Hoof Nutrition Intelligence Hoof Nutrition Intelligence is a twice-a-month web segment that is designed to add to the education of footcare professionals when it comes to effectively feeding the hoof. The goal of this web-exclusive feature is to zero in on specific areas of hoof nutrition and avoid broad-based articles that simply look at the overall equine feeding situation.

Below you will find Part 1 of the latest question and answer installment that you can share with your footcare clients.

Q: Should I be concerned with the level of keratin with my horses’ hooves?

By Eleanor Kellon, VMD

Feeding for hoof health is no different that feeding for health in general, as there are no magical nutrients for hoof health.

Every cell in the horse's body is like a tiny battery-powered factory. Like all batteries, it depends on a very specific balance of ions (minerals) to operate. The factory is fueled by calories in the form of carbohydrates, fats, protein and fermentation products from the hindgut. These are used to manufacture the products it needs – enzymes, membranes and proteins of many types.

Horses are able to interconvert fats, carbohydrates and even amino acids (the building blocks of protein) to some extent. They can increase active absorption of minerals when they have a need and are equipped with the mechanisms to excrete excessive levels of minerals, except for iron.

However, there are certain amino acids and fatty acids they can’t manufacture. These are termed “essential” because they must be in the diet. Similarly, horses can’t manufacture minerals, from which there are minimum requirements. This is complicated by the fact that minerals can compete for absorption inside the intestines.

There are more hoof health issues caused by poor trimming and hoof mechanics than nutrition. That said, there are several very common nutritional deficiencies that impact the feet.

Skin, coat and hooves all have the same major structural protein – keratin, like all proteins, is a strand of amino acid units. Alanine, glycine and the sulfur containing amino acid cysteine (produced from methionine) are the primary amino acids found in keratin.

Alpha-keratin is the predominant keratin found in mammalian tissue, ranging from hair to hoof horn. Beta-keratin is a tougher keratin found in the outer skeletons of insects, which may also occur to some extent in mammalian tissue, such as human fingernails. The tubular/helix structure of alpha keratin is carried over into the larger structural unit of horn tubules in the hoof wall.  

Since the hoof wall is well over 90% protein when all water is removed, it's worthwhile talking about keratin. Alanine and glycine are in abundance and these nonessential amino acids are easily generated from other nutrients including the end products of carbohydrate metabolism and branched chain amino acid metabolism. This reaction requires pyridoxine (vitamin B6).

Several dietary factors that may limit hoof quality on the protein end of things can be identified:

  • l Methionine deficiency.
  • l Branched chain amino acid deficiency (unlikely except with heavy work).
  • l Protein deficiency in general.
  • l Inadequate vitamin B6.

Dr. Eleanor Kellon, a staff veterinary specialist for Uckele Health & Nutrition, has been an established authority in the field of equine nutrition for over 30 years. The owner of Equine Nutritional Solutions in Robesonia, Pa., she is a founding member and leader of the Equine Cushings and Insulin Resistance.

Hoof Nutrition Intelligence is brought to you by W.F. Young Co. (Absorbine). Absorbine

Like many significant achievements, Absorbine® grew out of humble beginnings—and through the tenacity of someone willing to question the status quo. In this case, it was a young woman in late 19th-century Massachusetts: Mary Ida Young. Her husband, Wilbur Fenelon Young, was an enterprising piano deliveryman who relied on the couple’s team of horses to make deliveries throughout the Northeast. Inspired by Mary Ida and Wilbur’s vision, Absorbine® has continued to add innovative products throughout the years — products used every day by horse owners around the world. Which is why, since 1892, we’ve been The Horse World’s Most Trusted Name®.

Click here to read Part 2 of the Jan. 1, 2019 installment: My laminitic horse already receives biotin in a supplement. Is there any value to also trying acupuncture for dealing with laminitis?

Click here to read more installments of Hoof Nutrition Intelligence.