Lions, Tigers, and Fillers...OH MY!

Few things irritate me more than feed or supplement companies using the catch-all-phrase "no fillers" when advertising their products. What does this mean? No seriously, I’m asking you. What does that mean, because I’m not completely certain either! I’ve been looking at feed and supplement labels professionally for two decades, and I’m still not sure what supplement companies mean when they say "no fillers". Do these supplement creators not understand feed/supplement categories or ingredients?

If you've been persuaded by a "no fillers"claim, I'd argue that you do not fully understand the purpose of the products or ingredients in question.

- Is a filler some thing put into a product for no reason at all?

- Is it an ingredient with zero nutritional value that lowers cost?

- If any of those statements are true, what ingredients constitute fillers?

- Is an ingredient a filler in one product but not another?

- Are "fillers" dangerous? Unhealthy? or Wasteful?


The way supplement companies talk about fillers, you'd think that they are just as dangerous to your horse as lions and tigers. But is your horse ACTUALLY in danger from being attacked by lions and tigers? No? Well, I'd argue that your horse has the same likelihood of being attacked by a lion as "fillers" have for ruining your horse's diet! My argument is that there is no such thing as a filler in today's equine nutrition world, and I'll show you why.


I lied...I actually DO know what companies mean when they say "No Fillers". I am absolutely certain that it's a marketing strategy to mislead you and only that. I say "mislead", because it diverts you from the original problem...you were looking at the wrong product category in the first place! Do stupid ingredients happen...yea...there are a lot stupid supplements being created every day, but "filling" a product with metaphorical garbage is not the norm.


Fillers in your horse treats! Oh My!!!


Reasons for an ingredient typically considered a "filler" fall into one of the following; 1) increase palatability, 2) increase caloric density, 3) decrease caloric density, 4) or provide a carrier to micronutrients that can not float around in free space by themselves. Those are GOOD reasons to add ingredients to a product, and any GOOD nutritionist will make that clear in the feeding directions and purpose statement. Some ingredients typically labeled as "fillers"beet pulp, dried distillers solubles, corn, and soybean hulls. Are these ingredients relatively cheap to add- yes, but who wants to pay $50 per bag of feed when you need your horse to gain, lose weight, or actually eat the product that you purchased? Beet pulp can increase or decrease the caloric density of the product (depending on purpose) while lowering sugar/starch while corn vastly increases caloric density and sugar/starch. Soybean hulls dramatically lower the non-structural carbohydrate (sugar/starch) value of a product, so we can not call it a purpose-less ingredient. Dried distillers grains will vastly increase palatability for vitamin/mineral mixes that are inherently bitter and nasty to taste, so can we call that a filler?


If you've been persuaded by a "no fillers"claim, I'd argue that you do not fully understand the purpose of the products or ingredients that you're looking at. You are definitely barking up the wrong tree looking for that lion or tiger that isn't there! Let me show you. A simple search for "horse feed fillers" came up with a long list of products. Despite the desperate ambiguity here, the marketing strategy is used a lot. Let's take Exhibit A & B below.