Vitamin A for Horses
Vitamin A is an extremely important vitamin for horses. It’s also one of the most commonly deficient vitamins for horses who do not receive proper commercial feed or who do not have ample access to green forage.
Vitamin A can be found in green and leafy roughages, but not in roughages that are dark green or dusty. If green forage is available, it’s very unlikely that a horse will ever suffer from insufficient vitamin A. Almost every commercially prepared grain feed will contain some vitamin A to help keep your horse healthy.
What Does Vitamin A Do for Horses?
Vitamin A plays a crucial role in the overall health of your horse. But it does more than just one thing. Vitamin A aids in vision, it helps with bone structuring, and it maintains the health of your horse’s skin cells. Vitamin A also has powerful antioxidant properties. It can assist with reproductive functions and the immune system of your horse.
How Does Vitamin A Work?
Vitamin A is not actually found in plants. Vitamin A is synthesized inside a horse’s intestines from something known as beta-carotene, which is something abundant in fresh forage. This is why grazing horses are always in a proper supply of vitamin A. Even freshly cut hay contains good levels of vitamins. However, vitamin A levels will diminish after the hay has been baled.
Vitamin A gets stored inside of the horse’s liver. Fascinatingly enough, vitamin A can typically be stored for up to six months. The Vitamin A your horse stores in the summer and fall seasons is usually enough to keep them healthy through the winter months when there is no fresh grass available.
Of course, if you’re worried about your horse possibly becoming deficient during the winter months, you can always feed your horse grain products that are fortified with Vitamin A and other critical nutrients. This is especially true for pregnant mares who must have additional vitamin A to ensure the healthy birth of their young.
What Are the Signs of Vitamin A Deficiency?
If your horse isn’t getting enough vitamin A, there will be some very clear signs. You will notice your horse has dry skin and dry hair, runny eyes, and even night blindness. The hooves may appear dry and scaly. You will also notice that your horse has a slower resistance to dangerous respiratory infections. Your horse may become stressed and it may experience violent bouts of diarrhea.
The good news is that a vitamin A deficiency can be reversed by adding sufficient vitamin A to a horse’s diet. The most critical times for a horse to have proper vitamin A are the last 90 days of pregnancy and during the lactation that follows. Also, high-performance horses and racehorses definitely need sufficient vitamin A to maintain proper performance.
Vitamin A Toxicity in Horses
Believe it or not, it is possible for your horse to have too much vitamin A in its system. This is the opposite of a vitamin A deficiency. It’s known as vitamin A toxicity, and it can be just as dangerous for an adult horse.
Vitamin A toxicity occurs when an excess of the vitamin accumulates in the liver. This generally happens when people are worried about their horse becoming deficient in vitamin A and begin to feed them too many supplements. The results of vitamin A toxicity include bone fragility, orthopedic disease, abnormal bone growth, horrible itching, birth defects in young, and peeling skin. You may also notice that your horse has swelling, pain, and even bone fractures.
The only way to cure vitamin A toxicity is to stop feeding your horse vitamins! To be quite honest, as long as your horse has access to green food, it’s going to have enough vitamin A. The only reason to give your horse supplements is if it has absolutely no fresh grass. And even then, you want to ensure that you’re not feeding your horse too many supplements in a single day.
As an example of this, alfalfa hay contains roughly 25,000 IU of vitamin A per kilogram. This exceeds the total daily recommendation of vitamin A for nearly every class of horse except for pregnant mares. If you’re feeding your horse this kind of hay, there’s absolutely no reason to supplement the vitamin.
How Much Vitamin A Does a Horse Need?
Every horse needs Vitamin A. According to the 2007 NRC guidelines, a standard maintenance horse requires 15,000 IU every day of vitamin A to stay healthy. A moderately active horse will require 22,500 IU. And finally, if your horse is pregnant or lactating, she will require 30,000 IU every day of vitamin A.
Carrots and Vitamin A
There’s a reason that carrots are so popular for horses in pop culture. You always see in movies and TV people feeding carrots to horses. It’s not a coincidence! Not only do horses love carrots because they’re tasty and easy to chew, but also because they don’t choke on them. Enthusiastic horses can munch down lots of carrots without any risk of choking. Oh yeah, and they are an excellent source of vitamin A!
Well, not vitamin A itself. Carrots are high in beta-carotene. That makes carrots the ideal winter treat to keep your horse properly stocked with vitamin A. Just keep in mind that if you’re going to be feeding your horse carrots as treats, it’s a good idea to cut them up first or at least break them into smaller pieces. You can even shred carrots and mix them into the horse’s feed.
Today we’ve learned that vitamin A is critical in the health of a horse. Just like all the other vitamins, it’s only needed in a small amount, but that small amount is crucial to the health of your horse. This is not something you need to worry about so long as your horse has access to green grass. And assuming that your horse grazed in the pasture all summer, it probably has enough vitamin A stored in its intestines to last throughout the winter.
Vitamin A deficiency or toxicity are not super common, but if you do suspect there is an issue be sure that you first contact your local veterinarian to do the appropriate tests. Try not to supplement your horse without first talking to a certified vet.