The purpose of the following article is to provide an overview of the equine intestinal tract, including its anatomy, how it functions in a healthy state, the most commonly seen intestinal diseases, clinical signs of these illnesses, as well as therapeutic options to address the illnesses. Finally, preventative measures which can be used through proper diet and husbandry practices will conclude this article.
Over the course of time, man’s domestication of the horse has resulted in many alterations of its natural behaviors. In particular, the contents and frequency of the equine diet have been adjusted to make their care more convenient for humans.
Not including wolf teeth, mature female horses have anywhere from 36 to 40 teeth, while males generally have 40 teeth. The equine teeth are divided into two sections within the oral cavity—the incisors which are seen at the front of the mouth, and the cheek teeth which are made up of molars and premolars.
After a horse has ingested a mouthful of food, the circular chewing motion is used to grind up the food into smaller particles which will then be mixed with saliva, forming a bolus. The bolus is then pushed to the back of the pharynx, where it is swallowed and passed into the esophagus.
As previously mentioned, horses are designed to be grazers with frequent ingestion of roughage. Because the horse’s stomach constantly secretes acid from the glandular region, gastric ulcers can develop when the animal is not fed often enough to allow for the proper neutralization of the acid by feed.