At some point in their lifetime, it seems like every horse will develop a type of skin problem. Whether it’s sweet itch, hives, hot spots and more, these types of inflammatory conditions can leave your horse’s skin vulnerable to chronic illnesses, hair loss and wounds. And it often makes your horse feel pretty miserable and irritated too.
Skin issues are the last thing we want for our horses as we participate in the show season. So, the big question remains, how can we get our horses back to their sleek, shiny, and healthy selves if they’re struggling?
Often, healing from the “inside out” can make a huge difference. While we always advocate following your veterinarian’s advice, supplementing your horse’s diet with omega-3 fatty acids can often make a great adjunct to your treatment plan.
The Science Behind Omega-3s and Skin Issues
Making sure your horse gets enough omega-3s is a worthwhile endeavor. After all, these fatty acids make up an important part of every cell in your horse’s body and are at the heart of numerous cellular functions. That’s why omega-3s can help improve a horse’s skin and coat, as well as provide a wide range of other benefits.
Here’s what we do know about omega-3 supplementation in relation to the skin and hair coat:
- Skin inflammation: Many skin conditions involve inflammation. And omega-3s are great at fighting inflammation, especially thanks to their ability to reduce leukotriene B4, an inflammatory substance known to promote skin issues, like dermatitis (1). In addition, studies show that supplementing with fish oil can positively influence the fatty acid composition of skin. Notably, the EPA omega-3 molecules can help decrease the production of the pro-inflammatory AA-derived prostaglandins. In turn, this can leads to a reduction in the inflammatory response caused by sun exposure (2) and other irritants.
- Sweet itch: A study done by Dr. Wendy Pearson, Assistant Professor in Animal Biosciences at the University of Guelph, performed a 14-week double-blind, placebo-controlled study that supplemented omega-3 fatty acids to horses with sweet itch. This study demonstrated that supplementing omega-3s can significantly reduce the area of allergic response in horses (3). Furthermore, for horses suffering from severe itching, a 2016 rat study focusing on pruritus offered more hope for relief. This study found that supplementing with fish oil improved skin hydration and significantly reduced itch-related scratching (4).
- Hair loss and abnormalities: A study done by a German skin and hair expert for humans found that if a person’s diet is lacking in several components, including essential fatty acids, then the person could experience pigmentation changes, hair loss, or structural abnormalities in the hair (5).
- Sunburns: Research has shown that fish oil can provide sunburn relief for people by reducing sun-induced inflammation. The omega-3 fatty acids act as an oxidizable buffer, thus protecting more vital structures from free radical damage (6). Since horses also get sunburn, fish oil should also be able to help horses prevent sunburn.
- Wound healing: Long before scientists discovered omega-3 fatty acids, fish oil and cod liver oil were known and studied for their wound healing properties. Today, studies have shown that the DHA omega-3 found plentifully in fish oil can indeed accelerate wound healing when applied topically (7). In addition, a review of the literature by an expert on surgical infections concluded that supplementing omega-3 fatty acids along with arginine can also positively affect wound healing, help reduce wound infections, and improve the recovery process from generalized infections in both animals and people.
- Getting a good fatty acid balance: Omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids are essential nutrients needed for skin health. While both omega-6s and omega-3s are necessary, however, consuming an overabundance of omega-6 can fire up the body’s inflammatory response, leading to redness, irritation, warmth, swelling, and poor function. To cut down on omega-6, avoid feeding corn and sunflower oils. While these types of oils are often fed to promote coat shine, they are high in omega-6 fatty acids and could promote inflammation if fed long term.
We could continue citing the large body of evidence from the scientific community about the benefits of supplementing omega-3 fatty acids to improve skin and hair health. But sometimes it’s good to also look at the anecdotal evidence from horse owners who have seen their horse’s coat health improve after supplementing with fish oil.
Wellpride’s own customers have seen the difference. Carrick, the mount of legendary eventer John Williams, who competed with Carrick in the Olympics and World Equestrian Games, was notorious for skin problems. While on Wellpride, however, these problems improved. Carrick just passed away on April 17, 2017, at the ripe old age of 25.
Another senior client, Sonic Bob, was having arthritis issues. Once put on Wellpride, his owner shared how it helped his arthritis and added that Sonic Bob developed such a shine to his coat that he was the shiniest horse at a horse show.
Vegas, a 9-year-old Hanoverian/Thoroughbred cross, struggled with severe sweet itch and lost most of his tail on account of it. While sweet itch had been a chronic issue for Vegas every summer, Wellpride put a stop to that, according to his owner.
Foreign Dance, aka Ally, is an off-the-track Thoroughbred eventer who excelled on Wellpride in a variety of ways, but her owner commented on her coat in a blog post for Wellpride: “Her coat is great! The dust just sweeps right off of it! Everyone comments on how sleek and soft she is.” After several months of Wellpride fish oil, Ally’s owner again commented on her coat, “She cleaned up beautifully and I attribute her coat condition to nothing but the Fish!”
With these stories and many more, along with a plethora of scientific evidence, it’s not surprising that horse owners are seeing a difference in their horse’s skin and coat health while using Wellpride fish oil.
1. Yoshida S, Yasutomo K, Watanabe T. Treatment with DHA/EPA ameliorates atopic dermatitis-like skin disease by blocking LTB4 production. The Journal of Medical Investigation. 2016;63(3-4):187-91. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27644556
2. Pilkington SM, Watson RE, Nicolaou A, Rhodes LE. Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids: photoprotective macronutrients. Exp Dermatol. 2011 Jul;20(7):537-43. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21569104
3. O’Neill W, McKee S, Clarke A. Flaxseed (Linum usitatissimum) supplementation associated with reduced skin test lesional area in horses with Culicoides hypersensitivity. Can J Vet Res. Oct. 2002; 66(4): 272-277. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC227015/#r18-8
4. Barcelos RC et al. Oral supplementation with fish oil reduces dryness and pruritus in the acetone-induced dry skin rat model. Journal of Dermatological Science. 2015 Sep;79(3):298-304. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26195090
5. Finner AM. Nutrition and hair: deficiencies and supplements. Dermatol Clin. 2013 Jan;31(1):167-72. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23159185
6. Rhodes LE1, O’Farrell S, Jackson MJ, Friedmann PS. Dietary fish-oil supplementation in humans reduces UVB-erythemal sensitivity but increases epidermal lipid peroxidation. J Invest Dermatol. 1994 Aug;103(2):151-4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8040603
7. Arantes EL et al. Topical Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA) Accelerates Skin Wound Healing in Rats and Activates GPR120. Biological Research for Nursing. 2016 Jul;18(4):411-9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26747719
What exactly are omega-3s and how do they work in the body? This video explains: