Ask the Vet – Copper deficiency in horses
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Ask the Vet – Copper deficiency in horses

August 24, 2019

DAN: “What are the symptoms
of copper deficiency? Are rose colored spots on
skin not covered by hair, particularly on the inner
rear legs near the abdomen one of the symptoms of it? And then what is the best way
to correct that deficiency?” DR LYDIA GRAY: Hm. Well, I spend most
of my time on– DAN: I’m very curious
as to what you’re going to say with this one. DR LYDIA GRAY: Oh, me too. So the whole rose
colored spots thing. Have you seen those? Do you know what
she’s talking about? DAN: A little bit. DR LYDIA GRAY: OK. I’ve seen them. DAN: Yeah. DR LYDIA GRAY: And you
kind of see them more when the horse gets wet. DAN: OK. Oh, yes. Yes. Yes. DR LYDIA GRAY: She’s
talking about a place where there’s not hair. I bet if she wet her horse and
looked, she’d see more of them. I don’t think
those have anything to do with copper deficiency. The only thing that I could
find about copper deficiency in horses, and it’s not even
in the NRC, which is my go to, but it’s hair color. But first, we’ll
go back to the NRC. And here’s what they say. Notice there’s no
mention of hair. DAN: OK. DR LYDIA GRAY: “Copper is
essential for several copper dependent enzymes involved in
the synthesis and maintenance of elastic connective tissue,
mobilization of iron stores.” So anemia can be a result.
“Preservation of the integrity of mitochondria.” Goodness. “Melanin synthesis.” DAN: OK. So that does. DR LYDIA GRAY: “And
detoxification of super oxides.” So it has the role
as an antioxidant. So yeah. I’m thinking the
melanin synthesis is– let’s go down that rabbit hole. Shall we? DAN: Let’s go down it. DR LYDIA GRAY: OK. So melanin is a pigment. And the enzyme that’s
responsible for pigment production is copper dependent. DAN: OK. DR LYDIA GRAY: So if you
don’t have enough copper, you can’t make the enzyme
that makes melanin. DAN: Yes. I’m with you. I’m with you. DR LYDIA GRAY: OK. Shoot. DAN: Without this,
you can’t have that. DR LYDIA GRAY: Right. DAN: OK. DR LYDIA GRAY: So if you’re
not making enough pigment, then in chestnut
horses, and Nerida said she looks at cattle first. They seem to be
the first canary. Like they send the
canaries in the coal mines. They’re the first signal
of copper deficiency, maybe in the hay or
pasture in the area. Herefords are supposed to
be this really rich copper, orange, red almost color
like a liver chestnut. And when they become
copper deficient, they turn this icky, light
orange, yellowish color. DAN: OK. DR LYDIA GRAY: Yeah. It just looks muted. DAN: A little duller. DR LYDIA GRAY: Dull. Yeah. And then black horses, what
they do is the tips of the hair especially– in the mane you’ll
see it– it turns kind of rust or copper colored. Because they’re losing
their black pigment. DAN: Oh. DR LYDIA GRAY: Yeah. DAN: And that’s at the tips,
not at the roots I think. DR LYDIA GRAY: Right. Right. So you see it at the tips. And another thought
is that when you don’t have a full
dose of pigment, then when UV
radiation, sunlight, you’re exposed to it for
a long length of time, the hair bleaches out
easier, because there’s not a full dose of color there. DAN: Well, that’s what
I was going to ask you. For as far as seeing the
tips on a black horse be a little rusted
looking, how do you know that’s not just
from sun bleaching? Or how do you know it’s– DR LYDIA GRAY: But I
think it’s related. DAN: OK. DR LYDIA GRAY: It’s related. And it could be
copper deficiency. Now, the trick, and why
I made such a face when you said how do you fix it? You call a Nerida. Because copper is a micro
mineral or a trace mineral. So you need it in
very small amounts. And the NRC says 100
milligrams a day. And zinc is another one that
also has a role in color. That’s 400 milligrams a day. So it’s a one to four ratio. DAN: OK. DR LYDIA GRAY: If you
don’t have enough copper then you may run into these
other issues as well as color. Or if you have too much
of other trace minerals that are either
interacting or preventing the absorption of
copper, you run into it. So see, the
interaction is tricky. DAN: Yes. DR LYDIA GRAY: So it’s
not as simple as just, oh, give him more copper. DAN: Because then you can
impact another mineral. DR LYDIA GRAY: So if you think
you have a horse with a copper deficiency, you probably should
have the whole diet evaluated. And then try to build from
the ground up a balanced diet, and not just add in things. Because I think you’re
going to make a worse problem just adding in copper. DAN: So you did bring
in Dr. Richards. And so we didn’t explain FeedXL
at the beginning of this, which I do apologize for. But you can actually
go on to FeedXL and put in your
horse’s complete diet, from grain, to hay,
to supplements. And then it gives
this beautiful chart, kind of showing where
your horse is deficient, and then where your horse is
doing really well in certain– DR LYDIA GRAY: It
has the 100% line. And then it has
graphs, little bars. And it says you’re
not quite there. Or you’re there. Or you’re even past it. DAN: So it can kind
of let you play around to see what you can do to get
your horse to optimal levels for certain nutrients. So that could be a
resource for you guys to take advantage of to
see where you guys need to– especially for
something like copper, where it’s so
specific of a mineral. DR LYDIA GRAY: Yeah. And it’s such a little
amount that they need. But without that, they
can’t make the enzymes. And the enzymes,
I mean, we see it on the outside because
of the hair coat. But there’s lots of stuff
going on on the inside if the enzyme is not there. DAN: So hair coat color
potentially could be a sign. Though, the rose colored spots
on the skin, probably not. DR LYDIA GRAY: Probably not. DAN: OK. DR LYDIA GRAY: And
if she’s concerned, I mean, ask the vet the
next time she is out there. But I see those a lot, and they
don’t seem to be a problem, and they don’t seem to spread. And I guess I don’t
worry about them. DAN: All right. We won’t worry about them then.

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