Vitamin E plays an indispensable role in your horse's health. It aids in maintaining normal neuromuscular function, is a powerful antioxidant, and is one of two vitamins that horses cannot produce within their own bodies. Vitamin E deficiency in horses can have devastating consequences such as Equine Motor Neuron Disease, liver problems, eye disorders, and immunity issues.
"Just because your horse looks fat and healthy today doesn't mean she isn't deficient in vitamin E," said Dr. Suzanne. "I just treated a horse with a severe case of vitamin E deficiency. The horse presented with extreme weight loss over a six-month period and uncontrollable full-body tremors. I was able to diagnose the vitamin E deficiency by examining the fundus of the horse's eye during an ophthalmic (eye) exam. In some situations, it may also be necessary to do a blood test, and in the most extreme cases it may be necessary to do muscle or nerve testing."
Some physical signs that your horse might be deficient in vitamin E:
1. Unexplained weight loss, despite a "regular" diet, is often one of the first signs. This is due to the horse's inability to absorb and utilize nutrients efficiently, which can happen in vitamin-deficient horses.
2. Your horse has muscle weakness or atrophy, or difficulty in coordination or movement. Things like stumbling, tripping, or having difficulty with simple movements are often a result of the types of nervous system issues that are triggered by a vitamin E deficiency. Equine Motor Neuron Disease causes trembling, recumbency, low head carriage, and shifting weight between the legs. Equine degenerative myeloencephalopathy affects a horse's brain stem and the only treatment option is euthanasia. Both of these issues are entirely avoidable by making sure your horse has adequate amounts of vitamin E in his diet.
3. Your horse may have decreased performance levels, especially if she is usually competitive or active.
4. Some horses progress to the point of being unable to stand.
Behavioral changes in your horse might also signal she has a vitamin E deficiency. Your horse may seem unusually tired, have less energy, or show a lack of interest in things she previously enjoyed.
A horse who is deficient in vitamin E might also eat less, show less interest in food, or may have difficulty with the actual act of eating due to muscle weakness.
Horses who suffer from vitamin E deficiency suffer permanent disability and never fully recover.
How to Ensure Your Horse Has a Balanced Diet
Horses primarily obtain vitamin E from their diet. Fresh, green pasture is the best source of vitamin E. However, studies have shown that grass in most parts of the country is not an adequate source of vitamin E after October. Feeding hay alone will not provide your horse with the amount of vitamin E she needs as vitamin E levels are not abundant in dried forage or grains.
In the absence of fresh pasture, dietary supplementation is a necessity for every horse. Dr. Suzanne recommends providing 500 IU of vitamin E daily for your horse.
A simple solution to ensure your horse is receiving adequate amounts of vitamin E is incorporating vitamin E-rich feeds like the ration balancer Essential K from Tribute into your horse's diet. Vitamin E works closely with other nutrients like selenium, so offering a balanced supplement is crucial.
If you notice any of the symptoms of vitamin E deficiency in your horse, reach out to Dr. Suzanne immediately. Early detection is key in preventing serious health issues and ensuring your horse receives the care he needs.