Livestock nutrition often needs careful evaluation, especially if we want to obtain an optimal breed. However, nutrition in horses may pose serious challenges for those interested in equine health, and there are plenty of gastrointestinal risks to avoid. Does your Horse need help Fast? Check Best Price on Amazon.
There are recommendations based on scientific literature, but it is often difficult to unify them because there are many variations in types of diet and supplements being used to breed a horse.
Probiotics are becoming growingly popular in veterinary medicine, and even though we may not realize, they confer many benefits to animals and humans alike. The gut microbiota is deeply involved in modulating the immune response, promoting a healthy gastrointestinal function, reducing the risk of various diseases, and improving mental health in humans. Are they equally useful in horses?
In this article, we will analyze the reasons why horses may benefit from probiotics as well, review the current state of affairs according to current scientific data, and recommend the best probiotics to maintain your horse healthier than ever.
The reason why horses need Probiotics too
Gastrointestinal problems in animals are often difficult to manage, more so than humans. In the case of horses, studies have detected a growing concern among breeders in cases of weight loss and chronic diarrhea caused by consumption of dirt and sand. These problems are quite difficult to manage, and one of the measures would be feeding the animals on other surfaces different to the ground. A recent study has also evaluated the role of probiotics and psyllium to prevent the accumulation of sand in the gastrointestinal tract, showing positive results.
Similarly, gastrointestinal health, in general, is compromised in horses, especially when there are abrupt changes in the diet, in cases of high-grain diets, when grazing opportunities are limited, and in cases of reduced forage digestibility. All of these cases may be associated with a prevalent disruption in the microbiota of the equine intestines, which may be significantly improved by using probiotics and prebiotics.
Scientific data points out that using this type of supplements improves digestibility and nutritional quality in horses by increasing and promoting a healthy gut microbiota and fermentation processes in the large intestine. Since it might be difficult in some cases to perform chemical analysis of the forage, selecting feedstuff and controlling closely meal size, another measure that we can take to prevent gastrointestinal risk and promote digestibility is using probiotics and prebiotics.
What science is telling us about Probiotics in horses
The challenge in using probiotics in horses and many other animal species is that we first need to characterize the normal gastrointestinal microbiome in each species and detect how an alteration results in significant changes in gut health. This is why several studies have evaluated the gut microbiome in horses and other species using genetic sequencing and comparing the microbiome of healthy and unhealthy specimens. As a result, we now have enough data to characterize the normal microbiota, not only in the large intestine but also the stomach and small intestines.
For instance, we know that healthy horses typically include species of Actinobacteria, Spirochaetes and Clostridiales in their gut microbiota, and those suffering from acute or chronic diarrhea often have an overgrowth of Fusobacteria. However, the research about probiotics in equines is not so simple, and even though there’s not much difference in Lactobacillus concentrations in healthy versus unhealthy horses, studies show positive influences in using Lactobacillus species to modulate gut microbiota in equines, as seen later in this article.
Even though the concept of probiotics to modulate gut microbiota is not new, there is increasingly abundant evidence about them now there’s more concern about how antimicrobials deplete normal gut bacteria. These changes along with dietary recommendations contribute to the optimal health of livestock animals. For instance, a meta-analysis that evaluated the use of yeasts cultures reported an increase in rumen pH, and a significant decrease in lactic acid, and similar effects are potential in horses fed with high-grain diets.
Similarly, studies have also evaluated and recommended probiotics as a part of the treatment in cases of Salmonella infections, to control diarrhea and to reduce the symptoms of acute enterocolitis. There are various possible mechanisms to explain these effects in equine health, and the most widely accepted is that colonization by probiotic species induces a competitive inhibition against pathogenic microorganisms. In other words, they do not allow pathogenic bacteria to properly colonize or fit in because they are taking all the available space and resources.
The best probiotic strains for your horse
The most common probiotics in livestock, including equines, are bacterial strains of Lactobacillus, Enterococcus, Bifidobacterium and Saccharomyces species as one of the most beneficial yeasts. Among them, major benefit is found in using Lactobacillus species and Saccharomyces. This is why:
- Lactobacillus species: These species increase the cecal pH and improve the digestibility of many nutrients, especially minerals. They have been found to reduce the incidence of diarrhea and gastrointestinal problems in horses supplemented with a blend of Lactobacillus species along with prebiotics. Lactobacillus species are also useful in cases of Salmonella infections (to treat and prevent infection) and antibiotic-induced diarrhea.
- Saccharomyces species: They have been tested in mature mares and geldings in a concentration of 10-20 grams per dose (4.5×109 CFU/g). These species are known to improve the digestibility of various nutrients, increased production of milk, and higher concentrations of sugar, lipids, and protein in milk. They are also useful in reducing the incidence, severity, and duration of diarrhea.
There is much more to know and understand about probiotics for horses, and the variability of diets and breeding conditions among horses make it difficult to reach a consensus about which ones should be routinely used to improve gut health. We can also use probiotics along with prebiotics, which are non-digestible ingredients that serve as food for the healthy gut microbiota and stimulated microbial growth and activity, improving the immune system, especially in aging horses.
Landes, A. D., Hassel, D. M., Funk, J. D., & Hill, A. (2008). Fecal sand clearance is enhanced with a product combining probiotics, prebiotics, and psyllium in clinically normal horses. Journal of Equine Veterinary Science, 28(2), 79-84.
Endo, A., Futagawa-Endo, Y., & Dicks, L. M. T. (2009). Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium diversity in horse feces, revealed by PCR-DGGE. Current microbiology, 59(6), 651-655.
Coverdale, J. A. (2016). HORSE SPECIES SYMPOSIUM: Can the microbiome of the horse be altered to improve digestion?. Journal of animal science, 94(6), 2275-2281.
Schoster, A., Weese, J. S., & Guardabassi, L. (2014). Probiotic use in horses–what is the evidence for their clinical efficacy?. Journal of veterinary internal medicine, 28(6), 1640-1652.