The World Health Organization definition of probiotics is, "Live organisms which, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host. This usually refers to oral ingestion, but they may also be used for health of the skin or the female reproductive tract."
The term microbiome describes the population of organisms that inhabit a specific location. Foals are sterile in the uterus, but they begin to populate their bodies with organisms during the birth process. Everything their muzzle touches introduces more organisms that could take up residence in their intestinal tract. These organisms need to survive stomach acid and be able to thrive in the pH and low oxygen tension in the bowel, on the type of food the animal is ingesting. However, there is no lack of diversity in the environment and this process proceeds uneventfully.
Amazingly, the precise microbiome makeup is different for every horse, but they are often similar in terms of the families of organisms present and their percentages. The relative number of species shifts predictably with diet changes. This isn't surprising since the major determinant of which organisms can thrive is whether or not they have a food source.
If the organisms are so abundant and adaptable, why would you ever have to feed probiotics? For healthy horses with normal intestinal function and holding weight as they should, you don't have to routinely feed probiotics, but there are situations where they can be helpful, including:
- After antibiotic use
- In horses performing extremes of speed or endurance exercise, or after long distance shipping
- Older horses having trouble holding weight
- Horses with diarrhea or excessive bloating
These are all situations when we know there can be compromise of the microbiome of the intestinal tract.
Once you have identified candidates for probiotic supplementation, you need to pick products most likely to be helpful, including those with equine specific strains in the formulation.
- Saccharomyces cerevisiae yeast have proven their beneficial effects in multiple studies with a wide spectrum of diets.
- Saccharomyces boulardii yeast are helpful after antibiotic use and in imbalances involving harmful organisms.
- Lactobacilli are found throughout the intestinal tract and are the dominant species in the stomach and small intestine where they help digestion of sugar and starch. Equine specific strains include L. salivarius, L. equi and L. reuteri. In addition to the Saccharomyces yeasts, the hind gut can benefit from Bacillus subtilis, Enterococcus faecium and Propionibacterium as well as Bifidobacterium species.
For routine use after antibiotics or shipping, a basic probiotic product which has a high dosage of S. cerevisiae is a good choice. Horses with weight problems will benefit from a product which also has high digestive enzyme activity documented. For horses with evidence of irritation to the lining of the intestinal tract, the addition of ingredients like Slippery Elm Bark, sodium copper chlorophyllin, Marshmallow Root, Glutamine and Aloe Vera can be soothing and support a healthy mucosa.
Digestive supplements aren't needed for every horse, but when you are stressing the GI tract or the horse has obvious signs of difficulty, probiotics and other support supplements can help.
Uckele Health & Nutrition, maker of CocoSoya®, offers supplements that contain Probiotics.
G.U.T supports gastric tissue, a healthy GI tract, and normal, healthy digestive and bowel function. Maintains proper gut flora with pre- and probiotic support. Soothes and protects digestive function with Marshmallow Root, Slippery Elm Bark, and Aloe Vera Gel Extract. Very palatable for the most sensitive horse or the pickiest eater. Contains no aluminum.
Absorb All is a high strength digestive formula to support healthy gut and digestive function. Supports the intestinal tract to help maintain healthy gut flora, proper gut pH, and to promote digestion and bowel health. Combines high levels of digestive enzymes, beneficial Probiotics, and microbial fermentation ingredients.
Quadra Fac High potency blend of live Probiotics and Active Yeast Enzymes supply active cultures to support digestive function, healthy enzyme activity, and proper nutrient absorption. Beneficial bacteria break down ingredients to help produce energy, food for cells in the colon and cecum, and byproducts to keep harmful bacteria from multiplying.
About Dr. Kellon
Dr. Eleanor Kellon, staff veterinary specialist for Uckele Health & Nutrition, is an established authority in the field of equine nutrition for over 30 years, and a founding member and leader of the Equine Cushings and Insulin Resistance (ECIR) group, whose mission is to improve the welfare of horses with metabolic disorders via integration of research and real-life clinical experience. Prevention of laminitis is the ultimate goal. www.ecirhorse.org
Uckele Health & Nutrition, maker of CocoSoya, is an innovation-driven health company committed to making people and their animals healthier. On the leading edge of nutritional science and technology for over 50 years, Uckele formulates and manufactures a full spectrum of quality nutritional supplements incorporating the latest nutritional advances. www.uckele.com.
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