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A Carrot a Day?

There aren’t many horses that don’t love a good a carrot – but are they a good choice of treat, for your horse’s all-round and long-term health?

The sugar is a sticking point for anybody looking to feed a low-NSC diet, and moderation is definitely key if your horse needs a strict low-NSC diet.

However, did you know that a single carrot can provide up to 22% of your horse’s daily requirement of vitamin A?

What is vitamin A?

Vitamin A is a catch-all name given to a group of substances called retinoids. Retinoids are made in the body when ingested carotenoids undergo alteration by enzymes. An exception to this is when we ingest already-formed retinoids, by consuming the body parts or excretions of animals, or retinoid supplements.

In herbivores, 100% of natural vitamin A is manufactured within the animal from carotenoids. Horses use the enzyme beta-carotene 15,15′-dioxygenase to convert beta-carotene, the most common and active carotenoid, to retinal, and then aldehyde dehydrogenase converts retinal to retinol, or active vitamin A. Beta-carotene is the pigment which colours carrots and other vegetables orange. In grasses and herbage, it is still orange, but it is masked by the green pigment of chlorophyll, making it undetectable to the naked eye. In some other fruits and vegetables, it is present in unison with other pigments, for example it appears together with anthocyanins in purple carrots.                                          

Does your horse require vitamin A?

Vitamin A is an essential nutrient. It is required for the healthy functioning of the immune and reproductive systems, for proper bone growth, and for eye health and good vision. It is also involved in the production of a good quality mucosal lining of the gastrointestinal tract – making it essential for good gut health, especially in horses experiencing leaky gut, colitis, or irritable bowel. Additionally, it functions as a potent antioxidant, to help neutralise free radicals before they can cause damage to cells and DNA.

Fresh, green pasture usually provides abundant carotenoids, beyond any horse’s minimum requirement, so if your horse is fed that way, it is not necessary to provide additional vitamin A via supplementation. Even reasonably fresh, green hay will still provide some vitamin A. Sun-curing of hay depletes vitamin A, as does storage and exposure to higher temperatures. Browned-off pasture grasses will also have lost most of their vitamin A content. When there is an abundance of dietary vitamin A or carotenoids, vitamin A stores build up in the liver. This makes good sense when you consider that equids and other herbivores have often needed to adapt to environments in which fresh green feed is not available year-round. Research suggests that the equine liver is capable of storing a 3-to-6-month supply of vitamin A, so, if your horse is grazing green feed for most of the year, they should make it through the dry or snowy times without a problem

How much is enough?

According to the NRC, horses need at least 15 000 IU of vitamin A per day at rest, and 22 500 IU in work. The ideal amount for your horse varies with age, activity level and reproductive status. A study involving race horses suggested that 50 000 IU/day is a good amount for horses in heavy work.

If you stick with the minimum of 15 000 IU, this means that with a single (100g) carrot, you can provide 22% of your horse’s total daily vitamin A requirement, in a delicious and natural form, while 450 grams of carrot will provide 100% of a resting horse’s requirement.

This natural ‘carrot’ delivery method surely has to be considered far superior to using a lab-manufactured or animal-based form of vitamin A, in a powdered supplement or premixed feed.

What is in those supplements anyway?

More expensive vitamin A supplements are extracted from fish liver, or dairy products. Cheaper to manufacture, and much more commonplace, are the synthetic vitamin A supplements. These are produced from petrochemicals (derivatives of petroleum production), including acetone and acetylene.

These are a couple of reasons why we do not add vitamin A to our MacroMin – as we like neither animal-based nutrients for horses, nor unnecessary synthetic additives.

..besides, why not just give carrots?

The Danger of Overdosing

You do need to be careful of giving your horse too much vitamin A. In excess it can cause problems, including bone malformation, liver toxicity, birth defects and infertility, so it is wise to supplement The Danger of Overdosing

You do need to be careful of giving your horse too much vitamin A. In excess it can cause problems, including bone malformation, liver toxicity, birth defects and infertility, so it is wise to supplement mindfully. When considering safe upper limits, it is interesting to note that when feeding vitamin A as natural carotenoids, overdose is highly unlikely, in fact it is undocumented in equines. This is because a negative feedback loop in the horse’s system downregulates the production of the beta-carotene 15,15′-dioxygenase enzyme in response to high serum levels of vitamin A, meaning that at a certain threshold, little or no beta-carotene will  be converted.

The Takeaway

In short, if your horse is grazing green pastures for some of the year, they are unlikely to require any supplemental vitamin A. If they are dry-fed, then it is a necessity. However, be mindful of where your horse’s vitamin A is coming from – green feed is by far the best and most species-appropriate option. But if you are looking for a delicious and beneficial way to treat your horse, then carrots might just be your ideal option, providing a delicious treat, and, a top-up of vitamin A.

Article originally published on the Medicine Tree blog – www.mthp.com.au

All contents copyright Medicine Tree Health & Performance 2022

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