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FAQs on Biotin

(Originally published in Equestrian Retailer, Sept. 2002, Vol. 5 No.3)

What you need to know about this popular vitamin to answer your customers' questions?

Originally called Vitamin H (from Haut, the German word for skin) biotin is a B vitamin so essential that it is manufactured in the gut naturally. Whether equine or human, this is a fact of nature. With a total absence of biotin, any creature will die. Fortunately, deficiencies that extreme are very rare. Biotin is found in many feeds also. However, Mother Nature is having to work overtime trying to provide naturally the essential nutrients that keep a horse looking and feeling healthy, so supplementation is often a necessity.

You no doubt carry biotin supplements on your shelves to satisfy your customers' needs. Here are the answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about this popular vitamin.

Q: If biotin is produced in the gut, is supplementation needed?

A: Unfortunately, other factors may affect either the bio-availability of biotin or its manufacture in the system. For instance, pollutants in the air caused by farming equipment and automobiles can inhibit the system from working properly and will prevent the absorption of biotin. Diet plays a role also since rancid fats actually cause a deficiency. Flax seed, a popular feed, is very beneficial for horses especially since it contains some biotin naturally. However, if exposed to direct sunlight, the heat may very easily turn the natural oil in the flax seed rancid. This not only destroys the biotin in the flax seed itself, but also destroys the biotin in the system. Some high performance type supplements may contain meat by-products. The process used at rendering plants, where the meat by-products originate, heat the meat to such a high degree that it turns the fat rancid. It's always advisable to watch the ingredient list and to be aware that introducing meat by-products into a horse's diet may be detrimental. That is not to imply that high performance supplements do not serve a purpose but that it can affect the horses' natural ability to synthesize vitamins such as biotin. In particular since horses are not, by nature, meat eaters. It can happen that a susceptibility to this deficiency may be inherited, too.

Q: How much biotin does a horse need daily?

A: Horses generally require 1-2 mg of biotin daily. If symptoms such as dull coat or sparse hair growth are present, you can increase the amount up to 8 mg a day. To improve hoof quality, 15 mg daily is generally sufficient.

Q: What happens if I give my horse too much biotin?

A: Biotin is not known to have any adverse effects. As a water soluble nutrient, any biotin that isn't used is excreted through the urine.

Q: How can I tell if I'm giving my horse enough biotin?

A: If your horse has a nice shiny coat and healthy hooves, it's likely getting enough biotin. Unfortunately there are no tests available for the discovery of this deficiency. Providing the recommended amount relevant to the problem area should show an improvement in the condition. Otherwise, an increase of biotin is in order. Controlled studies prove that biotin can correct many hoof problems along with improving skin and coat condition. (Comben, N, Clark, RJ, Sutherland, JB, Veterinary record 1984, NO 115, pp 451, 642-645)

Q: How long before I should expect to see any improvement?

A: A noticeable improvement in the skin and coat will be apparent in as few as 5 weeks. For improved hoof condition it takes as long as it takes the new hoof to grow out which averages around 3 - 4 months.

Q: Once I see improvement in the hoof, should I stop using a biotin supplement?

A: Since biotin is water soluble, it needs to be present and absorbed throughout the system daily. Discovery of a biotin deficiency, even of a small degree, means that a regimen of supplementation is required. If it's discontinued after a problem area improves, it will likely reoccur.

Q: My mare is pregnant. Is it safe to give her biotin? What about after the birth?

A: Pregnant and lactating mares need above average amounts of biotin. It is totally safe, and recommended, to double the amount normally given.

Q: Should I store my biotin supplement in the refrigerator?

A: You don't have to refrigerate biotin, but keep it away from high heat. Some formulas may contain ingredients that could turn rancid with exposure to heat. When in doubt, contact the manufacturer.

Biotin supplementation is definitely gaining in popularity with many manufacturers' brands available. Price should not be the only factor to consider when choosing which brand to stock on your shelf. Shelf life is important, as is how much biotin is available per feeding. A concentrated supplement will likely have more biotin per serving size and be a smaller serving, thus making it easier to store on the shelf, as well as easier to feed to the horse.

By: Diane Clark

About the author: Diane Clark works for a major neutraceutical company and is specializing in biotin research. She is a freelance writer and publishes in magazines dealing with equine, pets and human nutrition. One of her articles was published in Animal Wellness Magazine, Volume 4, Issue 1. Publication date: January 15, 2002.