Equine Nutrition/Gut health

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Reasons for poor gut health

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  • Lack of proper roughage
  • Excessive cereal grain
  • Long hours between feeding
  • Long periods of empty stomach

Effects of poor gut health

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  • Diarrhea
  • Colic
  • Decreased performance
  • Decreased energy
  • "Bad" behavior
  • Gastric ulceration

In the horse, the glandular gastric mucosa continually secretes hydrochloric acid, whether food is present or not. When feed is withheld for as little as 14 hours, the combination of acid, along with bile salts can irritate both the glandular and nonglandular mucosa to the point of ulceration.[1][2]

  • Laminitis

Excess water soluble carbohydrates in the diet, such as Fructan, have been shown to induce cases of laminitis.[3]

Practices for healthy guts

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  • Provide plenty of quality forage
  • Feed small and frequent
  • Avoid large quantities of cereal grains
  • Provide grazing or forage 24/7 to prevent "empty" stomach

Anatomy of the horse's guts

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  • The stomach
    • Glandular(mucus protected, cereal grains..etc)
    • Non-glandular(non protected, hay digested here)
    • Small ~9 liters(needs small and frequent feeding, i.e. grazing)
  • The small intestine
    • Long small tube
    • gas from roughage digestion inflates it and keeps it from twisting
    • Easily tangled while empty( contents digested in ~1 hour)
  • The large intestine
    • Ceacum(fermentation "vat")
    • Large colon(left and right dorsal colons)
    • small colon(left and right ventral colons)
    • uses microbial fermentation to digest forage

Horses have evolved to wander and graze almost continuously 24/7 and it is when we get away from these practices that we run into trouble with gut health.


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  1. Berschneider, H.M., Blikslager, A.T., Roberts, M.C. Role of duodenal reflux in nonglandular gastric ulcer disease of the mature horse. Equine Veterinary Journal April 1999 Volume 31, Issue S29 http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.2042-3306.1999.tb05164.x/abstract
  2. Andrews, F.M. and Nadeau, J.A. Clinical syndromes of gastric ulceration in foals and mature horses. Equine Veterinary Journal April 1999 Volume 31, Issue S29 http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.2042-3306.1999.tb05165.x/abstract?systemMessage=Wiley+Online+Library+will+be+disrupted+on+18+May+from+10%3A00-12%3A00+BST+%2805%3A00-07%3A00+EDT%29+for+essential+maintenance&userIsAuthenticated=false&deniedAccessCustomisedMessage=
  3. Longland, A.C and Byrd, B.M. Pasture Nonstructural Carbohydrates and Equine Laminitis. J. Nutr. July 2006 vol. 136 no. 7 2099S-2102S http://jn.nutrition.org/content/136/7/2099S.full