Copper in the Equine Diet

Vitamins and minerals are mainstays in when discussing the equine diet as they all contribute to overall health and wellbeing. Copper is often mentioned in the mineral section of any dietary discussion and we are going to look at the role and importance of copper in horses.

Young Horse

What is Copper and What Does it Do?

Copper is a natural mineral that is required in small amounts by the horse. Despite being a micromineral, it is one of the most important as it aids in many vital functions within the horse’s body. Copper is stored and metabolised in the liver and is essential to ensure correct functioning of enzymes for the synthesis and maintenance of elastic tissue (such as tendons and ligaments. Copper is also involved in iron store mobilization, melanin production, proper skeletal growth as well as supporting various antioxidant functions within the horse. Copper is important for the horse’s overall energy stores as it is involved in cell energy production through mitochondria generation. For pregnant mares and foals, copper is crucial for the prevention of cartilage lesions and reduction in bone growth plates (physitis). A deficiency in copper can result in abnormal skeletal growth in young horses or weakened connective tissues as well as energy issues in mature animals.

Sources of Copper

Copper is provided in the equine diet through forage and concentrated hard feed. The copper content within forage is relatively low but this can vary through forage type and nutritional composition. Concentrated hard feed is manufactured and nutritionally specified to have sufficient levels of vitamins and minerals, of which copper is included. Therefore, it is important to follow the manufacturer’s instructions to ensure the correct levels of nutrition are being met. If your horse is on a forage only diet, the copper requirements may not be met by the forage alone. However copper deficiencies can still occur through lack of dietary intake or due to copper interacting with other minerals. The latter is known as “copper lock” when copper interactions with minerals Zinc and molybdenum resulting in low copper absorption in horses. Studies in the area of copper lock suggest that if your horse’s diet is sufficient in these minerals than neither should affect copper utilisation. Ensuring an adequate supply of copper in the breeding and youngstock diet is important to ensure vital systems are being supported such as cartilage and skeletal formation. 

Copper Supplementation

It is important to get an entire picture of your horse’s overall nutritional intake to ascertain if any copper supplementation is required. Best practise would be to carry out a thorough nutritional analysis of all nutritional intake of both forage and hard feed. A qualified equine nutritional advisor would be best placed to examine the nutritional picture and advise on dietary supplementation, especially for copper. Should the need for copper supplementation arise, there are ready sources of copper available such as Bio Copper from NutriScience. Balancing copper requirements is important for supporting the health and wellbeing of your horse, to get advice from our nutritional advisor today simply call 051 304010.