Why Do Horses Need Calcium And Where Do Horses Get It From?

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In addition to helping with bone and teeth strength, calcium is important for various other bodily functions. A diet rich in calcium will benefit muscle contraction, cell membrane structure and blood clotting Horses who are growing, pregnant or undertaking forms of exercise such as racing will require a higher level of calcium in their diet to give them the additional strength that is needed.

Providing calcium rich horse food to ensure  sufficient levels are provided becomes even more important when certain medications are used. Research has shown that the use of omeprazole to manage gastric ulcers can also reduce calcium absorption. 

A calcium rich diet

Alfalfa offers a multitude of benefits including fibre for slow releasing energy, low starch and sugar for gut health and quality protein for building up muscle. Alongside this, alfalfa is abundant in calcium, containing three times as much as some  other forages which makes it a great addition to the diet. Certain minerals are more abundant further down the soil layers and calcium is one that has higher levels further down  this can explain why alfalfa is so abundant in calcium as its roots are able to reach nutrients that other plants cannot.

Adding alfalfa to a horse’s diet increases calcium intake without increasing starch, essential for horses with EGUS where a low starch diet is a must. In addition, the calcium also makes a natural buffer to acidity which helps with the function of the digestive system. Researchers have advocated adding alfalfa wherever cereals are fed to  reap the benefits of the additional calsium in their daily diet.

Spotting a calcium deficiency

If a horse is not receiving a sufficient supply of calcium, whether this be through an insufficient diet or excessive zinc which reduces the absorption of calcium, it can lead to growth problems or issues with bones. Also referred to as ‘big head’, a serious calcium deficiency can often be identified though a few common symptoms:

  • An unusually large appearance of the head.
  • Uneven movements or visible lumps of bone.
  • Poor quality of teeth or a struggle to chew. 
  • Decreased hoof quality.
  • Arthritis or a stiff appearance.

If your horse is struggling with a calcium deficiency, professional veterinary treatment will be required to aid their recovery. Calcium supplementations will be given to provide the necessary minerals to the bones and checks will be made to ensure that the correct nutritional ratios are met. It can take a while for the horse to recover in strength and sufficient rest should be allowed.