Dr. Joyce Harman offers tips on gut health during the change of seasons
As horse owners, we know that this time of year isn’t just about roasting chestnuts and sipping cocoa. Cold weather equals more work for us, from throwing extra hay in the evening to busting frozen water buckets in the morning. But the extra attention given to our horses shouldn’t end there— keep your horse healthy all season long by keeping his digestive system in tip-top shape.
“The digestive tract contains two-thirds of the horse’s immune system, making it critical to short- and long-term health,” said Dr. Harman. “A change in the weather can add stress to the poorly designed system, which can not only prohibit optimal operation, but open the door to illness as well.” New research is showing how truly vital the healthy bacteria are to the overall health of animals.
To keep your horse’s digestive tract functioning as it should, consider feeding pre- and probiotics. And yes, there’s a difference.
Probiotics are live, microorganisms naturally found in a horse’s digestive tract that help break down food during digestion. A horse with an appropriate number of probiotic bacteria will be able to digest food more efficiently than a horse without a thriving population.
These bacteria not only aid in day-to-day digestion, but they’ll help your horse adjust from the grass-to-hay transition that comes with the season.
Unfortunately, stress, antibiotics, and bad bacteria can kill off the probiotic bacteria. This can lead to a myriad of problems, from a compromised immune system to gastrointestinal problems and lactic acid build up.
To help keep a horse’s good bacteria thriving, or to help a horse recover his probiotic population after they’ve taken a hit, horse owners should consider adding a probiotic and a prebiotic to a horse’s diet.
Probiotics and prebiotics aren’t similar supplements that just happen to sound alike. While probiotics are live organisms, prebiotics are the fuel for those organisms. Prebiotics are small plant particles that feed the good bacteria in a horse’s gut and help them flourish.
Incorporating Pre- and Probiotics
Incorporating prebiotics and probiotics into your horse’s regimen doesn’t have to be difficult. But, you should look for a couple of major components when considering a supplement. The most common bacteria to be included are Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium sp., Enterococcus, Streptococcus, and certain strains of yeast.
Some products, like PrePro™ (available on the Harmany Equine shop), is a combined prebiotic and probiotic in one formula. ProBi (available on the Harmany Equine shop), from advanced biological concepts does contain prebiotics also, but is actually a living fermented product that is very active in the gut. When choosing probiotics, be sure that byproducts like sugar and chemical preservatives are not added.
To support healing the gut in a broader way, or to help hindgut digestive issues, products such as Succeed® (available on the Harmany Equine shop) provide extra ingredients like glutamine, which is an amino acid that feeds the gut wall directly and helps heal tissue.
Although not a form of pre- or probiotic, colostrum powerfully supports the portion of the immune system that lines the gut wall. When sourcing colostrum, it is very important to make sure it’s free from preservatives and chemicals, and that it’s from healthy, grass-fed cows (available on the Harmany Equine shop).