Safe Detox For Your Horse

Posted by Joyce Harman, DVM, MRCVS on Mar 15th 2024

Safe Detox For Your Horse

Detoxification is word tossed about in many different ways with different meanings. Internally the liver goes through biochemical detoxification every time food or drugs enter the body through the stomach, intestinal tract or blood stream. Externally, we may decide we want to help our horses detoxify their body by adding supplements or herbs that enhance the detoxification that goes on internally. This is worthy goal since toxic compounds surround us on a regular basis. It's important to understand healthy and unhealthy detoxification.

The liver’s path

There are two main phases of biochemical detoxification and it is important to have both phases working well. Phase I uses the cytochrome P-450 oxidative enzymes to chemically oxidize, reduce, hydrate, hydrolyze or dehalogenate the toxin. Phase II is a conjugation (binding) phase using sulfates and glutathione; converting the fat-soluble toxin to a water soluble one for easy elimination from the body. Water-soluble toxins are excreted primarily in the urine and, and a bit in the skin and lungs. Fat-soluble toxins are eliminated in the bile and become part of the feces. Fat soluble toxins can be reabsorbed, creating a heavy load of toxins, which, if not eliminated can be stored in the body fat.

How to tell if you need to do a detox

Spring is good time to think about helping the natural detoxification process, since many of the early spring plants (herbs) are natures detoxifiers. Herbs tend to grow in season where they are most beneficial.

Any horse that has been treated for illness with drugs will benefit from a nice cleaning detox to refresh the enzyme pathways and be sure that both parts of the pathway are in full working order. Toxins that are left behind in the tissues or stored in the fat can actually be carried out of the body by the herbs and supplements being given.

With humans there are tests to determine how the liver is functioning, but the regular blood tests in horses will not give us that information. There are a few symptoms that can help indicate if your horse’s liver is functioning less than perfectly. The coat may be dry, the quality of the feet may be poor, and symptoms such as arthritis and allergies may be present. Your horse may be more sensitive to drugs or even herbs than others, needing a lower dose. Or you may see side effects to herbs or drugs.

Safe detoxification

Detoxification should be done gently and not cause a more serious problem. The key is to activate the Phase I and Phase II pathways in a balanced manner. If Phase I gets going well, but Phase II is not activated, the system gets backed up and can actually release more toxins into the system. Since we do not have a laboratory test, watch your horse carefully to be sure there are no adverse symptoms such as diarrhea, mild colic, or poor appetite. It is possible that some horses will detoxify through their skin. If that is happening, the skin will look worse for several weeks, and could develop eruptions. Continue with your protocol for at least several weeks after this occurs to complete the reaction.

There is no benefit to a severe detox that gives the horse significant diarrhea or any digestive upset, since horses are prone to life threatening colic. Some people feel that strong reactions are a good way to clean the body, but they are really more of an indication that the detox reaction is becoming too toxic or strong. Stop, let the horse recover and proceed more gently.

Foods to help detoxification

Cruciferous vegetables include broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, bok choy, arugula, Brussels sprouts, collards, watercress and radishes. All of these nutritionally supportive to the liver and are safe to feed, depending on which ones your horse likes. A stalk of broccoli, a bunch of bok choy or a large handful of Brussel sprouts can make a nice addition to the feed for a few weeks or a month. An approximate therapeutic amount would be about twice what you would normally eat.

Nutritional supplements to support the liver

To support the detox process several of the B vitamins are useful. Choline, vitamins B6, B12 and folate help with fat metabolism. CoQ10 and most antioxidants protect the liver. Vitamin A with carotenoids, Vitamin C with bioflavonoids, Vitamin E with selenium, and Proanthocyanidins (found in grape seeds) are all excellent antioxidants.

Bentonite clay can be used to physically pull toxins from the gut. Clay has a chemical affinity for toxins and carries them out in the stool. You can wet the clay and add it to the food, about 2 tablespoons per day. It will bind to drugs, so do not give it at the same time you are feeding any drugs.

Herbs to support detoxification

One of the best herbs to feed in the spring is dandelions. They grow everywhere, and no one appreciates them for their amazing benefits. As an herb, they are considered blood cleansers, diuretics and overall excellent tonics. You can even buy the leaves and sometimes the roots in the grocery store. Horses will dig at the roots if allowed to graze them. Just be sure the neighbors have not sprayed them with anything toxic. Both the leaves and the root are useful.

Many herbs can be used in a detoxification protocol:

Milk Thistle is one of the most common and key herbs to include. Burdock root is an excellent liver herb (and probably grows in your pasture).

Gentian root is an excellent tonic for the spring formula, especially for the digestive tract and as an appetite stimulant but is not as commonly used as many other herbs.

Yellow Dock helps to promote detoxification, reduces liver congestion, and removes accumulation of toxins. It can be a strong herb, so works best in a formula.

Turmeric increases the bile production to help the Phase II detox process, and affects other parts of the liver, is anti-inflammatory and acts an antioxidant.

Simple spring tonic that works on the liver and supports the gut in the process

  • Nettles, cleavers, dandelion, garlic, echinacea
  • Mix equal parts by weight
  • Give about 30 gms per day