Detoxing for horses is clearly becoming big business. Oral detoxing has its origins in the theory of autointoxication, which was disproven about 100 years ago. The idea was that assorted ”toxins” and fecal matter accumulate in the colon and end up in the bloodstream. Nevertheless, the idea is still used to push detox products.
Clays and activated charcoal are often claimed to detox the horse. Both can bind to certain chemicals/ toxins present in the bowel, but they can’t pull harmful substances out of the body. They’re used in certain situations to help protect the horse if there is a toxin inside the bowel when they’re given, but that’s it.
Various fiber sources and even irritating/laxative herbs are sometimes in detox formulas for the same rationale of binding toxins and sweeping out or ”cleansing” the colon. But they can’t pull any substances out of the body tissues, and fiber does not have the same laxative effect in horses as in people.
The body deals with absorbed, inhaled or injected toxins in several different ways. Fat-soluble toxins may be sequestered in fat deposits or metabolized to water-soluble ones by the liver and kidneys and excreted via sweat, urine and/or bile.
These elimination pathways are probably the rationale for a host of detox products that claim to ”cleanse” the blood, liver or bile. Some are even mild diuretics, but making the horse produce more urine doesn’t change the rate of liver and kidney methylation or glururonidation reactions.
It’s the same for bile production rates. But, many of these herbs don’t increase bile production anyway. They stimulate gallbladder contraction, which is particularly worthless since the horse doesn’t even have a gallbladder.
Those promoting the use of detox concoctions have gone so far as to say that your horse’s dewormers and vaccines accumulate in the horse over time and make detox a necessity. Wrong. The truth is that while sensitivity to vaccine components might cause problems, they don’t build up. And any absorbed deworming drug is metabolized and excreted easily.
Poisonings and intoxications can happen, but get your veterinarian’s help. Otherwise, give your horse a nutritionally balanced diet, including antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids to boost his natural immune system.
If you’re going to worry about toxins, at least support your horse the right way, with the nutrients he needs to do the job — not some expensive poorly conceived supplement.
Eleanor M. Kellon, VMD