Gelatin supplements are commonly fed to horses and are purported to have multiple benefits for both equine health and performance. Anecdotally, gelatin is said to improve hoof health, hair and coat quality, skin health and joint function.

Gelatin is a protein derived from collagen, which is a key component of connective tissues found in the horse’s bones, cartilage and skin. [1] Collagen is the most abundant structural protein in animals, making up about 30% of the body’s total protein content. [2][3]

Feeding gelatin to horses could increase the dietary supply of amino acids, such as glycine and proline, thereby conferring health benefits. However, only a limited number of studies have examined the effects of feeding gelatin to horses, and not all of the purported uses are supported by available research. [4]

Before adding a gelatin supplement to your horse’s diet, it is important to take a closer look at the research into this ingredient. This article will explore the purported benefits of feeding gelatin to horses, potential mechanisms of action and considerations when adding gelatin to your horse’s diet.

Gelatin Supplements for Horses

Gelatin is a protein derived from animal collagen. It is composed of a mixture of peptides or small chains of amino acids, which are the building blocks of protein molecules.

Gelatin consists of more than 85% protein, with an imbalanced amino acid profile. [6] Glycine, proline and hydroxyproline represent about 57% of the amino acid content of gelatin. [2][3] These amino acids are considered nutritionally non-essential because the body can produce them internally. [3]

This ingredient is famously responsible for providing Jell-O with its characteristic gel-like texture. A 3 oz pouch of Jell-O typically contains approximately 7 grams of gelatin.

Gelatin has been used as an ingredient in human and pet supplement formulations for years due to its supposed benefits for joint health. Recently, there has been growing interest in the use of gelatin among the equine community.

What is Gelatin Made From?

As a dietary supplement, gelatin is obtained from hydrolyzed collagen by breaking down the bonds that hold collagen together. [2] Collagen, which is a by-product of the meat industry, is commonly sourced from pig skin, bovine hide, and pork and cattle bones to produce gelatin. [1][5]

While there is a common myth suggesting that gelatin primarily comes from horse collagen, it is not accurate. In reality, the vast majority of industrial gelatin production does not involve the use of horse collagen.

Mad About Horses
Join Dr. Chris Mortensen, PhD on an exciting adventure into the story of the horse and learn how we can make the world a better place for all equines.
Apple Podcasts Spotify Youtube
Mad Barn - Equine Nutrition Consultants | Mad Barn USA

Nutrition Composition

The following nutrition composition data is based on a 100-gram serving of dry, unsweetened gelatin powder. [15]

Nutrient Amount Unit
Water 13 g
Energy 335 kcal
Protein 85.6 g
Crude Fat 0.1 g
Ash 1.3 g
Carbohydrates 0 g
Fiber 0 g
Sugars 0 g
Calcium 55 mg
Iron 1.11 mg
Magnesium 22 mg
Phosphorus 39 mg
Potassium 16 mg
Sodium 196 mg
Zinc 0.14 mg
Copper 2.16 mg
Manganese 0.105 mg
Selenium 39.5 µg
Vitamin C 0 mg
Thiamin 0.025 mg
Riboflavin 0.23 mg
Niacin 0.085 mg
Pantothenic acid 0.125 mg
Vitamin B-6 0.007 mg
Folate 30 µg
Choline 38.5 mg
Vitamin B-12 0 µg

Amino Acid Profile

The amino acid profile of gelatin is characterized by relatively high glycine, proline, and hydroxyproline.

Additionally, gelatin is relatively low in certain essential amino acids, such as tryptophan, isoleucine, and methionine. These amino acids are typically found in higher amounts in complete proteins from animal or plant sources.

