The concept of ‘detoxifying’ or ‘detox’ has become almost a catch phrase at times, not only in human medicine but in horses as well. While the concept of ‘detoxifying’ is important, it is not always understood in the horse, especially the how’s and why’s of what you are doing. Many horse owners see this act of detoxifying as only being important in certain critical situations, but in truth, many horses are in need of a deep detox and tissue cleansing. Many of these horses have more common conditions which are easily overlooked as requiring a ‘detox’ component to their therapy regimen. Does your horse need to be detoxified?
Why detoxify your horse? What are toxins and why do they need to be removed for your horse to be healthier and sounder?
Toxins in your horse accumulate due to wide range of reasons. In the world of alternative medicine, ‘toxin’ accumulation is referred commonly to ‘ama’ or ‘dampness‘. It is perceived as a thick, sticky substance that accumulates deep in the body, human or horse, that impedes energy movement, energy production, and overall health.
The one key take home point is that toxin accumulation, no matter the origin, impairs cellular health on many levels This can negatively impact digestion or even mentality, but can also impair healing, immune function, performance, body condition, and tissue repair.
Medications and Toxin Accumulation in the Horse
These toxins can be direct chemicals entering and accumulating in your horse’s body as a result of excessive or repeated medication usage. This is common after several rounds of antibiotics or hospitalization, but is also noted after routine use of sedatives or tranquilizers to ease mental conditions. It is also noted in horses that undergo routine or often deworming for a variety of reasons.
It was not uncommon for me, as a veterinarian, to enter a barn and note that some horses were on daily ‘anti-anxiety’ medications like acepromazine or reserpine. Also very common to have horses on a variety of gastric ulcer medications or non-steroidal anti-inflammatories for pain or discomfort. Additionally, some horses have a large amount of fly sprays applied to their bodies daily along with sunscreens, not to mention various topical hoof salves and preparations. Then, we get into the group of horses on corticosteroids or bronchodilators to ease allergies and respiratory issues such as COPD.
All medications can and will accumulate in your horse’s body over time. The longer you use these medications, the more they accumulate and many accumulate in high concentrations in fat tissue, staying there for years, slowing leaking out. Additionally, these medications are not without harm by themselves. They influence cellular pathways which then impact bodily function on many levels, some directly impacting normal digestive health. Using a medication to ease anxiety doesn’t always just result in a ‘settled’ horse. Same with pain medications such as NSAIDS. Others, like anti-ulcer medications and corticosteroids have such far reaching side effects and consequences that as of right now, research is only shedding some light. These medications are ‘toxins’, accumulating in your horse and creating ongoing damage on a cellular level.
Diet and Toxin Accumulation in the Horse
The chosen diet your horse consumes on a daily basis contributes heavily to toxin accumulation in their body. Not only can the chosen diet not provide proper nutrients for cellular health and function, but that diet can also negatively impact digestive function, which then leads to more toxin accumulation.
Just as in human medicine, the over consumption of processed foods and foods that are low in nutritional value (empty calories) are contributing to a host of medical conditions in the horse. While many horse owners have all good intentions, the trend over the past 10-15 years is to ‘supplement’ vitamins and minerals, while providing low quality forage and high amounts of grains. Then, when problems develop, our tendency is to further supplement our way out of it. This may be through using glucosamine supplements for joint ailments, then hoof conditioners or other supplements. In addition, many of these horses are on daily medications for various ailments, which further adds to the toxin accumulation and damage.
This approach to the diet in the horse has become quite common with marketing pushing us in that direction unfortunately, both on the human and equine side. The thing to remember here is that most of these supplements are isolated, synthetic ingredients, created in laboratories. They are not food and they are not herbs. These chemicals, especially in the presence of artificial sweeteners or flavoring, adds more toxins to the body over time usually directly impacting digestive health and the microbiome. This is why, in many instances, my first line approach with any horse is to get them off their list of supplements and allow that body to ‘breathe’ and detox. It is amazing how well many of them do clinically just with this approach after 5-7 days.
The cleaner the diet, the healthier the horse!
Body Condition, Lifestyle, and Toxins in the Horse
Some of the healthiest horses I have ever seen as a veterinarian were those kept on pastures 24/7. They were not stalled, and most were never fed a grain. They were looked after, retrieved as needed for work, hoof care, or overall grooming, but then left out on pasture rain, snow, sleet, or shine. They were incredibly healthy and their body condition was naturally well-maintained!
