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 2 of the latest question and answer installment that you can share with your footcare clients.

Q: How Important are Amino Acids in Keeping Hooves Healthy?

By Eleanor M. Kellon, VMD

A: 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 mechanisms to excrete excess minerals except iron.

However, there are certain amino acids and fatty acids they cannot manufacture. These are termed “essential” because it is important for them to meet minimum requirements in the diet. This is complicated by the fact that minerals can compete for absorption inside the intestines.

Skin, coat and hooves all have the same major structural protein — keratin, which occurs in different forms. In humans for example, 54 genes have been identified as a type of keratin.

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 in keratin.

Alpha-keratin (opposite) is the predominant keratin found in mammalian tissue, 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 abundant non-essential amino acids that are easily generated from other nutrients, including end products of carbohydrate metabolism and branched chain amino acid metabolism. This reaction requires pyridoxine (B6).

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

1 Methionine deficiency

2 Branched chain amino acid deficiency (unlikely except with heavy work).

3 Protein deficiency in general

4 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 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.

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Click here to read part 1 of the May 1, 2020 installment of Hoof Nutrition Intelligence: How can the Health Challenges Associated with Lush Pastures be Reduced?

Click here to read more installments of Hoof Nutrition Intelligence.