The following amino acid composition is based on a 100-gram serving of dry, unsweetened gelatin powder. [15]

Nutrient Amount Unit
Tryptophan 0 g
Threonine 1.48 g
Isoleucine 1.16 g
Leucine 2.45 g
Lysine 3.46 g
Methionine 0.606 g
Cystine 0 g
Phenylalanine 1.74 g
Tyrosine 0.303 g
Valine 2.08 g
Arginine 6.62 g
Histidine 0.662 g
Alanine 8.01 g
Aspartic acid 5.26 g
Glutamic acid 8.75 g
Glycine 19 g
Proline 12.3 g
Serine 2.6 g

Glycine

Glycine is a sweet-tasting amino acid important for protein synthesis, especially for the production of collagen and gut mucin glycoproteins. Glycine has many other roles in metabolism, including as a component of the antioxidant glutathione. It also has anti-inflammatory properties and plays a role in nerve transmission. [3][7]

Glycine is considered a non-essential amino acid, which means it can be synthesized internally and does not necessarily have to be obtained through the diet. It can be produced in the horse’s body from other compounds, such as serine, choline, threonine and hydroxyproline. [3]

While the horse’s body typically produces sufficient glycine, certain situations might arise where internal production fails to generate an adequate amount of glycine to meet physiological needs.

Studies in other species have found endogenous glycine synthesis may be insufficient to meet the needs of growing animals on plant-based diets. Insufficient glycine intake in the diet over an extended period may result in compromised growth and weakened immune function. [3]

In these situations, supplementing with glycine could support healthy development and the immune system. Additional glycine intake could also improve the efficiency of amino acids – meaning a greater proportion are incorporated into body proteins. Glycine predominantly has this effect on sulfur-containing amino acids and threonine, which are involved in cartilage synthesis and gut health. [7]

Proline

Proline is a non-essential amino acid that is abundant in collagen. Additionally, proline is involved in activating protein synthesis, which is essential for building and repairing tissues throughout the body. [3]

Proline can be synthesized in the horse’s body from the amino acids arginine, glutamine and glutamate. However, endogenous production of proline may not be sufficient to meet the needs for growth and repair in young animals or stressed adult horses. [3]

Interestingly, research in mice suggests that oral supplementation with proline alone is less effective in terms of amino acid incorporation into cartilage compared to supplementation with gelatin. Although proline is a major amino acid present in gelatin, the study found that when mice were supplemented with radioactively-labelled proline, there was less amino acid incorporation in cartilage compared to supplementation with gelatin. [8]

This suggests that gelatin is a better source of amino acids for cartilage synthesis, and proline supplementation alone may not yield the same beneficial outcomes for cartilage health as using a gelatin supplement.

Hydroxyproline

Hydroxyproline is an amino acid derived from proline with antioxidant properties. It is also involved in the maintenance of connective tissue structures. [3]

After collagen synthesis, proline undergoes a post-translational modification through a process called hydroxylation, where it gets converted into hydroxyproline.

This hydroxylation reaction is crucial for the stability and structure of collagen molecules, as it forms strong intermolecular hydrogen bonds that contribute to collagen’s triple-helical structure. The presence of hydroxyproline in collagen enhances the strength of this structural protein, helping to maintain the integrity and function of connective tissue.

The synthesis of hydroxyproline from proline-containing collagen is a very energetically demanding process on the animal. [3] Supplementing directly with hydroxyproline could provide benefits in situations where endogenous production does not keep up with physiological requirements.

Why Feed Gelatin to Horses?

For decades, gelatin has been recommended in the equine community as a supplement to support hoof health, coat growth and more. However, there is limited research in horses supporting these claims.

Gelatin has been the subject of research as a potential nutraceutical for improving joint, tendon, and ligament health in both humans and other animals. These studies indicate that gelatin may have the capacity to enhance joint comfort and stimulate collagen synthesis. [13]

Given these findings, it is conceivable that horses could also benefit from gelatin supplementation. However, more extensive research specific to horses is needed to conclusively establish its effectiveness and appropriate dosages for equine use.

Hoof Health

The idea of using gelatin to improve hoof health in horses likely stems from its usage in treating brittle fingernails in humans.

A preliminary report from 1949 suggested that three months of gelatin supplementation improved the appearance, firmness, and consistency of fingernails in 10 out of 12 study subjects. [9]

A similar experiment found a visual and qualitative improvement of fingernails in 43 out of 50 study subjects after three months of gelatin supplementation at 7 grams per day. [10]

However, these reports have limited scientific merit because they lack control groups with untreated subjects for comparison and rely on anecdotal observations rather than quantitative measures of improvement. Furthermore, it is unclear how these findings in humans can be applied to horses due to their physiological differences.

