Iron is necessary for the production of red blood cells. Haemoglobin, the component of the red blood cell that allows oxygen to be carried to the tissues, requires iron for its synthesis. Approximately 67% of the iron in the body is contained in the red blood cells in the form of haemoglobin. Horses have the ability to conserve iron within their body. The red blood cells that are formed in a process known as erythropoiesis, remain in the circulation for about 150 days. When these red cells die, iron contained in the heme molecule is recycled and utilised to synthesize new heme molecules and red blood cells.
Who’s at risk?
Pregnant mares, foals and performance horses are all at risk of iron deficiency if nutritional requirements aren’t sustained, horses without a proper deworming program also have an increased chance of developing an iron deficiency as parasite burden can cause chronic blood loss. Performance horses in intense exercise may lose as much as 25-30 litres of sweat per day and this sweat loss would represent a net iron loss in the sweat of around 500 mg/day.
Horses exposed to significant or chronic blood loss either through trauma or other avenues such as gastric ulceration are also more prone to suffer from iron deficiency if left untreated.
What are the symptoms?
Symptoms of Iron deficiency in horses include:
- Reduction in performance
How much Iron is required?
Iron is measured in an expression of concentration noted as parts per million (ppm). Horses only need to consume a small amount of iron daily. With a majority of horses consuming adequate iron in their normal diet. Iron is most efficiently absorbed at low levels of intake, with iron absorption decreasing as iron consumption increases.
As a guide, approximate Iron requirements for horses are:
- 40 mg/kg per day for mature equines
- 50 mg/kg per day for pregnant or lactating mares
- 50 mg/kg per day for growing horses
Are supplements available?
If a horse is not receiving adequate levels of iron in its base diet or has become Iron deficient due to other factors, there are a wide range of horse Iron supplements available such as Ranvet’s Iron Plus which contains highly bio available Iron designed to supplement Iron intake and provide critical elements for haemoglobin production.