How to Choose Dietary Supplements

By Dr. Allison Hartman

Let’s face it, picking the right nutritional supplement can be a daunting task.  I even balked at the prospect of covering this topic!  There are products on the market covering all types of needs from hoof care to ulcer preventatives and everything in between, but at the end of the day there are a few key considerations to keep in mind when choosing the correct supplement for your horse.

Quality Control

One of the main institutions committed to insuring high quality animal supplements is the National Animal Supplement Council (NASC).  NASC works alongside regulatory agencies like the Food and Drug Administration, Association of Animal Feed Control Officials, and the Veterinary Drugs Directorate to try to standardize the animal health and supplement industry.

Products bearing the NASC quality seal tell consumers that they are purchasing a product that comes from a reputable manufacturer that implements certain quality control standards.  Additionally, products with a NASC Quality Seal have a support team in place for adverse reactions and all known warnings are clearly printed on the label.  (Keep in mind, minimal research is often performed to prove efficacy of a product or determine its safety).  Unfortunately, there are far more NASC approved products in the small animal industry than equine.


How do you know that the supplement you top dress your horse’s grain with makes it through the GI tract, into the bloodstream and to the intended location to elicit an efficacious response?  What directs the supplement to its intended location or how do we even know that the horse can metabolize the supplement so that the body can utilize it?

Answering those two questions for each specific supplement, not to mention establishing expected adverse reactions and safety labels for horses or varying lifestage can cost a manufacturing company millions of dollars in research. This explains why so few nutritional supplements have any scientific findings to support their claims.  Additionally, it is important to note that certain ingredients specifically used for certain ailments (think glucosamine for arthritis) do not have a widely accepted standard for potency, source and proven efficacy.  Take that into consideration with the bioavailability of a product and you won’t be surprised to find that a large majority of supplements on the market make it through the horse and out the other end completely unchanged, and as such, unutilized.

How Should You Pick Supplements?

First, pick a product that is backed by scientific research.  Keep in mind that customer testimonials are NOT research.  You want a product that has been tested in a lab setting and retested in a large equine population to prove safety and efficacy.

Second, find a company with a good customer support system that can confidently answer any questions you might have about the product.

Third, talk to us!  Over-supplementation is a huge issue in the equine industry and while most supplements will not have serious side effects if fed in excess, they can be a significant drain on your pocket book.  Dr. Baird and I will do our best to recommend products that are backed by clinical research and are applicable to your horse’s nutritional needs.

Fourth, be on the look out for the magical supplement that fixes everything from torn ligaments to gastric ulcers.  If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is!

We know that deciphering the world of equine nutritional supplements can be a complex, overwhelming and expensive process.  Please don’t hesitate to consult us regarding your horse’s nutritional and supplemental needs as we’ll do our best to recommend safe, efficacious products.  Good luck out there!

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