Research in Horses

Limited research has been conducted on gelatin supplementation to enhance hoof health in horses. A 1977 study examined the effects of gelatin supplementation on hoof growth and quality in eight Shetland ponies over a 56 day-treatment period. [4]

During the study, the ponies received 30 grams of added gelatin per 100 kg of body weight (bw) for the initial 28-day period. Subsequently, they received 90 grams per 100 kg bw during the second 28-day period. [4]

The researchers found no significant differences in hoof growth or compression strength after supplementing with gelatin for 56 days. There were also no differences observed in the surface area of the sole or in moisture, iron, zinc or nitrogen content of hoof tissue. [4]

However, given that it typically takes over 12 months for a new hoof capsule to grow from the coronary band to the ground, the 56-day timeframe might not have been sufficient to observe significant changes in hoof parameters. [11] Moreover, this study had a small sample size, with only eight ponies receiving gelatin supplementation.

To support your horse’s hoof health, supplementation with other nutrients such as biotin, zinc, copper, and methionine, is better supported by research. [11]

Mad Barn’s Omneity vitamin and mineral supplement contains these essential nutrients, such as biotin, zinc, copper, and methionine, in optimal levels required for the equine diet to support the growth of strong and robust hooves.

Omneity – Premix

5 stars
88%
4 stars
6%
3 stars
4%
2 stars
1%
1 star
1%

Learn More

  • 100% organic trace minerals
  • Complete B-vitamin fortification
  • Optimal nutrition balance
  • Our best-selling equine vitamin

Musculoskeletal Health

Gelatin is also purported to support musculoskeletal health in horses, which encompasses the function and well-being of bones, joints, ligaments and tendons. In human research trials involving osteoarthritic patients, gelatin-containing supplements have been shown to reduce joint pain. [12]

Gelatin may contribute to joint health by supporting the synthesis of collagen proteins in connective tissues. In laboratory experiments (in vitro), using serum from gelatin-supplemented subjects increases collagen content in engineered tissues, indicating potential improvements in collagen synthesis. [13]

Studies in humans have investigated the effects of gelatin supplementation on collagen synthesis after high-impact exercise.

Researchers found that gelatin led to a greater post-exercise increase in blood levels of N-terminal peptide of procollagen-I (PINP) compared to when no gelatin is given. PINP levels are important markers used to assess collagen synthesis and bone metabolism. [13]

This significant increase in post-exercise PINP levels among humans supplemented with gelatin suggests a positive impact on collagen synthesis. [13] However, further research is needed to fully understand its potential benefits for musculoskeletal health in both humans and animals.

Research in Horses

Studies in horses have examined the effects of gelatin supplementation on the amino acid profile in the blood, revealing a sustained increase in amino acids that are abundant in cartilage, such as glycine and proline. [6][14]

These findings suggest that amino acids from gelatin are readily absorbed by horses. However, further research is required to determine whether these amino acids are effectively utilized to promote cartilage synthesis in equine joints.

Skin and Coat Quality

Gelatin is also recommended for improving coat quality in horses, mainly because collagen – a key component of gelatin – plays vital roles in maintaining healthy skin and hair.

Studies involving human subjects show that gelatin supplements can improve hair growth and thickness. One study involving patients with alopecia (hair loss) reported a 29% increase in number of hair strands and a 40% increase in hair mass. [16]

Another study reported a benefit for hair strand diameter ranging between 5% to 45%. Notably, hair diameter returned to its original level within six months after stopping gelatin supplementation, demonstrating that the benefit was directly attributable to the supplantation program. [17]

Other studies have examined the effects of a gelatin-derived hydrolyzed collagen supplement, on metrics of skin health and appearance. Researchers observed an improvement in skin elasticity, moisture content and wrinkle depth following 28 days of supplementation with the hydrolyzed gelatin product. [18]

Although there are no specific studies directly measuring the impact of gelatin supplements on hair or skin quality in horses, horses might also experience benefits from supplementation. However, to confirm the validity of this theory, further research is required.

How to Feed Gelatin to Horses

Gelatin is a relatively tasteless powder that is well-tolerated by horses. The powder is easy to add to your horse’s daily ration, either by mixing it with feed or top-dressing on concentrates or hay cubes.

Keep in mind that if you add water to your horse’s feed to create a mash, the gelatin may turn to a jelly-like consistency.

