Vitamin E and Degenerative Spinal Cord Diseases in Horses

Widely touted for its powerful antioxidant benefits, vitamin E influences an array of body systems. All horses, regardless of age, require daily vitamin E to support essentially every cell in their bodies, including those of the nervous system.

According to a recent review article*, horses with a specific degenerative nervous condition benefit from vitamin E supplementation. This condition, called equine neuroaxonal dystrophy/degenerative myeloencephalopathy, often shortened to eNAD/EDM, is particularly responsive to vitamin E supplementation.

The disease has been diagnosed in horses of many breeds, including the Standardbred, Appaloosa, Morgan, Lusitano, Paint, Thoroughbred, Arabian, Norwegian Fjord, and Quarter Horse.

“Signs of eNAD/EDM begin in early in life, frequently in foals that are not raised on lush, green pastures and have low circulating vitamin E levels,” shared Kathleen Crandell, Ph.D., a Kentucky Equine Research nutritionist.

Affected foals show some or all of the following signs:

  • Incoordination;
  • Abnormal stance when standing;
  • Lifting the front limbs excessively when walking, called hypermetria;
  • Abnormally high carriage of the head;
  • Lack of body awareness (proprioceptive deficits);
  • Decreased or lack of menace response, which assesses vision; and
  • Diminished or absent fight or flight response, a staple in any horse’s normal survival behaviors.

“Vitamin E intake of 45-400 IU of vitamin E/kg dry matter forage per day, which can easily be obtained on fresh pasture, appears to protect foals from this devastating condition,” said Crandell. “Geography and season can affect the overall content of vitamin E in pasture. Vitamin E supplements should be fed to support overall health, including the well-being of nervous tissues.”

As summarized by the researchers of the review article, owners should look for a water-soluble, natural (rather than synthetic) form of vitamin E at a dose of 10 IU/kg body weight/day.

“While the exact means by which vitamin E protects foals against eNAD/EDM remains unclear, its antioxidant properties likely contribute to its benefits,” Crandell advised.

Nano-E, a vitamin E supplement developed by Kentucky Equine Research, fits the aforementioned criteria. Nano-E has a unique delivery system to maximize the bioavailability of the natural vitamin E.

*Burns, E.N., and C.J. Finno. 2018. Equine degenerative myeloencephalopathy: Prevalence, impact, and management. Veterinary Medicine (Auckl). 9:63-67.