The immune system is the primary defense mechanism against illness, not only for us, but for our horses, too. It’s an intricate network of cells and proteins that defends the body against infection, and the best way to keep it functioning correctly is to adopt a healthy lifestyle. Regarding equine immune health, here are five tips:
1.) Keep Stress to a Minimum.
Stress is one of the biggest offenders when it comes to weakening the immune system, and chronic stress makes horses (and us) more prone to illness. One of the most common stressors for horses is an empty stomach, which can easily be remedied by using a slow feeder like the Hay Optimizer® or allowing for plenty of pasture time. Another major stressor for horses is being housed alone, so make sure your horse has a buddy or two.
2.) Ensure Key Nutrient Needs Are Met.
The trace minerals copper, zinc, and selenium also play important roles in immune function and are commonly deficient in forage. However, when supplementing these minerals, be sure to feed in the correct amounts, especially with selenium which can be toxic at higher levels.
3.) Consider Herbs:
Several herbs can help promote a healthy immune system and are great to feed your horse during times of stress or even as a preventative. These include:
- dandelion leaves
4.) Pay Attention to Protein Quality.
Many people misunderstand protein, assuming more is better, but with horses, quality is more important than quantity, especially when it comes to keeping the immune system strong. Keep in mind that the average horse gets plenty of protein from forage alone, but horses in hard work, pregnant/lactating or growing horses, as well as older horses may need additional protein. You don’t necessarily need a fancy supplement or high-protein feed in these cases though; adding some alfalfa or another type of legume hay, split peas, or even flaxseed meal is a great way to add quality protein.
5.) Prevent Problems with Pre- or Probiotics.
You’ve probably heard it said, but somewhere around 70% of the immune system is housed inside the gut. Because of this, consider supporting the good bacteria in your horse’s gut with a quality pre- or probiotic.
Supporting your horse’s immune health and heeding the above tips isn’t difficult to do, and it will likely save you time and money on vet bills in the long run!