MORE THAN SKIN DEEP – feeding for optimum skin health

Did you know your horses skin is the largest organ in the whole body, comprising 12-24% of their body weight? And did you also know that it serves many purposes, some of which you might never have thought of?  For example, skin provides the main line of defence against harmful pathogens, insects and disease. It enables a horse to feel hot and cold and regulate his body temperature accordingly, secretes natural oils, excretes waste products, synthesises Vitamin D and contains sensory cells that allow your horse to respond to the light touch of a fly!  So, it’s important to ensure the skin is well cared for, and the healthier the skin the more resistant it becomes against infection and disease.  Whilst grooming can help, healthy skin most definitely comes from the inside out through good health and nutrition, so follow these guidelines from Castle Horse Feeds equine nutritionist - Lisa Elliot MSc – to promote optimum skin health.

Start with a fibre focused, balanced diet

Your horse’s skin is made up of 3 main layers - the epidermis (outside layer), dermis (middle inside layer) and the deeper hypodermis, which connects the skin to structures underneath. And this is an important consideration – that the skin is not only an external covering but also extends inside the body, which means that what is going on inside the body intrinsically affects what is going on in the skin.  

A balanced diet is the key to whole body health and, therefore, to supple, healthy skin - which itself needs certain vitamins and minerals to function well.  Minerals that have important roles in skin structure and integrity include: copper, magnesium and zinc. Zinc, particularly is needed for skin cell reproduction, maintenance and repair. Vitamins associated with skin production and maintenance include Vitamin A, Vitamin E, which also gives important antioxidant support, and B vitamins. Providing the vitamins and minerals needed for good health, as well as those specific to skin with a nutritious balancer or fortified compound feed fed at the recommended levels, is the ideal approach to skin health. 

Biotin is a B vitamin essential for normal skin growth and repair and it is produced by the many billions of microbes living in the horses’ hindgut. They thrive on fibre, so providing plenty of good-quality fibre and forage will help enhance skin health by keeping those microbes happy and productive. A diet high in fibre means a healthy digestive system and this in turn will boost the health of your horses’ skin. 

Provide quality protein

Skin is primarily made of protein. There are 3 types of protein in skin – keratin, which provides structure and integrity in the epidermis, collagen which is an important component of connective tissue in the dermis, and melanin which is responsible for skin pigmentation.

Protein is essential for good health, so it’s important to provide it in the diet to ensure the horse’s body is functioning well, which will ultimately impact on his skin.  A good-quality source of protein which contains the essential amino acids needed to build keratin and collagen for skin structure and integrity is best. Look for feeds containing quality protein from soya and linseed to ensure your horse gets the best supply. 

Supply the correct Omega Balance 

Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids are important to help enhance skin suppleness and condition.  They both have roles in skin structure and integrity and help to resist infections and allergic reactions, but the skin is healthiest when they are supplied in the correct balance. Omega 3 is needed in greater amounts in the body but quite often the horse’s diet can contain higher levels of omega 6, which could potentially result in increased inflammation within the body and lead to skin inflammation.  Omega 3 fatty acids have been specifically shown to decrease inflammation and improve inflammatory allergic skin conditions.  Linseed meal is a useful source of Omega 3 fatty acids so is a great way of getting higher levels into the diet for improved health.  Additionally, grass has a higher ratio of Omega 3 to Omega 6 so ensuring your horse gets plenty of grazing can also help provide optimum levels for skin health and integrity.

Don’t forget water!

Water keeps body and skin cells hydrated and functioning well, so getting enough is vital. You can probably feel and see the difference in your own skin when you don’t drink enough and it’s no different for your horse.  Providing clean, fresh water and making sure you horse has constant access to a good supply will help keep him healthy and hydrated for improved skin health. Additionally, adding 1-2 tablespoons of salt per day to your horse’s feed should help stimulate thirst to boost water intake which will also have a positive impact on skin.

If you have any questions about creating the best diet for your horse and keeping your horse healthy through the right nutrition, please contact Lisa at Castle Horse Feeds – This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  

For more information see or call 01497 570345.