As a spokesperson for Dannon’s Activia Yogurt, actress Jamie Lee Curtis might have some ideas on what’s good for your horse. She understands the benefits of probiotics for a healthy digestive system. Although some might think prebiotics and probiotics are unnecessary in horse feed, here’s information to help you understand why these ingredients are beneficial to your equine partner.
What Exactly Are These Microscopic Creatures?
Probiotics are microorganisms that contribute to the intestinal micro-flora balance and aid in digestion and nutrient absorption. Probiotics are also considered ‘good’ bacteria and help the body fight off ‘bad’ bacteria. (More on this in a bit.)
Prebiotics provide support and energy to the ‘good’ bacteria in the gastro intestinal tract. Together, prebiotics and probiotics support the digestion process and allow the horse’s body to readily absorb the nutrients in feed.
For a mental picture, think of a newly planted patch of grass. The probiotics are the blades of grass, which are good and help feed animals and create oxygen. If the grass is planted, fed and watered correctly (by prebiotics), it grows vigorously. Weeds (bad bacteria) don’t have a chance to overly establish because they’re outnumbered by the grass canopy.
Let’s take a closer look at how these ingredients work in the horse’s system.
Feed the Bugs: The Role of Prebiotics
Horse feeds are enzymatically digested in the small intestine and feed components that are not digested here pass into the cecum and colon (also called the hindgut). Once in the hindgut, microbes break down the fibrous portions of feedstuffs that the horse’s own digestive enzymes cannot. Given that the majority of the horse’s diet is comprised of forage, these microbes are essential to the nutritional well-being of the horse.
Prebiotics aid in increasing the level of nutrients absorbed from feed by nurturing the micro-flora population in the gut. Flourishing micro-flora more fully convert feedstuffs to nutrients. This results in the horse’s ability to absorb the optimum amount of nutrients which translates into improved performance and reduced waste.
Take THAT, Bad Bacteria! How Probiotics Work in the Intestine
Changes in a horse’s body caused by dietary upset, heat and stress can affect the hindgut’s probiotic population. If this population is out of whack, it may cause digestive upset such as colic, loose manure, poor weight and sometimes the dreaded “hay belly” look.
Probiotics – or as they are often called, “direct fed microbials” – inhibit pathogen growth in the gastrointestinal tract by attaching to the gut wall and crowding out the bad bacteria. They increase digestive enzyme activity as well as fuel antibody formation. The mucosa villi (small, finger-like projections) form a brush border of the gut lining where particles of digested feed and water are absorbed into the body. By reducing the chance for bad pathogens, such as E. coli, salmonella, and clostridia to take hold, gut health is improved. Improved gut health promotes nutritional absorption and decreased nutrient excretion.
What’s Best for the Horse
Selecting the right diet and following proper feeding practices are the cornerstones to developing a healthy equine partner. Adding a combination of prebiotics and probiotics to feed can help optimize the performance and health of any horse.
In short, the potential benefits include:
· Improved gut health
· Improved feed efficiency
· Improved digestion
· Improved nutrient absorption
· Reduced risk of digestive upset
· Reduced stress impact during competition or diet changes
More information, including research and studies on the effects of prebiotics and probiotics in equine feed, can be found here.
It’s important to note that not all feeds include prebiotics and probiotics, so be sure to check the tag. If you see ingredients that look like only a vet could pronounce, more than likely those are probiotics. Look for terms such as “Lactobacillus acidophilus”, “L. casei”, “Enterococcus faecium”, and “Bifidobacterium thermophilum”. Prebiotics are also known as “yeast cultures”.
As we demand more out of our horses we must be sure that their digestive tracts are in optimum condition. We’re sure Jamie Lee Curtis would agree.
For more information on horse feed, feeding tips, digestive health, and equine management, visit HorseFeedBlog.com. If you’d like information on identifying signs of aging and tips for feeding your senior horse, visit SeniorHorseSigns.com.