Part 3: Omega-3 Fatty Acids For Horses ALA vs. DHA vs. EPA

First things first, if you don’t already know this, listed above are the three primary forms of omega-3 fatty acids. But, before we can begin to jump into ALA vs. DHA vs. EPA we first need to understand them. So, let’s break this down for a second and ask ourselves, what are ALA, DHA, and EPA? ALA is an essential short-chain fatty acid known as alpha-linolenic acid. DHA is a long-chain fatty acid known as docosahexaenoic acid. Lastly, EPA is another long-chain fatty acid known as eicosapentaenoic acid.  While all have their differences – ALA, DHA, and EPA all bring a benefactor to the table for the greater good of our horse’s health. So, let’s learn more, time to get down to the nitty-gritty.

Friesian Standing in Barn
A proper balance of ALA, DHA, and EPA allow for the healthy and shiny coat of this Friesian.

What Is The Difference Between ALA, DHA, and EPA 

There is the obvious factor that these omega-3s are different fatty acids altogether. However, they yield different benefits to our four-legged friends. ALA is essential because it is the only fatty acid that our horses cannot create in their bodies. It can be found in plant foods and is necessary for the body to receive DHA and EPA. ALA has been seen to make a difference in allergies resulting in a bad itch. DHA’s key qualities are supporting respiratory function, reproductive health, and cognitive function.  Lastly, EPA’s key function with the aid of DHA is to support the inflammatory response systems. So how do you get all three of these fatty acids if each is found in different sources?

Does ALA Convert to DHA and EPA?

Yes! The conversion of ALA to DHA and EPA is the only reason we receive DHA and EPA. Our horse’s bodies can convert ALA to DHA and EPA themselves we just need to ensure they receive the omega-3 form of ALA. This shouldn’t be hard as grass holds ALA being that it is a plant. This makes ALA an essential fatty acid, the body cannot create it on its own. Due to this, one could argue that ALA is the most important since it is the precursor to the other two fatty acids, it doesn’t however mean that it is the best of the three fatty acids.

3 Types of Omegas Chart

Is ALA, DHA, or EPA Better For Your Horse?

Every one of these fatty acids plays an essential role in overall health. That said, the more specific benefits that each acid offers could prove life-changing to one horse more so than another. For example, a horse struggling with skin allergies would especially benefit from ALA even though all horses do need it.  Moving forward, DHA will especially help horses with respiratory problems such as coughing, heaves, or other respiratory dysfunctions. Research has shown a 60% decrease in clinical scores of respiratory dysfunction with horses supplemented with DHA. Additionally, it would make a large difference for broodmares’ reproductive health and their foal’s developing cognitive function. Last but not least EPA, when working with DHA, provides a large difference for the horses struggling with joint health and inflammatory issues resulting in lameness.  Do you see the trend?  

The “Answer”

The answer is no one fatty acid is better than the other. While all have their differences – ALA, DHA, and EPA all bring a benefactor to the table for the greater good of our horse’s health. You need each in the body! It is important to not become caught up in the “better or worse” game and to keep the focus on the overall picture of health which includes all three forms of omega-3 fatty acids. Here at Excel, we pride ourselves on offering you only the best quality omega supplement for your horse. With great numbers resulting in increased bioavailability of the product horses and their owners see and feel the difference. 


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