Certain groups of horses have a higher risk of contracting illnesses, as their immune systems are not as strong as others. These groups can include younger horses, senior horses, horses who are in strenuous training programmes, regular travellers and horses who are, or have been, exposed to stress. If any of these groups sounds like your horse, it is particularly important that you take all possible measures to keep them fit and healthy.
Your horse’s diet has a huge impact on their lifestyle, with good nutrition being imperative to help defend them against infection and illnesses. Their immune system, just like ours, is there to defend them from the likes of viruses, bacteria, and other environmental risks. While some illnesses are unfortunately out of our control, the likelihood of many can be mitigated though providing a healthy diet that is specifically designed to boost their immune system.
Maintaining Balanced Nutrition
When it comes to immune function, ensuring your horse is hydrated and consuming sufficient fibre, energy, protein, vitamins, minerals and fatty acids will help build up their natural defences. Studies have shown that insufficient fibre compromises the mucus barrier in the gut and this allows harmful bacteria access to the gut tissue itself. This can result in digestive upsets and potentially other serious health issues. Therefore, the first step to a healthy horse is a healthy gut through feeding lots of fibre.
To boost their natural immunity, look for horse feed or supplements containing prebiotics and probiotics. These contain substances that feed good bacteria in the gut or put live organisms into the gut – in the case of the horse only live yeast can be added legally not live bacteria.
Horses that are older, poorly, or stressed benefit most from special horse feed or supplements designed to help the immune system. Glutathione is considered a key antioxidant for horses as it enhances antibody activity to work towards boosting their immunity.
Loose immune support supplements and mixes are available to buy separately to regular horse feed, and can be used to create a nutritional plan that is highly tailored to your horse’s lifestyle, needs and current health. In some cases, such as training, travelling, recovery and a change in environment, you may be professionally advised about ways to strengthen their immune system and boost their natural defences. Each manufacturer’s product offerings contain different ingredients with their own set of benefits. It’s important to choose a reputable manufacturer that specialises in nutrition, as this will give you the best chance of supporting your horse with the nutrients they need.
It’s also imperative that you monitor the quantity of food you provide your horse, and keep note of any changes in their eating habits. Young horses will require a different feeding programme to an older horse or working horse and therefore careful considerations need to be made to meet their dietary requirements. Following the guidance from the manufacturer will ensure you are feeding your horse the correct amount according to their size, age and level of activity.
Knowing Your Horse’s Needs
If you are re a new horse owner or your horse is going through some significant changes in their lifestyle, it can be tricky to understand what products or supplements your horse could benefit from. Getting in touch with an equine nutritionist for some advice on the best approach for your horse’s needs, and making a note of key ingredients to look out for is a great place to start. Alternatively, if your horse seems to be regularly under the weather or has a sudden behavioural change, contacting your regular vet as soon as possible is advisable to help them get the professional support they need.