Minerals and Salt – Friend or Foe?

by Dr. Dan Moore, The Natural Vet®

Short of water and air, there is NOTHING more important than minerals and salt for the health of your horse. Even if your horse gets a “complete” feed and even if you have salt or mineral blocks in the field – THAT IS NOT ENOUGH! Literally, every function in the body requires minerals. Even the slightest imbalance can cause severe consequences and in my opinion, humble yet outspoken as it is(!), literally every disease is either directly or indirectly caused by an imbalance thereof!

So what is the “Big Deal”? “My horses have a salt block already, I have a mineral block in the pasture and, besides, I feed a “complete” feed anyway. My horses should be fine right?” Quite honestly — almost certainly NOT! Conditions like founder, laminitis, abortion, allergies, botulism, Cushing’s, Hypothyroidism, lameness, joint problems are truly the result of imbalances…. Even a simple “easy keeper” in almost all cases is out of balance on the minerals and salt. “Easy Keepers” just don’t get enough – period, because they consume such little feed. When they don’t get enough minerals (which is also true for vitamins, enzymes, probiotics, etc.) their metabolism is even more negatively affected and they become even more “easy keepers” eventually leading to such conditions as hypothyroidism, insulin resistance, etc. These are those “night mare” colic prone, laminitic prone, “ just waiting to happen” horror stories!

Almost every horse in the world has a salt block. As I said, I say what I think and personally I think salt and mineral blocks should be outlawed. They are NOT your horse’s friends! A horse just can’t lick fast enough to get what he needs. If you have ever seen a horse chew at his block chances are he is not getting what he needs. Cribbing, chewing on wood and other behavioral problems are also likely signs. To make it worse, our horse’s mineral and salt needs change with the weather – just like the mineral content within grass changes with the weather. I once thought grass was just grass and that there was good grass and not so good grass I never really thought about the chemical composition of grass changing as the weather changed, but that is exactly what happens, and this change can be deadly!

If you are a cattleman, I am sure you are familiar with Grass Tetany and Milk Fever, and the sudden death associated with its occurrence. These were once thought to be magnesium and calcium deficiencies. We now know it is from high potassium forages and grasses. Similar situations causing abortions and gut problems often occur in horses. What happens is that the potassium spikes during cool, wet conditions and especially after long droughts followed by rainfall and rapid growth. – Situations like frost and freezing are especially bad – have you ever had horse colic after a frost? Probably so…the reason is a sudden mineral change in the grass, not just frozen grass! During these times sodium, calcium and magnesium decrease, while potassium increases. This spike in potassium is often deadly. A major problem like this occurred in 2001 in the Midwest where reproductive losses occurred in thousands of horses, cattle, sheep and goats. This was severe in Kentucky. Often cattle were just found dead a few hours after frost and freezes. Minerals blocks just cannot provide the minerals fast enough for such rapid changes in weather. Free choice, loose minerals are a must if such problems are to be prevented!

Excessive potassium and subsequent calcium and sodium deficiencies almost always lead to other opportunistic and even infectious diseases. Potassium promotes the overgrowth of saprotrophic (microorganisms that normally grow on dead matter), commensal (organisms that live together but don’t harm each other) and pathogenic (microbes that cause disease) microorganisms in the plant itself. These diseased plants then often produce and become the source of pathogenic bacteria (such as that which causes botulism) and also fungi, which as we all know, our horses are extremely sensitive to – especially in fescue grasses. After eating them, horses and other livestock face an overgrowth of these microorganisms, which rapidly grow and produce toxic by-products like ammonia. Excess ammonia is deadly – especially to fetuses and the immune system. Early and mid-term fetuses may abort, while near term may suffer premature birth and/or septic weak births. By the way, this problem is not limited to grass. Hay can also be the source – especially from fields that are heavily fertilized.

An extremely beneficial solution to high potassium forage and grasses is having readily available free choice minerals AT ALL TIMES! High calcium limes will help, but it often takes years to correct severely imbalanced soils. It is also important to consider that since sodium (the Na part of NaCl or salt) is so similar to potassium, horses often think they have enough sodium (but really have too much potassium) so they stop eating salt. This is especially so in the winter when they need it most. Force-feeding salt is a viable solution particularly in pregnant mares, which apparently never seem to get enough. This should be in addition to making it readily available free choice. (Always be sure to put any salt product near readily available water).

Naturally balanced sea salts are the best source of sodium salts and are excellent sources of many other essential macro and micro minerals (often called colloidal minerals). Man does have somewhat of an idea of what animals needs are, but truthfully there are minerals today that we did not know of 5 years ago, and there will be minerals years from now that we don’t know of today. If we don’t know they exist how can we put them in a mix? Personally, I prefer Mother Nature’s sources. These are also less likely to contain undesirable ingredients such as lead, aluminum, cadmium and even mercury. According to one study at a major university even dicalphosphate, which is almost always a major part of mineral mixes is often contaminated with lead and cadmium.

Typical white salt used in blocks and most mixes is really made for industrial use anyway and since our horses and livestock consume such a little amount by comparison, this industrial grade is usually what is used. Any white salt is also bleached and kiln dried – this is not a very “natural” process. Probably the worse problem is the excessive other minerals that are added to free choice mixes and even trace mineral blocks. This is especially a problem with many “hoof supplements”. These are usually full of minerals and will often help and they “look good” on the analysis BUT again, in my humble opinion, they often tip the scales of balance the other way leading to excessive amounts and other problems in the future. A slower more naturally balanced approach leads to more stable health. According to my sources and with personal experience in thousands of animals, if sodium and calcium are always readily available free choice, macro and micronutrients will more likely remain balanced and deficiencies are less likely to occur.

For information on. RED CAL (natural loose granular sea salt, colloidal trace minerals, plus herbs – and replaces typical salt and other minerals)
Log on to www.thenaturalhorsevet.net or call toll free 877-873-8838


Dan Moore DVM

The Natural Vet® (877)-873-8838  http://www.naturalhorsevet.com