Are we baffled by Biotin?
If you ask anyone from your friend to your farrier, when you are looking to help support hoof growth and overall quality, “Biotin” is usually the first go to ingredient. For many years now, companies have been recommending the level of Biotin as the key selling point for their hoof product – if it was just about Biotin itself, should we not just be purchasing the ingredient as a straight?
Now we have a greater understanding of how the hoof functions, we can ascertain the best ways to maintain its structural integrity. Without this strong support network working together, riding will become a thing of the past, hence the saying, “no foot, no horse.”. Too many of us are familiar with the time poor hooves can take to become capable of coping with the different environments we ask them to face, lost work days, training days and in some cases competitions may be lost due to poor hoof health.
Help can be provided and it is now clear that hooves benefit greatly from many more ingredients than just Biotin alone.
The role of the hoof capsule
- Provide protection for the internal structures
- Weight bear
- Absorb concussion
- Offer traction
The challenges of 2020
This year has already posed its set of challenges with COVID-19 depriving us of our competitions, training days, riding and in some cases even seeing our horses. For so many of us our horses have provided that much needed escapism when the world around us appears to be in crisis. Here at NAF we have received many calls looking for hoof health support. We believe this to be down to the wet/dry conditions that we have seen to date this year, along with the increased turnout many horses have had, this can have a damaging impact on hoof health and overall integrity.
Understanding the impact of environmental conditions
- Water molecules can force their way into horn making it expand and weakening the overall structure
- Weaker structural integrity can be more susceptible to damage; hoof is more pliable
- Horn swells – the appearance can hide cracks and defects which can be falsely interpreted as healthy hooves
- Horn is at its strongest at around 25%1 moisture content
- Hooves drying out after a wet spell can lead to extensive cracking and brittle horn
- Increased farriery visits
Avoid the implications of feeding an unbalanced diet
We take a look at a small section of ingredients that support hoof health, it becomes clear the synergistic approach would be the most beneficial. With modern management systems and the fact that no two individuals are the same, diets contain huge variables. Therefore, feeding a balanced supplement as opposed to straight ingredients usually applies that the ratios have been addressed to avoid dietary displacement of essential nutrients which could lead to unnecessary deficiencies.
The biotin contribution
Biotin is one of the B Vitamins (Vitamin B7), and sometimes known as Vitamin H. Nearly all cells in the body take up and use biotin, but it’s most dramatic effects are on the dermis and epidermis. Therefore, it’s no surprise that the ‘H’ in biotin’s name comes from ‘Haar and Haut’, the German for ‘hair and skin’. Biotin is well-known for skin, hair and nail health, and of course, in hooved animals such as horses, for hoof health.
Biotin is naturally produced by microbial synthesis in the horse’s hindgut, and levels produced are sufficient for general health. However, where poor hoof growth, and poor hoof quality are observed then research has long proven the benefit of supplementing with biotin2. In fact, it is thought that biotin may be better absorbed by the horse when supplemented in the diet compared to natural production in the hindgut. This is because the hindgut is not particularly good at uptake of nutrients, and it may be that metabolism higher up the digestive tract, in the small intestine, where vitamins are readily absorbed, may be the best route. Certainly research shows that even when natural levels are found in the blood, horses with compromised hooves benefit from receiving additional supplementary biotin.
Studies have found 15mg-25mg of Biotin has helped improve hoof growth rates, in fact after just 24 hours of feeding in one study, blood levels had increased3. The length it takes a hoof to grow out is around 8-12 months and therefore improvements take time to be witnessed so long term supplementation is recommended. Feeding excessive amounts such as 60mg4 per day remained to be as effective as feeding 15-25mg per day, however, incurring additional expense.
Methionine is an essential amino acid that the horse cannot produce on his own, a building block of protein providing support for connective tissue and liver function as well as having antioxidant properties. Methionine has the ability to convert to cystine – which accounts for around ¼ of the total amino acids in keratin. Keratin formation is vital for hoof structure and soundness. A resilient protein the same as our nails and hair with a low moisture content, which is why the hoof wall is firm and coarse.
