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 2 of the latest question and answer installment that you can share with your footcare clients.
Q: What role does calcium play in dealing with brittle hooves?
By Bryan Waldridge, DVM
A: In the 1980s, Scottish researcher Susan Kempson demonstrated the importance of adequate calcium in the diet when it comes to hoof quality. In this study, researchers gathered 33 hoof samples from horses with brittle hooves. To qualify for the study, the horses had to be diagnosed with a loss of tubular structure in the stratum medium and the stratum internum areas of the hoof wall, as determined by scanning electron microscopy.
Of the 33 hoof samples, 31 showed the requisite compromise between the stratum medium and stratum internum layers. Extreme cases also showed a loss of integrity to the stratum externum.
Among the horses from which hoof clippings were taken, 20 failed to show any improvement when biotin was added to a diet of oats or bran when fed along with chaff or grass. However, when the diets were upgraded with the addition of alfalfa and protein along with increased calcium levels, the majority of these horses responded with improved hoof health. However, certain horses were also diagnosed with a bacterial infection in their hooves, which was cleared up through the use of topical metronidazole.
Was this hoof improvement caused by a boost in protein and amino acid intake or because of an increase in calcium consumption? Or was it due to the elimination of the bacterial infection?
The exact reasons for improvement couldn’t be determined from this study. But if calcium levels in the diet are too low for optimal health, then supplying extra calcium may positively impact the overall well-being of the horse, specifically in regard to hoof and bone quality.
This study reinforced the notion that properly nourished horses rarely have hoof problems. While there are exceptions, most horses can maintain reasonably healthy hooves with appropriate diet and regular hoof care.
Bryan Waldridge is an equine veterinarian at Park Equine Hospital in Lexington, Ky. He received his veterinary degree from Auburn University and was formerly the resident veterinarian at Kentucky Equine Research in Versailles, Ky.
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Click here to read part 1 of the Jan. 1, 2020 installment of Hoof Nutrition Intelligence: How do I make sure my horses gets methionine?