10 Signs of Nutrient Deficiencies in Horses

10 Signs of Nutrient Deficiencies in Horses, Horse Care and Feeding with Savvy Horsewoman

As a horse owner, you’re probably quick to notice when something seems not-quite-right with your horse.

But figuring out exactly what it is can take weeks (or even months) to get to the bottom of.

Nutrient deficiencies in horses are one of those problems that can cause unexpected symptoms that leave you scratching your head.

These 10 signs of nutrient deficiencies can help you keep an eye out for possible issues:

1. Weight Loss

A gradual decline in weight is usually the first sign of an energy deficiency.

It’s often seen in older horses that may have a difficult time chewing or digesting food,  but can affect any horse when they simply aren’t getting enough calories.

If you horse’s level of exercise has increased, or they’re out in exceptionally cold weather, it’s important to make compensations.

Adding coconut oil to your horses’s diet is an easy way to sneak in extra calories (see Coconut Oil for Horses – Top 10 Uses)

2. Fatigue

If you notice a sudden drop in your horse’s energy level, it may be an iron deficiency.

Although it’s rare, pregnant mares, foals, and performance horses can be affected, as well horses that have a large number of parasites in their system.

A regular deworming program is the best prevention, but if you do suspect an iron deficiency it is important to work with your vet to correct it, as iron toxicity can also cause serious health issues.

3. Spookiness

Does your horse suddenly seem more restless and spooky? Has the weather been extremely hot and humid, or has he been exercised hard?

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If so, it may be a potassium deficiency.

This is one of the most common deficiencies, and lucky, easily preventable by adding electrolyte supplements to your horse’s drinking water.

Some horses may require supplements year-round depending on the climate and level of exercise.

For more details check out Using Electrolytes for Horses in Winter.

4. Slow Healing

Typically, wounds should heal at a fairly consistent pace. If you find your horse has cuts or scrapes that just don’t seem to disappear it may be a Vitamin C deficiency.

It’s most commonly seen in horses under long-term stress (during shipping/quarantine or stall rest), but it can also affect senior horses as the liver’s natural production of vitamin C begins to decline.

Supplementing your horse’s diet, under the guidance of your vet, is usually the best solution.

5. Decreased Appetite

A unexpected drop in appetite, particularly during hot and humid weather, can be a sign of a salt deficiency.

Although most horse owners have a salt block available, it can be difficult to know exactly how much they are consuming. Horses can be surprisingly picky!

Himalayan Salt can sometimes be more enticing, and adding loose salt directly to your horses’s feed is often the best way to monitor intake.

Check out Himalayan Salt for Horses – Is it Worth it? for more details.

6. Faded Coat Color

If you’ve noticed a change in coat color (that’s not related to sun exposure), it could be a copper deficiency.

Young horses and broodmares are most commonly affected, but it can impact any horse without proper levels in their diet.

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Luckily, quality feed manufacturers such as Wisium , provide optimal levels of copper and other nutrients so this typically isn’t a worry for most horse owners.

7. Diarrhea

Long term, unexplained diarrhea can be worrisome and may be caused by a vitamin B1 deficiency.

Low quality feed, combined with too little grass or hay, is often the cause.

A (gradual) change is diet, and increased grazing time is an easy solution, but supplements are also available. 

8. Inflammation

An noticeable increase in inflammation can be a sign of Vitamin E deficiency.

It’s most often seen in horses that are on a hay-only diet, particularly in the late winter or early spring, as hay that has been stored for several months begins to have a decease in available vitamin E.

Check with your vet about supplements or feed options if you think your horse may be at risk.

9. Slow Hoof Growth

Does your horse barely needs a trim when the farrier show up? It could be due to a protein deficiency.

Talk to your farrier or vet about adding an amino acid supplement, which when used correctly, can being showing positive results in as little as a week.

10. Dull and Dry Coat

If your horse’s coat is dull, dry, and brittle, even with regular grooming, it could be an iodine deficiency

Most manufactured feeds contain adequate levels of iodine, so adding some to a hay-and-grass only diet can resolve it quickly. Having iodized salt blocks available is also a good option.

Using a conditioner is a great way to help restore their coat, while your horses recovers. Try my recipe for Homemade Coat Conditioner for a quick fix!

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Keep in mind that these are only some of the many signs of nutrient deficiencies in horses, and they are often synonymous with other health issues. Always speak with your vet and/or equine nutritionist before adding new feed or supplements to your horse’s diet.

10 Signs of Nutrient Deficiencies in Horses, Horse Care and Feeding with Savvy Horsewoman

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