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Omega-3 Fatty Acid Supplementation for Heaves

In a research paper published last year, a group of researchers looked at the possibility that omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid (PUFA) could benefit horses with recurrent airway obstruction (ROA) and inflammatory airway disease(IAD). Eight research horses and 35 horses owned by clients were divided into three groups. Both groups were fed the same low-dust diet (complete pelleted feed, no hay) and then randomly assigned to one of three daily treatments for a two-month period: 30 g or 60 g of the PUFA-containing supplement or 30 g of a placebo. The horses were evaluated on clinical symptoms (coughing, lung function), the level of PUFA in the blood, and the evaluation of fluid obtained from the lungs (by bronchoalveolar lavage or BAL).

Their results showed clinical improvement in all of the horses involved in the trial, but the group that was supplemented with PUFA showed the most clinical improvement. Their cough score improved by 60%, lung function (respiratory effort) decreased by 48%, and the number of neutrophils (cells involved in inflammation/infection) in the BAL fluid decreased from 23% to 9%.

They concluded by stating that “feeding horses with RAO and IAD a PUFA supplement containing 1.5-3 g DHA for two months provides an additional benefit to low-dust diet.”

Treating horses with heaves (equine asthma) can be challenging, and veterinarians often have to rely on corticosteroids and bronchodilators to alleviate the symptoms in these horses (coughing, wheezing, increased respiratory effort). Management is KEY, and the importance of the elimination of allergens in the environment, as well as increasing airflow and ventilation, cannot be stressed enough. The addition of something as simple as a supplement high in omega-3 fatty acids (especially DHA) that has the potential to impact a horse with heaves positively seems almost too good to be true - but it isn't!

Scientific Article: Nogradi N, Couetil, LL, Messick J, Stochelski, MA, Burgess, JR. Omega-3 fatty acid supplementation provides an additional benefit to a low-dust diet in the management of horses with chronic lower airway inflammatory disease. J Vet Intern Med. 2015 JAN:29(1): 299-306.



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