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Omega 3 And Omega 6 For Horses – Essential Fatty Acids?


As the name suggests, essential fatty acids must be supplied in the diet as the horse’s body can’t synthesise them itself. Essential fatty acids are long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids and to understand what this means we need to break it down further. It is also important to know what the best source of omega 3 for horses is, which we will also expand upon in this guide.

Firstly, fatty acids are chains of carbon atoms joined together with long chains containing 12 or more carbon atoms. The bonds that join the carbon atoms are either single or double bonds. A fatty acid containing only single bonds is a saturated fatty acid whereas polyunsaturated fatty acids contain more than one double bond. So, essential fatty acids contain more than 12 carbon atoms and contain more than one double bond.

The omega 3 or 6 name refers to the position of the first double bond in the chain -omega 3s have the double bond linked to the third carbon atom whereas in omega 6s it is linked to the 6th carbon atom.

So Why Are These Essential Fatty Acids Important?

Fatty acids are incorporated into a number of tissues in the body including the brain. Cell membranes contain fatty acids and it tends to follow that the proportions of fatty acids consumed in the diet are incorporated into cell membranes in the same ratios. The fatty acids in cell membranes can be released and transformed into prostaglandins and thromboxanes. If omega 6 is converted to these substances, they create pro-inflammatory prostaglandins whereas omega 3 create anti-inflammatory ones. To summarise, this suggests that high intake of omega 6 puts the body in an “inflammatory” state and is linked to diseases such as arthritis.

Where Do Omega 3 And 6 Fatty Acids Come From?

Oily fish are recognised as the best sources of omega 3 which is why humans are encouraged to eat two portions of oily fish each week. Cod liver oil is a source of omega 3 from fish that is used in horse supplements. Hemp oil and linseed oil are two sources of omega 3 that are from plant origins rather than fish.

The Effects Of Omega 3 And Omega 6 On Horses (Relation Studies)

Although little or no work has been done to investigate the specific benefits of omega 3 to horses, it is possible to look at the effect levels in the diet have on other animals. A study in the USA found that cattle fed grain for four months had an omega 6: 3 ratio of 11 : 1 whereas those fed on alfalfa hay were 3:1. The importance of this really relates to the consumption of the cattle by humans who would be likely to benefit from increased omega 3 in the meat produced from these cattle. This isn’t as relevant to horses as very few in the UK end up in the human food chain, but what the study does reveal is that feeding cereals increases the intake of omega 6.

The Sources Of Omega 3 And 6 In The Natural Diet

The horse’s natural diet contains very little oil and even when supplementary oil is fed, horses tend to consume much lower levels than humans. However, feeding oils that contain high omega 6 : 3 ratios, as well as cereals, is undoubtedly changing the ratio of fatty acids compared to what would normally be found in the horse’s natural diet. Although we don’t yet know the implications of this, if work in other animals and humans is an indicator, it is not advisable to significantly increase the 6:3 ratio and it is worth considering adding more omega 3 to your horse’s diet.

Best Sources Of Omega 3 For Horses

Fish oils are undoubtedly the best source of omega 3 for horses, but not everyone would be keen on using them. If you would rather not use fish oils, the best source of non-marine omega 3s for horses is Hemp Oil which provides a ratio of 3:1 omega 6:3. Hemp Oil is receiving increased publicity as a source of omega 3 for humans and can be found in most good supermarkets.