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What's the Buzz on B-vitamins for Horses?

B-vitamins are a group of water-soluble vitamins that are cause for some confusion with horse owners based upon the rather fuzzy knowledge that the bacteria in the horse’s digestive system produce some of these vitamins.
So do we really need to supplement the diet with them?

The following is a brief description of the B-vitamins produced in the hind gut, their functions in the body, cases where deficiency could be a problem, and whether supplementation is necessary.

B1 (Thiamin)
• Required for carbohydrate metabolism and nervous function
• Offering young growing horses diets providing less than 3mg/kg thiamin can limit growth rate and may reduce the capacity for exercise
• Present in most forages and grains
• Thiamin deficiency is fairly rare in horses; most cases are due to major upset in the bacterial population of the gut, heavy parasite infections, or consumption of plants that block activity of thiamin (eg. Bracken fern, yellow star thistle)

B2 (Riboflavin)
• Primarily involved in energy metabolism
• Dietary requirement is around 2mg/kg of the diet, which is easily met through eating fresh forage
• Deficiency has never been documented in horses

B3 (Niacin)
• Essential for energy metabolism and biosynthetic processes
• Readily available in many cereal grains and forages and can be produced from tryptophan (found in plant proteins such as soy meal)
• Deficiency extremely rare in horses, as the dietary requirement of 5-10 mg/kg of diet is easily met through normal feeds

B5 (Pantothenic acid)
• A component of many coenzymes
• Present in most forages and grains
• Deficiency extremely rare in horses

B6 (Pyridoxine)
• Involved in amino acid metabolism, glycogen utilization and epinephrine and norepinephrine synthesis
• Poorly absorbed from the colon; supplementation is sometimes needed in order to reach the requirement of 1-9 mg/kg of diet.

B7 (Biotin)
• Acts as a coenzyme in reactions including gluconeogenesis and glycerol synthesis.
• Present in most forages and grains
• Deficiency or excess has not been observed in horses.
• Supplementation may be beneficial for hoof health (15-20 mg/day)

B9 (Folic acid)
• Used in the manufacture of methionine and purine rings in DNA
• Found in large amounts in fresh forage
• Horses usually do not require dietary folacin (20mg/day) unless they do not have access to fresh grass, have impaired microbial synthesis, or are in intense work

B12 (Cobalamin)
• Required for DNA synthesis.
• Many owners give supplemental cobalamin in an effort to prevent anemia (found with deficiency of cobalamin), but there is no evidence that this has any benefit in horses

When Do Horses Require Supplementation with B-vitamins?
Owing to the ready availability of B-vitamins in the horse’s typical diet and via microbial production, supplementation is normally not needed in healthy horses that are not aggressively exercising. However, supplementation may be useful in horses that are chronically stabled and do not have access to fresh forage.

Also, horses recently administered antibiotics or other substances that can alter the viability of microbes in the gastrointestinal tract may also benefit from vitamin B supplementation. High-intensity exercise and high-carbohydrate diets can also alter the microbial environment of the gut, so intensively exercised horses may also benefit from vitamin B supplementation. Supplemental biotin may, along with methionine and zinc, also be useful in formation of new hoof keratin.

All eight water-soluble B-vitamins listed above are found in VITAboost from HERBS FOR HORSES. VITAboost is available in powder or pelleted form to improve blood building, protein repair and metabolism via amino acids Lysine, Methionine, and Threonine, and also contains important antioxidants vitamins C & E and organic selenium.

For more about VITAboost, click here.

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