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: What can I do about the brittle hooves on my 4-year-old mare?

By Bryan Waldridge, DVM

A:  Observations recorded in the mid-1980s by Scottish researcher Susan Kempson illustrate the importance of having adequate calcium in the diet for hoof health.

She gathered 33 hoof samples from horses with brittle hooves. To qualify for the review, horses had to be diagnosed with a loss of tubular structure in the stratum medium and the stratum internum, as determined by scanning electron microscopy. The hoof wall is composed of three layers: the outermost stratum externum, the intermediate stratum medium and the innermost stratum internum.

Of the 33 hoof samples, 31showed the requisite compromise between the stratum medium and stratum internum layers. Extreme cases also showed a loss of  integrity to the stratum externum

Some 20 of these horses failed to show any improvement when biotin was added to a basal diet of oats or bran plus chaff or grass hay. However, when the diets were upgraded through the addition of alfalfa and protein along with increased calcium levels, the majority of the horses responded with enhanced hoof health.

The exact reason for improvement can’t be determined from this study. If  calcium levels in the diet are too low for optimal health, supplying extra calcium may positively impact overall well-being, specifically hoof and bone quality.

This study reinforces 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 a veterinarian at Park Equine Hospital, in Lexington, Ky., and  received his veterinary degree from Auburn University.

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Click here to read part 1 of the July 15, 2020 installment of Hoof Nutrition Intelligence: What’s the role of vitamin A in regard to hoof quality?

Click here to read more installments of Hoof Nutrition Intelligence.