What is biotin and how does it help my horse’s hooves?

Biotin is one of the eight B vitamins that plays essential roles in virtually every organ and cell of the horse’s body. Biotin is part of several major enzymes involved in glucose metabolism, fatty acid production, and also serves as an intercellular “glue.” Biotin is also significant in promoting cellular growth and proliferation in rapidly dividing tissues, making it critical for skin and coat health as well as healthy hooves.

The B vitamins, including biotin, are water soluble and float freely through the fluids of the body without being stored in any body tissues. Once absorbed into the bloodstream, the B vitamins will circulate and be taken in by cells as needed or eliminated in the urine. Because of this relatively rapid usage and elimination, horses should ingest B vitamins on a consistent, daily basis. Biotin is synthesized by gut microbes and derived from dietary sources including grains, brans and yeasts.

What are some signs that my horse might need to be supplemented with biotin?

Extreme, life-threatening deficiency symptoms for biotin, or any of the B vitamins, is not likely to develop in horses on normal diets as the intestinal tract is capable of manufacturing these vitamins and some will be bioavailable and absorbed by the horse. However, there can be symptoms of inadequate amounts of biotin that include brittle, shelly outer hoof horn, dry skin and a poor, dull hair coat. There is evidence that biotin supplementation may be particularly useful in improving hoof quality with regards to hardness, integrity, strength and even growth rate. In horses, this sulfur-containing vitamin is believed to be especially important in hoof health as a deficiency of biotin may result in reduced hoof quality, manifesting as a thin and friable hoof wall prone to cracks, crumbling, a soft white line and tender feet. Providing at least 20 mg of biotin per day for an average mature horse can help strengthen hooves and increase the rate of hoof growth.

How long will it take to see results from supplementing with biotin?

Hoof growth is a slow process. The equine hoof wall takes approximately 9-12 months to grow from the coronary band to the weight-bearing surface. Studies have shown that daily supplementation with 20 mg of biotin improved hoof wall integrity following at least 9 months of supplementation. Longer supplemental durations improved hoof structure and hoof wall tensile strength. Supplemental biotin should be fed for at least 6 to 9 months on a daily basis.

Are there other nutrients important for hoof health?

Biotin is not the only nutrient necessary for quality hooves. The general diet needs to contain enough energy or calories to sustain growth. Good-quality protein that provides adequate levels of amino acids, particularly lysine and methionine, is necessary as the hoof wall is over 90% protein on a dry weight basis. Fatty acids connect hoof horn cells and sustain a permeability barrier. Minerals should be balanced with special attention to copper and zinc, which are both associated with hoof quality. Zinc is needed for normal cell division involved in the growth and repair of the hoof wall. Copper is needed for enzymatic function in rapidly dividing cells such as hoof cells.

Emily Smith, MS, Platinum Performance®
  • by Emily Smith, MS,
    Equine Nutritionist
    Platinum Performance®

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