If the horse’s gut is unhealthy it is usually caused by things such as poor animal husbandry, high levels of stress and an incorrect diet. This can result in issues such as gastric ulcers, hindgut acidosis, leaky-gut and an unhealthy bacterial population that reduces fibre digestion, causes behavioural changes, vitamin deficiency, weight loss and reduced immune function. None of these issues are good, so it is crucial as horse owners that we feed and manage our horse’s in a way that is taking into consideration what a horse needs to maintain a healthy gut.
“Gut Health” is now a huge topic of conversation with horse owners and so it should be, because it’s absolutely crucial for the overall well-being of the horse. If a horse has a healthy gut it means that it is working efficiently in all of these areas:
- Providing a suitable environment to house the trillions of bacteria who play important roles in fibre digestion, vitamin production, immune function, normal gut function and behaviour.
- Digesting and absorbing feed.
- Maintenance of gut wall integrity by providing a barrier that protects the horse from disease-causing pathogens, toxins and bacteria.
Here are a few things that you can do to encourage gut health in your horse:
- The horse’s gut is designed to eat forage. It has been established that horses require an absolute minimum of 1.5% of their bodyweight each day (7.5 kg for a 500 kg horse) in forage (grass, hay and chaff) just to maintain gut health. Most horses not in intense work should get around 2% of their bodyweight each day in roughage. If at all possible (I know this is hard in current drought conditions) provide free access to forage.
- Never work a horse on an empty stomach! Horses continually secrete acid in the glandular part of the stomach and the top half of the stomach (non-glandular area) has no protection from this acid. One simple step that you can take each and every day to minimise your horse’s risk of developing gastric ulcers is to ensure that your horse has had access to sufficient amounts of grass and hay before you ride them. The horse’s stomach is NEVER supposed to be empty as it relies on there being a physical barrier (food that is high in fibre such as grass/hay) to protect itself from the acid in the protected lower (glandular area) from splashing up to the unprotected top part (squamous or non-glandular area) and damaging it.
- Feed a balanced diet. Make sure that the horse’s requirements are being met for energy, protein, fat, minerals, vitamins, fibre and water. A horse needs a lot of different nutrients for maintenance, for work and to repair any damage that may have occurred.
- Be careful with grain. Only feed grain that has been cooked (extruded, micronized, boiled or steam flaked). Cooking grains makes the starch contained in the grain easier to digest. When lots of undigested starch from raw grain reaches the hindgut, it is rapidly fermented by starch fermenting bacteria that produce lactic acid and can cause issues such as hindgut acidosis. Only feed small amounts of grain and grain-based feeds at a time (a maximum of 2 kg per meal and preferably keeping it to 1 kg/feed for a 500 kg horse) and no more than 4 kg in one day. If you have no option but to feed raw grain, then choose oats as the horse is able to digest a large portion of the starch found in oats in the small intestine but once again only feed in small portions.
- Encourage plenty of movement. Activity helps stimulate gut motility as the smooth muscle contractions of the gut are aided by movement and exercise.
- Try to limit ingestion of sand. Feeding hay in nets, on mats or in troughs can go a long way in limiting the amount of sand ingested that can cause an impaction or sand colic. Sand colic has been a huge issue in the drought affected areas of Australia in recent months, and a way that you can help remove sand and dirt from the hindgut of your horse is by feeding psyllium husk on a regular basis. It is recommended that 50 grams of psyllium husk is fed per 100 kg of bodyweight for 4-5 days of each month.
- Any diet changes should be made slowly. Sudden changes to the diet can upset the crucial balance of bacteria in the gut. It is best to introduce new feed to the diet slowly and gradually build up the quantity being fed over time (changes to hay – 1 week, introduce grain over 2 weeks). This will allow gut microbes time to adjust to the different feed source.
- Horses should always have access to clean drinking water. Having an adequate intake of water is crucial for a healthy gut and dehydration must be avoided. If the hindgut contents dry out too much it can lead to problems like impaction colic.
- Including a prebiotic (MegaMin Equine Enhancer contains a prebiotic) can also be beneficial for gut health with research supporting improvements in feed digestibility and efficiency by promoting a healthy balance of bacteria. Prebiotics are essentially food for the bacteria living in your horse’s digestive tract and promote the health and growth of these microorganisms.
MegaMin Equine Enhancer is a triple action vitamin and mineral supplement that is designed to promote overall health while also actively supporting hoof quality, coat condition and gut function. MegaMin Equine Enhancer can be a valuable addition to any horse’s diet by helping to balance vitamins and minerals as well as including a prebiotic to support a healthy hindgut and efficient digestion.
The prebiotic in MegaMin Equine Enhancer is a proprietary strain of Saccharomyces cerevisiae yeast which has been scientifically proven to support feed digestibility, feed efficiency, performance and overall health.
Research Results from the Prebiotic included in MegaMin Equine Enhancer
Research into performance horses found that supplementation with this yeast culture helped support greater levels of FFA, haemoglobin and packed cell volume before and after exercise. Horses with higher haemoglobin concentrations have a greater ability to transport oxygen, and that has the potential to enhance performance (Wickler, 2002).
Research into feed digestibility and efficiency found that supplementing horses with this yeast culture tended to improve apparent digestibility of dry matter (DM) when fed low quality grass. They found that mature horses fed low quality grass had improved apparent digestibility of crude protein (CP), neutral detergent fibre (NDF) and hemicellulose when supplemented with the yeast culture (Morgan, 2007). Horses with the ability to effectively digest feedstuffs are better able to absorb nutrients for optimal health.
Research into recovery from work, injury or stress found that horses supplemented with the yeast culture had a reduced heart rate following exercise and lower lactate levels during and post exercise (Glade, 1990). Horses with lower plasma lactic acid concentrations should have a quicker recovery time after exercise.