Anemia is characterised by the loss, destruction or reduced rate in the production of red blood cells in the body. If there is less red blood cells, there is a decrease rate in which oxygen can be transported around the body. The whole system becomes sluggish and inefficient.
Blood loss from a traumatic injury or surgery, gastric ulcers, internal parasites, chronic inflammatory disease, cancer and kidney disease are the main causes of Anemia in horses. It is very rare that Anemia would occur solely from a dietary deficiency. Horses will normally get sufficient Iron intake from grazing and forage. Symptoms of Anemia are:
- Drop in performance
- Loss of appetite
- Pale mucous membranes (pale gums)
- Elevated heart rate
- Shortness of breath
- Hair loss
- Dull coat
- Weight loss
Many owners/riders/trainers will include an Iron supplement into a horses diet, but is it really necessary? Feeding excessive amounts of one particular nutrient or mineral is not recommended as it can inhibit the bodies ability to absorb other important nutrients and minerals. Excessive Iron intake can lead to Diarrhoea and compromised immune function.
Vitamin B12 works together with Iron in the body to create new red blood cells. B12 is a natural byproduct that is produced during digestion in the hindgut. Therefore, if there is a digestion issue in the hind gut e.g. ulcers, the body cannot produce sufficient levels of B12, red blood cell production is compromised.
To treat Anemia successfully you must first find the primary cause. Anemia is a secondary condition to health issue or disease therefore you must investigate the primary cause. Major blood loss either externally or internally must be identified and stopped as quickly as possible. If a significant amount of blood as been lost, a blood transfusion may be required. If Anemia occurs due to Gastric ulcers or parasites, you would treat for those conditions and in turn, red blood cell production should return to normal following treatment.
We know that Iron deficiency in humans is common, but in horses it is rare. Instead of spending your resources on trying to boost the Iron levels in the diet, investigate as to why the levels are so low in the first place.