In today’s equine age, metabolic conditions are rampant. Mirroring human medicine, many horses are overweight, whether if they are pasture pets or high level competitive athletes. It is interesting to me to see how many warmbloods competing in the world of dressage or other venues are actually carrying more weight than they should. Why is this? Many reasons to be honest, and I’m not judging, just noting an observation. There is a connection between this heavier body condition and many equine maladies from obvious metabolic problems, to allergies, hoof ailments, joint problems, back problems, stamina, colic, and even anxiety issues.
In general terms, an overweight horse equates to a higher toxin load accumulation. The reason for this is that fat is considered a toxin by itself, then in addition, fat tends to store accumulated medications and other toxins, slowing releasing them into the circulation over time. Fat is a good thing and needed by all horses, but an excessive amount creates problems. When I see an overweight horse, especially one with medical or lameness concerns, I instantly think digestion and toxin accumulation. This is why many metabolic horses are prone to other health ailments including laminitis. It is toxin accumulation, often associated with the diet, lifestyle, and other factors, which is then impairing cellular function, including hoof tissue and circulation.
Exercise, or lack thereof, is a huge contributor to toxin accumulation or removal. Proper exercise stimulates the horse’s body on many levels from digestion to mental health and circulation, which helps to move these toxins out. Additionally, sweating is viewed as a portal to release excess fluids and toxin accumulation. Sadly, many horses are not exercised at all and left in small paddocks or pens. Others are worked in a routine, but then stalled afterwards. These are generally not suitable practices for optimal health in the horse.
Anxiety, Depression, and Toxins in the Horse
Many mental ailments in the horse, including anxiety and depression, are linked with lifestyle, which is then connected with toxin accumulation. A high percentage of anxious horses are stall bound with little turnout, in addition to a processed diet, low-quality forage, and many are on medications. Going further, many horses are clinically depressed. You can see it in their eyes, their mood and their behaviors. Some are irritated and fly off the handle at times, while others barely respond to a prod or push.
Mental conditions in the horse can be a cause of toxin accumulation or they can be the effect of it. A horse that is constantly anxious and worried impedes normal energy flow and digestion, which contributes to toxin accumulation. On the other hand, a horse with toxin accumulation can be secondarily anxious or depressed due to that toxin impairing normal energy flow in the body. Think of anxiety as having too much energy upstairs which is not properly flowing around the body or depression as being a lack of proper energy flow to the brain. This can be a result of toxin accumulation, or ‘dampness’ which is creating an energy flow blockage.
Bottom line is that when you see anxiety or depression issues in your horse, it can be a sign that detoxification is needed or it can contribute to toxin buildup in their body. Either or, the problem needs to be addressed.
Detoxifying Your Horse: Herbs and Whole Foods
When it comes to organ health and detoxification, the main two organs involved are the liver and the kidneys. The liver is a primary detoxification organ to begin with and thus is prone to a buildup of toxin material from medication byproducts to bacterial overgrowth. Kidneys are also a detox organ, being involved with removal of toxic debris via urine. So, one of the primary goals when it comes to detoxification is to support these two organs and assist with toxin removal.
Herbs and whole foods play a major role in general detoxification in the horse. These herbs and whole foods can assist in several ways, including:
- Binding of toxic debris and facilitating removal
- Increasing blood flow to those organs
- Increasing urine output
- Increasing bile output from the gallbladder
- Supporting digestive microbiome
Favorite whole foods for general detox in the horse include:
- Alfalfa Herb Powder
- Artichoke Herb Powder
- Beet Root Powder
- Green Spinach
- Asparagus Root Powder
- Spirulina Blue Green Algae
Favorite herbs for general detox in the horse include:
Favorite Blends for Detox in the Horse:
- Cur-OST EQ Total Support
- Cur-OST EQ Total Body & Joint (all in one blend)
- Cur-OST EQ Tri-GUT
- Cur-OST EQ Tri-Guggul
- Cur-OST EQ Nitric Boost (beet, green spinach, barley grass)
When to Detox Your Horse?
- Post-medication delivery
- Post Illness recovery especially if prolonged
- During recoveries when confined or under stress
- Metabolic horses with laminitis or insulin dysfunction
- Horses beginning a new career, off-track
- New horses with a history of heavy medication usage
- Horses with a history of a chronic health or lameness concern
- Horses with anxiety and depression
- Horses with general digestive concerns (colic, loose stools, ulcers etc.)
- Horses with allergies, uveitis, COPD
- Horses with chronic foot or hoof conditions
- Horses with skin conditions, allergies, or wounds that fail to heal
Detox in the horse is an important aspect to any therapy program. If you are contending with a long-term or chronic health or lameness concern in your horse, it may be time to step back, assess their diet and lifestyle, and consider a 90 day detoxification program.
Author: Tom Schell D.V.M, CVCH, CHN