Horse Side Vet Guide ®

Equine Health Resource

Oral Supplements, Hoof

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Poor quality hooves – those that are dry, cracking, crumbling, or brittle – can result from several important causes including genetics, nutrition, environment or poor hoof care. Often, it is a combinations of these factors.

Oral hoof supplements may help improve hoof quality, but they are not a substitute for addressing the above-mentioned factors. They are also not likely to make a large difference in treating lameness-causing conditions.

The most common active ingredients in hoof supplements are biotin, sulfur-donating amino acids (e.g. methionine, cysteine), and zinc. Sulfur donating amino acids and zinc are usually included due to their theoretical role in adding strength and resiliency to the hoof wall by cross-linking building blocks.

The best studied ingredient in hoof supplements is biotin. Several long-term studies suggest that biotin fed in excess (20mg/day) improves hoof wall quality both visibly and when examined under the microscope. Generally, these studies found an improved hoof growth rate and/or wall strength. However, biotin’s exact mode of action remains unknown. Horses are typically not biotin deficient, so it is a mystery why feeding it helps hoof quality.

Evening primrose oil has been found to have no benefit. There is also little scientific support for methionine or zinc in improving hoof wall quality.

Over-supplementation can actually cause hoof wall problems. Excess zinc, vitamin A or selenium can actually worsen hoof wall quality.

Hoof supplements usually come in a powder or pellet, and are usually mixed with grain or pellets.

Given the wide variety of choices and the cost of these supplements, you should consult with your vet before purchasing a hoof supplement for your horse. Unfortunately, many oral hoof supplements are not supported by rigorous scientific evidence or do not contain the level of ingredients claimed.

Consider Potential Side Effects & Complications

There is a possibility for toxicity (oversupplementation) when feeding multiple supplements at the same time. The ingredient most likely to be fed in excess is zinc.

Over-feeding other ingredients already abundant in the diet (such as Vitamin A and Selenium) may also lead to toxicity.

Compare your supplement’s ingredients against those listed for other feeds or supplements fed concurrently to ensure no oversupplementation.

Consider Reasons Not To Use This Treatment

Caution should be used if other dietary supplements are fed contemporaneously to prevent toxicity.

In some cases, horses will not accept particular supplements in the grain.

Is It working? Timeframe for effect

Hoof supplements do not heal existing hoof defects. They encourage better quality growth emerging from the coronary band. Given the average rate of typical hoof wall growth, approximately one year is required for total replacement of the hoof.

At a minimum, takes several months after you begin feeding a hoof supplement to see a physical difference, if a benefit is to be seen. You will usually see a line of demarcation indicating hoof wall growth since the supplement was started.

Questions To Ask My Vet

  • Do you think my horse could benefit from the addition of this supplement?
  • Which brand of oral hoof supplement do you recommend?
  • Can I feed this supplement in combination with the other supplements and feeds I am currently feeding?
Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP

RELATED REFERENCES

Kempson SA. Ultrastructural observation on the response of equine hoof defectsto dietary supplementation with Farrier's Formula. Vet Rec. 1990 17;127(20):494-98.Zenker W, Josseck H, Geyer H. Histological and physical assessment of poor hoof horn quality in Lipizzaner horses and a therapeutic trial with biotin and a placebo. Equine Vet J 1995;27(3):183-91.Josseck H, Zenker W, Geyer H. Hoof horn abnormalities in Lipizzaner horses and the effect of dietary biotin on macroscopic aspects of hoof horn quality. Equine Vet J 1995; 27(3):175-82.Buffa EA, Van Den Berg SS, Verstraete FJ, et al. Effect of dietary biotin supplement on equine hoof horn growth rate and hardness. Equine Vet J 1992;24(6):472-74.Comben N, Clark RJ, Sutherland DJ. Clinical observations on the response of equine hoof defects to dietary supplementation with biotin. Vet Rec. 1984 22-29;115(25-26):642-5.Reilly JD, Hopegood L, Gould L, et al. Effect of a supplementary dietary evening primrose oil mixture on hoof growth, hoof growth rate and hoof lipid fractions in horses: a controlled and blinded trial. Equine Vet J Suppl. 1998;(26):58-65.Reilly JD, Cottrell DF, Martin RJ, et al. Effect of supplementary dietary biotin on hoof growth and hoof growth rate in ponies: a controlled trial. Equine Vet J Suppl 1998;(26):51-57.

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