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Magnesium as an Equine Dietary Supplement


Allison J. Stewart

, BVSc (Hons), PhD, DACVIM-LAIM, DACVECC, School of Veterinary Science, University of Queensland

Reviewed/Revised Aug 2022 | Modified Oct 2022

Dietary magnesium (Mg) deficiency in horses is very rare, unless extreme conditions combine to result in decreased consumption and increased demand, eg, long-distance transportation of unfed lactating mares or prolonged administration of enteral or parenteral fluid or nutrition solutions deficient in Mg. In humans, there is a beneficial effect of Mg supplementation on insulin sensitivity. Some horses with equine metabolic syndrome (EMS) have been found to have substantially lower intracellular Mg concentrations than non-EMS horses, and supplementation has been suggested. However, one randomized placebo-controlled study showed no difference in either insulin sensitivity or morphometric variables in horses supplemented with Mg (8.8 g/day) and chromium. Trigeminal-mediated headshaking behavior has been improved with IV Mg and with oral supplementation with Mg or Mg and boron. For many years, Mg supplements have been advocated by laypeople as a calming agent. Some jurisdictions will drug test horses for excessive Mg supplementation.

Although sedation can occur in horses administered >500 g of Mg sulfate (MgSO4) as a cathartic via stomach tube, low-level Mg supplements are unlikely to influence behavior, and larger amounts would likely be unpalatable in the feed or even dangerous if administered as repeated dosages via nasogastric tube ( see Hypermagnesemia in Animals Hypermagnesemia in Animals Hypermagnesemia (plasma magnesium [Mg] concentration >2 mg/dL [1.1 mmol/L]) is a rare condition reported only in monogastric animals. Horses show clinical signs of sweating and muscle weakness... read more ). Recommended doses of 3–10 g are unlikely to have a meaningful clinical benefit. Low-level supplementation is considered relatively safe, even if not efficacious, because excess Mg will be readily excreted by the kidneys in animals with normal renal function. However, excessive longterm supplementation of Mg may increase the risk of enterolith formation. Recently, a dosage of 15–30 mg/kg body weight of Mg aspartate-hydrochloride given for 7 days was shown to increase serum tMg and could be used for short-term supplementation.

The maintenance Mg requirement for horses has been estimated at 13 mg/kg body weight/day and can be provided by a diet containing 0.16% Mg (1,600 ppm of feed) or by adding Mg oxide at 31 mg/kg/day, Mg carbonate (MgCO3) at 64 mg/kg/day, or MgSO4 at 93 mg/kg/day. This may be important when formulating oral replacement fluids for inappetent horses. For a 500-kg horse, this would equate to Mg oxide at ~16 g/day, MgCO3 at 32 g/day, or MgSO4 at 47 g/day. Growing, lactating, and exercising animals may require double these amounts. Horses that are obtaining adequate feed by grazing, with hay or grain, are unlikely to be Mg deficient. Horses are able to absorb 30%–60% of the Mg provided in their feed, which is higher than the absorption rate in ruminants.

If a pasture is considered Mg deficient (winter pastures with little herbage that have been fertilized with potash and/or nitrogen), then renal excretion of Mg may be used to evaluate Mg balance. With low dietary Mg intake, urinary Mg excretion falls to negligible levels. Renal Mg excretion is measured in urine collected throughout 24 hours (mg/kg/day). The fractional clearance of Mg can be determined by expressing the renal Mg clearance relative to the creatinine clearance and requires only a single sample each of urine and serum. Fractional clearance of Mg in healthy horses fed grass hay ranges from 15% to 35%, and values < 6% indicate inadequate dietary Mg intake. A Mg retention test to assess total body status has been evaluated in horses receiving Mg-deficient diets; however, this test offers no benefit over performing fractional clearances and requires 48 hours of volumetric urine collection.

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