune system.
Healthy and nutritional diets do play crucial roles in encouraging the optimum health of your horse.