Chia seeds are derived from the Salvia hispanica plant and are fed to horses to support gut health and provide nutrients. [1] A member of the mint family, chia has been cultivated for over 5,000 years in Central America. [1][2]

The seeds of the chia plant are rich in nutrients, including fiber, vitamins, minerals, and omega-3 and omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids. [3] Chia is also a source of amino acids and beneficial plant chemicals (phytochemicals). [3][4]

Chia is included in the equine diet as a source of cool calories with digestible energy primarily supplied from fat. Feeding chia is also purported to support gut motility, possibly reducing the risk of sand colic, among other purported benefits.

In this feeding guide, we will review everything you need to know about feeding chia seeds to horses, including nutritional composition, health benefits and feeding rates.

Characteristics of Chia Seeds

Global production of chia seeds for human consumption and the animal feed industry has increased in recent years due to their valuable nutritional composition.

The chia plant is native to a region spanning from Northern Mexico to Guatemala. The seeds are commonly referred to as a superfood due to their fiber, fatty acid, protein, vitamin, mineral, and antioxidant content. [4]

Salvia hispanica plants produce brown to black and beige-coloured seeds. These small seeds measure approximately one millimetre each.

The outer three layers of the seeds contain mucilage, a viscous gel-like substance comprised of soluble fiber. When the seeds come into contact with water, mucilage appears immediately.

Chia seeds provide a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids. The nutrients in chia have been studied for their beneficial effects on human health conditions ranging from metabolic disease to cancer. [1]

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Nutritional Composition

The digestible energy value of chia seeds is 459-495 kcal per 100 grams. [7]

Chia seeds are comprised of: [4]

  • 20 – 34% fat
  • 23 – 41% fiber
  • 16 – 26% protein

Fatty Acid Composition

Chia seeds contain approximately: [3][5]

  • 80% polyunsaturated fatty acids
  • 11% monounsaturated fatty acids
  • 10% saturated fatty acids

The polyunsaturated fatty acid component of chia seeds is approximately 59% omega-3 fatty acids as alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) and 21% omega-6 fatty acids as linoleic acid (LA). [3][5]

The 3:1 ratio of omega 3 to 6 in chia seeds is close to the essential fatty acid ratio naturally present in pasture grasses.

Amino Acids

Chia seeds contain ten essential amino acids, including higher amounts of leucine, phenylalanine, valine, arginine, and lysine. [6]

They also contain non-essential amino acids, including high amounts of glutamic and aspartic acids, glycine, serine, and alanine. [6]

Vitamins: [4][8]

  • Thiamine (B1): 0.6 mg / 100 g
  • Riboflavin (B2): 0.2 mg / 100 g
  • Niacin (B3): 8.8 mg / 100 g
  • Folic acid (B9): 49 mg / 100 g
  • Vitamin E: 0.5 mg / 100 g
  • Vitamin A: 0.054 mg / 100 g
  • Vitamin C: 1.6 mg / 100 g

Minerals: (per 100 g) [8]

  • Calcium: 430 – 806 mg
  • Phosphorus: 530 – 1248 mg
  • Potassium: 407 – 870 mg
  • Magnesium: 322 – 462 mg
  • Iron: 7.7 – 24 mg
  • Zinc: 0.6 – 10 mg
  • Copper: 0.6 – 2.4 mg

Polyphenols

Chia seeds contain naturally occurring polyphenols – diverse biological molecules that serve protective roles in plants. [6][8]

Many polyphenols have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and other health-promoting properties. Polyphenols present in chia seeds include: [6][8]

  • Phenolic Acids: Caffeic acid, Ferulic acid, Gallic acid, P-coumaric acid
  • Depsides: Chlorogenic acid, Rosmarinic acid
  • Flavonoids: Quercetin, Myricetin, Kaempferol, Rutoside, Apigenin
  • Catechin Derivatives: Epicatechin
  • Isoflavones: Daidzein, Glycitin, Genistein, Genistin

Other Nutrients

Chia seeds contain a small amount (0.50 ug/g) of naturally occurring plant pigments (carotenoids).

They also contain plant sterols, substances that are similar to cholesterol in terms of their molecular structure but produced in plants. [8][10]

Fibre

Chia seeds contain mucilage in the outer layers of the seed. A water-soluble fiber, mucilage forms into a gel consistency when chia contacts water.

Mucilage offers multiple benefits, including reducing bowel irritation and inflammation. [11]

Benefits of Chia Seeds for Horses

Although there are no published research studies examining the effects of chia seeds on horses, researchers have found health benefits in humans for conditions including obesity, hypertension, cardiovascular diseases, cancer, and diabetes. [1]

The purported benefits of feeding chia to horses include weight management, insulin regulation, gut health,and more.

Source of Cool Energy:

Fat is considered cool energy because it can help to promote a calm demeanor in horses. 

Exchanging some of your horse’s grain ration for a fat source, such as chia seeds, can help to prevent blood sugar spikes that contribute to hot behavior.

Fat is also more efficiently digested by the horse’s gut and produces less heat than protein or carbohydrate digestion.

Provides Essential Fatty Acids:

Chia seeds are an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids, including ALA (alpha-linolenic acid). Omega-3 fatty acids are associated with anti-inflammatory benefits and can support joint health and overall well-being.

Omega-3 fatty acids also affect immune system activation to reduce excessive inflammatory responses. [15]

Omega-3s in flax oil have been shown to reduce allergic skin responses to biting midges (culicoides). [16] Chia seeds could provide similar benefits due to their high omega-3 content, although this has not been proven in research.

Supports Healthy Weight:

The high-fat content of chia seeds provides a valuable source of calories for horses needing to gain weight.

Chia is a great way to add energy to your horse’s diet without adding bulk. All fats provide 9 kcal (kilocalories) of energy per gram, making fat a much more concentrated source of calories than carbohydrates or protein.

Research in human and animal models also suggests fat supplementation improves the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins, such as vitamins A and D. [15]

Support Insulin Sensitivity:

The omega-3 fatty acids in chia seeds help to regulate insulin levels by supporting insulin sensitivity. [12] The soluble fiber component of chia slows glucose absorption into the bloodstream and helps to mitigate blood sugar spikes. [14]

Supports Gut Health:

The mucilage and phytochemicals in chia seeds