According to the available research trials in horses, a daily dosage of 60 grams of gelatin increases the levels of glycine and proline circulating in the bloodstream. Nutritionists recommend feeding 30 grams twice per day to maintain elevated levels of these amino acids. [6]

Safety

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has classified gelatin as generally recognized as safe (GRAS). This indicates that it is generally well-tolerated and poses a low risk of adverse effects in the amounts commonly found in food and dietary supplements.

While rare, some horses may have an allergic reaction to gelatin. Monitor your horse for any adverse reactions when introducing gelatin into their diet, and discontinue use and consult a veterinarian if necessary.

Summary

Gelatin is a protein-rich substance with wide-ranging uses in equine feed and nutraceutical products. Gelatin may support benefits for joint health and collagen synthesis in horses.

While gelatin supplements are commonly promoted for hoof health in horses, the available research data is limited and does not provide sufficient evidence to support its use for this purpose.

Only a few studies have been conducted to explore the potential benefits of gelatin in horses. Further research is needed to gain a comprehensive understanding of how this supplement impacts equine health and performance.

Horse owners and caregivers should remain cautious when presented with anecdotal evidence of a supplement’s effectiveness. Seek expert advice from a qualified equine nutritionist before making significant changes to your horse’s feeding program.

Is Your Horse's Diet Missing Anything?

Identify gaps in your horse's nutrition program to optimize their well-being.

References

  1. Gómez-Guillén, MC et al. Functional and bioactive properties of collagen and gelatin from alternative sources: A review. Food Hydrocolloids. Food Hydrocolloids. 2011.
  2. Lui, D. et al. Collagen and Gelatin. Annu Rev Food Sci Technol. 2015.
  3. Li, P and Wu, G. Roles of dietary glycine, proline, and hydroxyproline in collagen synthesis and animal growth. Amino Acids. 2018.
  4. Butler, KD and Hintz, HF. Effect of level of feed intake and gelatin supplementation on growth and quality of hoofs of ponies. J Anim Sci. 1977. View Summary
  5. Li, B et al. Isolation and identification of antioxidative peptides from porcine collagen hydrolysate by consecutive chromatography and electrospray ionization-mass spectrometry. Food Chem. 2007.
  6. Coenen, M et al. Study of gelatin supplemented diet on amino acid homeostasis in the horse. Equine Vet J Suppl. 2006. View Summary
  7. Akinde, DO. Amino acid efficiency with dietary glycine supplementation: Part 1. World’s Poultry Sci Assoc. 2014.
  8. Oesser S et al. Oral Administration of 14C Labeled Gelatin Hydrolysate Leads to an Accumulation of Radioactivity in Cartilage of Mice (C57/BL). Am Soc Nutri Sci. 1999.
  9. Tyson, TL. Premilimary and Short Reports: The Effect of Gelatin on Fragile Finger Nails. J Invest Dermatol. 1949.
  10. Rosenbuerg, S et al. Further studies in the use of gelatin in the treatment of brittle nails. AMA Arch Derm. 1957.
  11. Geyer, H and Schulze, J. The long-term influence of biotin supplementation on hoof horn quality in horses. Schwelz Arch Tierheilk. 1994.
  12. Adam, M. What Effects Do Gelatin Preparations Have?: Therapy of Ostheoarthitis. Therapiewoche. 1991.
  13. Shaw, G et al. Vitamin C-enriched gelatin supplementation before intermittent activity augments collagen synthesis. Am J Clin Nutr. 2017.
  14. Appelt, K et al. The effects of training and gelatine supplementation on plasma amino acid profile in resting horses. Equine Nut Conf Hannover. 2005.
  15. Gelatins, dry powder, unsweetened. US Department of Agriculture. FoodData Central. 2019.
  16. Morganti, P et al. Effect of Gelatin-Cystine and Serenoa Repens Extract on Free Radicals Level and Hair Growth. J Appl Cosmetol. 1998.
  17. Scala, J et al. Effect of daily gelatin ingestion on human scalp hair. Nutrition Reports International. 1976.
  18. Bianchi, FM et al. Evaluation of the Efficacy of a Hydrolyzed Collagen Supplement for Improving Skin Moisturization, Smoothness, and Wrinkles. J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. 2022.