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How to read product labels

A lax regulatory environment underscores the value of learning to read between the lines.

Supplements for horses are not regulated the same way pharmaceutical drugs are. As a result, unfortunately, many poor quality products can and do make it to market.

One study* that looked at equine glucosamine supplements, for example, found that of the 23 commercially available products tested, only 14 actually contained the level of glucosamine as claimed on the label.† Further, four of the products were found to contain less than 30% of the labeled amount.

Given the current regulatory landscape, quality control ultimately rests with individual supplement manufacturers -? the measures they choose to put in place, where they source their raw materials from, their values and their priorities.† And as a consumer, the capacity to decide which product, and from which company you buy, rests with you.

But where can you get the information you need to make an educated decision? While product labels of unscrupulous companies may not tell you the whole truth, getting to know your way around the components of a good product label and understanding what information they should contain, is a good place to start. Here are some elements to consider.


A supplement label should list not only the product ingredients, but a ?guaranteed analysis? of how much of these you can expect to find in a given amount as well. With a bit of math you can see if these amounts add up to comprise the total contents of the product (there are 1000mg in a gram). Beware of less reputable manufacturers that may use filler ingredients, such as dextrose (glucose/corn sugar) to pad their bottom line.

Directions and Dosage

Label instructions and content information should make it easy for you to determine how much of each ingredient you are giving your horse per day.† Companies that make claims on the front of a product in terms of ounces per serving, but use alternate units of measurement elsewhere, may be relying on consumer ignorance to get away with including lesser amounts of key ingredients.

Lot and expiry

Equine supplements should have included on each container sold a lot number, for tracking purposes, and an expiry date, indicating some evaluation of product quality over time.


As they say — if it sounds to good to be true, it probably is. Beware of inflated, unrealistic or otherwise over the top claims. And though testimonials are a great marketing tool, remember that the plural of anecdote is not data. In other words, real evidence for the efficacy of a product comes from properly designed research studies.† And if a supplement claims to be research and science-based, the studies should be there to back it up.

Beyond the label

Supplement labels should contain manufacturer information ? the company name, address, phone number and website ? so you can contact them should you have any questions about the product regarding it’s ingredients, appropriate use and research. A reputable company should be able to address such inquiries in a meaningful way and help you find the answers you need to make an informed choice.†Look for companies that have sought out internationally recognized manufacturing standards (ISO/ GMP/HACCP)†and then qualified for them. Beware of Industry lobby group “seal of approval” type programs, which can often be achieved merely by sending a check to the lobby group.

With such a wide array of supplements available today, selecting the right product can be challenging. Doing a bit research and digging to learn about a company and their products can help protect both your pocket-book, and most importantly, your horse’s health.

*Oke S, Aghazadeh-Habashi A, Weese JS, Jamali F. Evaluation of glucosamine levels in commercial equine oral supplements for joints. Equine Veterinary Journal 2006; 38(1):93-95.

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