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 the latest question and answer installment that you can share with your footcare clients.
Q: Is diet or the trim more important for hoof health?
By Eleanor M. Kellon, VMD
A: If you ask me which is more difficult to get right, I’d say the trim. If you ask a talented hoof professional, they would usually say diet. It’s actually a trick question, as both are critical, and one can’t produce a healthy hoof without the other.
There is an acronym I use for reminding owners what needs to be done to effectively treat a laminitic horse – DDT.
D: Diagnosis, to identify and remove the cause.
D: Diet, including correct calories, protein, essential fatty acids, vitamins and mineral balance.
T: Trim, to make the “shoe” (hoof capsule and solar structures) fit the “foot” (bones).
With hoof issues other than laminitis, which do not have a systemic disorder cause, it is still equally important to address both the diet and the trim.
The trim is critical whether the horse is shod or not and the goal should be to make the external structures conform to the interior. A physiologically correct trim is a work of art which sculpts and molds the hoof to the proper configuration. Common problems such as flares, cracks, white line stretching, flat soles/distal descent, navicular irritation, underrun heels and coffin joint disease all can be a major component of incorrect trimming.
On the other hand, nutrition plays a huge role in hoof quality as poor nutrition can sabotage trimming efforts intended to restore hoof form. An example I see often see is a foot with a long toe and underrun heel, which is the equivalent of trying to walk in shoes that are two sizes too big in the toe, but with the back half of the heel missing.
A long toe always creates tearing forces on the laminae. When the tissue is weak to begin with, toe flaring and laminar damage is worsened. Similarly, poor horn quality means the heels will collapse forward more easily.
Here is a quick rundown of key nutrients and their effects on the hoof:
Protein: The hoof is over 90% protein. The amino acid methionine is particularly important because sulfur-sulfur bonds impart significant strength and sulfur amino acid levels are dropping in many forages.
Zinc: This deficiency has been linked to slow growth, thin hoof walls, weak white line connections and weak horn.
Copper: Inadequate copper (or low copper plus zinc) has been associated with solar hemorrhage, thrush, cracks, abscesses and soft horn.
Biotin: This ingredient supports normal growth rate and improves connections within the hoof.
Because of the high metabolic rate of cells that form the hoof wall, virtually every vitamin and mineral has a role to play. However, more is not better and the key to growing healthy feet is identifying and correcting nutritional deficiencies and imbalances in each horse’s diet.
Good hoof supplements do exactly that, and so would a general “balancer” or vitamin/mineral supplement that actually matched the profile of vitamins and minerals that your horse needs in his diet, without providing too much of those things he doesn’t need.
A correct diet will eliminate the need for a hoof supplement, but it won’t serve as a substitute for a good physiological trim. Get both of these right and you’re on your way to healthy feet.
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 Cushing’s and Insulin Resistance (ECIR) group, whose mission is to improve the welfare of horses with metabolic disorders via integration of research and real-life clinical experience. Prevention of laminitis is the group’s ultimate goal.
Hoof Nutrition Intelligence is brought to you by W.F. Young Co. (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®.