Last Updated on June 9, 2022
Getting the diet of a horse right can be a minefield, and it is important to know the signs horse lacking selenium or other essential nutrients. Horses can suffer adverse effects from both too much and too little selenium, so getting the balance right is vital. Let’s take a look at selenium in horses, including signs horse lacking selenium!
What Is Selenium? – Signs Horse Lacking Selenium
Selenium is an essential nutrient that is required in the diet of horses. It is a trace mineral, which means it is only required in small quantities. Selenium acts as an antioxidant, protecting the cells of the body from damage by free radicals.
When discussing selenium in horses, it is normally thought of in combination with vitamin E. Vitamin E is also an antioxidant, and when given together these two nutrients have a synergistic effect. This means that they enhance the benefits of each other, so the combination of vitamin E and selenium is more than twice as effective than just one on its own.
Why Do Horses Need Selenium?
Selenium is vital for horses to enable them to maintain healthy muscular function. This is because selenium, along with vitamin E, decreases oxidative stress on muscular tissue during and after exercise. When a horse exercises, the muscles require a large amount of oxygen to function normally. This helps them to metabolize the energy required for physical movement, but the side effect of this is the production of free radicals and peroxides. These cause damage to cellular membranes, leading to cell degeneration and death.
Selenium can remove peroxides that have already formed, as well as helping to maintain the structure of muscular tissue. This helps to detoxify the muscles, by removing toxins and enabling cells to repair. Vitamin E also plays a vital part this process, as it prevents peroxides from forming. This means that equine athletes under a large amount of physical stress require higher levels of selenium to keep the muscles in peak condition.
Selenium is also vital for proper thyroid and immune system function of the horse. If a horse is not fed enough selenium in the diet, some unusual and debilitating symptoms may be observed, particularly in performance horses.
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How Do Horses Get Selenium?
Selenium and vitamin E are both naturally occurring nutrients that are found in the normal diet of the horse. Both are found in grasses and plants in grazing land, as well as forages such as hay and alfalfa. Grains and supplements also contain vitamin E and selenium.
However, the amount of selenium in plant matter is depended on the levels of this mineral in the soil. In some regions, selenium levels have become depleted, such as in Western Pennsylvania. This means that plants grown in these areas may be lacking in selenium.
Whilst most minerals and vitamins can be given as a supplement to horses without any problems, care must be taken with selenium. There is a very narrow safety range when it comes to feeding selenium to horses, and too much can be as problematic as too little. If a horse recieves enough selenium in his everyday diet, giving a supplement containing selenium may cause toxicity.
Signs Horse Lacking Selenium
If a horse has inadequate levels of selenium in his diet, this will cause atrophy of the muscular tissue. This is often first thought to be weight loss, as the bulk of the muscle will be reduced. However, over time muscle disease may develop, causing impaired movement and difficulty carrying out certain tasks such as standing up.
Other indicators of selenium deficiency include difficulty swallowing, and coughing when eating. In severe cases, respiratory distress may occur, alongside reduced heart function.
If you suspect selenium deficiency in your horse, the best way to diagnose this problem is to ask your veterinarian to carry out a blood test for levels of selenium and vitamin. This will help you to decide if additional selenium supplements are necessary, or if your horse is already receiving enough in his daily diet.
Selenium toxicity is also a serious problem with horses, and over-supplementation of selenium can lead to debilitating health problems. Never give a selenium supplement without confirmation that your horse is deficient in selenium first.
Signs Horse Lacking Selenium Summary
So, as we have learned, the signs horse lacking selenium include muscle loss, weakness, and difficulty swallowing. Most horses receive enough selenium in their diet, but performance horses require higher levels. It is advisable to test your horse’s selenium levels before starting additional selenium supplementation.
We’d love to hear your thoughts on the signs horse lacking selenium! Do you have a horse that is very prone to nutritional deficiencies in the diet? Or perhaps you are struggling to get good quality forage to feed to your horse? Leave a comment below and we’ll get back to you!
What Does Selenium Deficiency Look Like In Horses?
If a horse does not have sufficient selenium in his diet, signs may include muscle wasting and disease, which causes a loss of overall body mass of the horse. This can lead to impaired movement and weakness, which may manifest as difficulty getting up after resting. Other symptoms include difficulty swallowing, coughing when eating, reduced heart function, and respiratory distress.
What Are The Symptoms Of Chronic Selenium Toxicity In Horses?
If a horse has too much selenium in his diet, you may notice symptoms such as changes to the coat, thinning of the mane and tail, and cracked hooves. Severe selenium toxicity in horses causes patchy sweating, staggering and gait abnormalities, colic symptoms, and respiratory and heart dysfunction that can lead to death.
How Do You Fix Selenium Toxicity In Horses?
To counteract the effects of selenium toxicity in horses, your veterinarian may suggest feeding a diet that is high in protein and linseed oil meal. Silver, arsenic, sulfur, cadmium, mercury, and copper have all been shown to be effective in treating selenium toxicity in horses.
Does Alfalfa Contain Selenium?
The amount of selenium in alfalfa varies according to the soil and growing conditions. If possible, analysis can be useful to detect the amount of selenium in your horse's alfalfa.
Kate Chalmers is a qualified veterinary nurse who has specialized in horse
care for the vast majority of her career. She has been around horses since
she was a child, starting out riding ponies and helping out at the local
stables before going on to college to study Horse Care & Management. She
has backed and trained many horses during her lifetime and competed in
various equestrian sports at different levels.
After Kate qualified as a veterinary nurse, she provided nursing care to the
patients of a large equine veterinary hospital for many years. She then went
on to teach horse care and veterinary nursing at one of the top colleges in
the country. This has led to an in-depth knowledge of the care needs of
horses and their various medical ailments, as well as a life-long passion for
educating horse owners on how to provide the best possible care for their
Kate Chalmers BSc (Hons) CVN, Dip AVN (Equine) Dip HE CVN REVN RVN A1