Horses Gut Health – The What, Why, How of Equine Digestion using Probiotics and Prebiotics Supplements

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Why Do Horses need help with Gut Health?

If food is not processed properly, issues such as gut pain and discomfort may occur and these in turn create negative behaviour of the horse, hindgut acidosis with its pain and risk of grass laminitis, poor condition and performance, overly sensitive reactions to demands of work and often early onset of fatigue.

The horses’ digestive system will be influenced by conditions of environment- the pasture, the feed , the climate. It can be negatively affected by stress, particularly from travel and competitions or racing etc., also hard work. Sudden changes of diet and or work levels and routines plus sickness will also reduce the efficiency of the microbiome. With breeding stock – the onset of lactation and later weaning may cause disruption to the gut microflora. Any disruption can result in colic and or diarrhoea. In particular, the intake of antibiotics will break down the gut flora – as the name suggests they destroy bacteria – both bad and good. Any horse recovering from infections that have required administering anti-biotics will need supplementing with a prebiotic and probiotic to establish the gut flora.

What is a Probiotic  and a Prebiotic ?

The difference between a Probiotic and a Prebiotic

  • A Probiotic provides live beneficial bacteria direct into the animal’s gut
  • A Prebiotic helps activate and feed the existing bacteria (microflora) in the gut.

Both prebiotics and probiotics can work together to improve the diversity and availability and efficiency of gut bacteria, (often called the gut microbiome).

Previously, adding live microflora as a supplement has been difficult due to the short expiry (use by) dates on available products. In the past, manure therapy was the easiest way; this entailed taking the clean manure of a healthy gelding, mix with water to make a slurry and syringe down the throat of the unhealthy horse. This is also why foals will eat manure at 10 days of age to naturally establish their gut flora.

However, nowadays we have access to new Probiotics that can have a better shelf life and are readily available to be added to the diet, for example one of the best Probiotic is a yeasts such as Saccharomyces cerevisiae.

The most effective Prebiotics for horses are

  • Fructo-oligosaccharides (FCOS)
  • Mannooligosaccharides (MOS)

Scientific tests have shown the benefits of these in particular, that by improving the volume and activity levels of the bacteria in the gut, it has a direct health benefit to the horse.


How Can The Horses Gut Health be Improved with Supplements?

There are scientific studies to show that this is the case, see below. However, it is important to select the supplements with the active ingredients that are specifically supportive of equine digestive tracts.

Scientific tests have shown Fructo-oligosaccharides (FCOS) and Mannooligosaccharides (MOS), benefit horses health by reducing the bad bacteria E Coli, reducing the acid effects in the hindgut thus reducing discomfort and the possibility of laminitis.

They also show that Probiotic yeasts improve the numbers of good bacteria which in turn assist digestive processing of food, making the transfer of food to energy much more efficient. Thereby improving weight gain and reducing fatigue.


Summary of the use of Probiotics and Prebiotics

Eating weeds or non pasture vegetation can cause dietary upsets.

The greatest opportunity to improve the status of the gut health of the horse is to feed a combination of both these active supplements, thereby helping to negate the difficulties a horse faces at times when environment or work levels change, and in particular when sickness and or infections take hold. 


Any of these changes can reduce the efficiency of their gut. A course of a combined Prebiotic and Probiotic formula is ideal to help them get through these times and stay healthy and reduce negative events in their gut.

Vetpro Gut Biotic – contains both FCOS and MOS Prebiotics combined with the Probiotic yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae


The Science :-

Effects of dietary short-chain Fructo-oligosaccharides on the intestinal microflora of horses subjected to a sudden change in diet F. Respondek, A. G. Goachet and V. Julliand Jnl Animal Science 316-323

Dietary supplementation with short-chain Fructo-oligosaccharides improves insulin sensitivity in obese horses F. Respondek, K. Myers, T. L. Smith, A. Wagner and R. J. Geor. Jnl Animal Science 77-83

Fructo-oligosaccharide supplementation in the yearling horse: Effects on fecal pH, microbial content, and volatile fatty acid concentrations. Obesity and diet affect glucose dynamics and insulin sensitivity in Thoroughbred geldings By: Hoffman, RM (Hoffman, RM); Boston, RC (Boston, RC); Stefanovski, D (Stefanovski, D); Kronfeld, DS (Kronfeld, DS); Harris, PA (Harris, PA)JOURNAL OF ANIMAL SCIENCE Volume: 81 Issue: 9 SEP 2003

Can the microbiome of the horse be altered to improve digestion? Coverdale JA. J Anim Sci. 2016 Jun;94(6):2275-81. doi: 10.2527/jas. 2015-0056 : Abstract : When high-concentrate diets were fed, probiotic supplementation helped maintain cecal pH, decreased lactic acid concentrations, and enhanced populations of cellulolytic bacteria. Similarly, use of prebiotic preparations containing fructooligosaccharide (FOS) or mannanoligosaccharides have improved DM, CP, and NDF digestibility when added to high-fiber diets. Furthermore, use of FOS in horses reduced disruptions in colonic microbial populations after an abrupt change in diet and altered fecal VFA concentrations toward propionate and butyrate. Potential use of prebiotics and probiotics to create greater stability in the equine microbiome impacts not only the digestibility of feed but also the health of the horse.

Effect of live yeast culture supplementation on apparent digestibility and rate of passage in horses fed a high-fiber or high-starch diet1 doi:10.2527/jas.2006-796 J.-P. Jouany*, J. Gobert†, B. Medina†‡, G. Bertin† and V. Julliand‡2

Effect of Live Yeast Culture Supplementation on Hindgut Microbial Communities and their Polysaccharidase and Glycoside Hydrolase Activities in Horses Fed a High-Fibre or High-Starch Diet JP Jouany et al. J Anim Sci 87 (9), 2844-2852. 2009 May 22.

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