To promote keratin formation, we have to ensure each horse has a good supply of the correct nutrients in order to support the horse’s weight efficiently, thus highlighting the importance of adequate methionine. Hoof horn with low methionine, and as a result, low cystine, could appear to be tacky and soft to the touch, and these overall weaknesses could be detrimental to the horse’s overall performance and wellbeing.
Importantly, methionine converts to cystine which builds the di-sulphide bond that helps to form and stabilise keratin itself. Methionine has proven to support and improve the overall constitution of the horn itself by optimising keratin5. It is not considered by many veterinary professionals and nutritionists to be of huge importance.
Lysine is referred to as the first 'limiting amino acid' an essential amino acid and therefore a building block of proteins. Deficiencies of lysine can limit the synthesis of proteins itself and therefore prevent the uptake of additional amino acids.
MSM is utilised in many areas such as joints and cartilage to help donate sulphur to support the overall function and capability of each area. The connective tissues within hooves often benefit from MSM as it plays a crucial role in helping maintain their overall health and elasticity due to its high absorption rate.
The capabilities of zinc
Zinc cares for connective tissue, growth, repair and the maintenance of cells throughout the body. Supplementing Zinc at the right ratios will help ensure the hoof wall remains strong and versatile with support for new growth readily available. Zinc functions by helping increase blood flow to areas that are often overlooked and provides excellent immune support.
Far reaching antioxidants
Antioxidants are key throughout a mammals' body in order to protect cells against free radicals but are often overlooked in the equine diet as horses are continually grazing and thought to gain a quota naturally. However, due to modern diets and management practices, horses are unable to roam and extract vital antioxidants so it is imperative we provide them from natural sources.
Each horse has to undertake oxidation which is a reaction that extracts nutrients from their source and in some cases, unstable oxygen molecules have an unpaired electron which can as a result upset the horse’s natural homeostasis. Whether they are performing to their best, having a canter around their paddock or trotting down a road, oxidative stressors are likely to be present.
Without influential antioxidants to flush out the free radicals or reactive oxygen species (ROS) oxidative damage can occur which can be potentially debilitating, look out for Vitamin C and E in your supplements as these offer a good defence and most come from natural sources.
Feeding for hoof health can take time to see an overall improvement. On average the hoof grows around 6mm/month6, with new horn supplied from cells leading into the coronet. This area should remain firm but spongey in order to sustain the correct atmosphere for these cells to develop. Down from the coronet band the horn should be firm to the touch without any cellular residue apparent. Feeding Biotin alone is proven to help improve growth but taking the synergistic approach to support a balanced diet will help facilitate all round hoof health, providing new horn that is built on a strong and durable foundation, capable of coping with the numerous environmental threats they encounter regularly.
Of course, supporting with a good application can help retain the moisture content while enabling the horn to breathe. A great application will ensure the door remains shut for harmful bacteria to harness the potential of the anaerobic conditions from something as simple as a crack.
by Griselda Handy, BSc(Hons)
For more information on healthy hooves, please contact NAF’s FREE Nutritional Advice Line on 0800 373106 or email us on firstname.lastname@example.org
1 Hinterhofer C, Stanek C, Binder K. Elastic modulus of equine hoof horn, tested in wall samples, sole samples and frog samples at varying levels of moisture. Berliner und Munchener Tierarztliche Wochenschrift. 1998 Jun;111(6):217-221.
2/3 Josseck H et al (1995) Hoof horn abnormalities in Lipizzaner horses and the effect of dietary biotin on macroscopic aspects of hoof quality. Equine Veterinary Journal. 27. 175-182
4 Reilly, J.D., Cottrell, D.F., Martin, R.J. and Cuddeford, D.J., 1998. Effect of supplementary dietary biotin on hoof growth and hoof growth rate in ponies: a controlled trial. Equine Veterinary Journal, 30(S26), pp.51-57.
5 Basurto, R.N., Arrieta, L.S., Castrejón, H.V., Martínez, J.A.E. and Herrera, C.A.C., 2008. Effect of zinc methionine on the equine hoof: an evaluation by environmental scanning electron microscopy. Veterinaria México, 39(3), pp.247-253.
6 Kainer, R.A. (1987) Functional anatomy of equine locomotor organs. In: Ah' Lameness in Horses, 4th edn, Ed: T. S. Stashak. Lea & Febiger, Philadelphia. pp 1-18