In the previous part of this blog series we looked at the numerous problems associated with an imbalance in the equine gut microbiota. Sudden changes in the delicate ecosystem that thrives in the horse gut may result in colic, laminitis, and even gastric ulcers. These conditions affecting horses can be improved through a variety of approaches such as feedstuff selection, forage quality, feeding management, and inclusion of digestive aids. Experts increasingly believe that these digestive aids – namely prebiotics and probiotics - can restore the microbial community in the horse’s gut to a stable and healthy state.
The Food and Agricultural Organization and World Health Organization define probiotics as “live microorganisms which when administered in adequate amounts confer a health benefit on the host”. Probiotics commonly used in livestock include the bacterial groupsLactobacillus,Enterococcus,Bifidobacterium, andStreptococcus and the yeastSaccharomyces. They are essentially typical representatives of the microbial community in the animal gut which when used to supplement feed can provide numerous benefits such as improved digestion, better immunity, and increased stamina and strength. Many live yeasts and bacteria have been demonstrated to elicit an increase in fibre digestibility in the horse colon and modulate the balance of hindgut bacterial communities leading to a decreased risk of several gastrointestinal disorders. Probiotic supplementation of the horse’s diet can assuage symptoms of even gastric ulcers which commonly afflict horses of all breeds worldwide leading to decreased productivity and economic loss to the horse industry. Probiotics can also reduce stress experienced by the equine athlete during transportation and competitions. Amongst other benefits, they are also known to promote growth and reduce the incidence of diarrhoea in foals and improve milk quality and quantity in gestating mares. Overall, probiotic supplementation can impart real benefits to all-round equine nutrition and health.
Prebiotics are compounds that support the growth of natural microbial populations which could confer numerous benefits to the host. They are essentially indigestible fiber that acts as food for the probiotics. Common examples of prebiotics in the equine diets include beet pulp, oat hulls, soy hulls, and oligosaccharides (beneficial sugars). Prebiotics are often added to horse feed in order to stabilise the horse’s health.