Winter challenges to your horse’s gut health

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The winter months can bring a variety of challenges to many horses, especially the older horse. Colder temperatures and inclement weather can see changes in management and routine. These changes include:

• A change in pasture quality
• Limited turnout
• Management changes
• Low forage diet
• Feeding and diet changes
• Potential increase in antibiotic usage
• Potential increase in anti-inflammatory (painkiller) usage.

These can impact the balance of beneficial and pathogenic (bad) bacteria in the gut. In addition, the poorer pasture quality and reduced nutrition in the grass can impact older horses in particular who may find it difficult to digest their feed effectively. This can result in them struggling to maintain condition.

Why is it important to maintain healthy gut flora?

Horses have evolved as trickle feeders, designed to be eating roughage/fibre for a large portion of their day. Digestion of fibre occurs through fermentation by healthy (beneficial) bacteria within the gut and this process provides the horse with an essential source of slow release energy. In addition, maintaining high levels of healthy gut flora helps to keep those pathogenic bacteria at bay keeping the microbial balance in equilibrium. An imbalance in gut flora can cause inflammation of the gut leading to problems such as diarrhoea, colonic ulceration and poor body condition.

How can I help my horse during the winter?

It is very important to speak to your vet if you are concerned about your horse or pony as the weather gets colder. It is advisable to ensure that all aspects of general healthcare have been addressed; these include vaccination, dental care, worming, management and feeding.

“My horse is struggling to maintain weight” Older horses will often have dental problems, including sharp points, over-worn teeth that lack a grinding surface to chew forage effectively, or even missing or fractured teeth. A thorough dental examination by a vet will allow any problems to be treated to ensure your horse is able to eat comfortably and effectively. Once any dental and general health problems have been addressed, feeding a gut support that contains prebiotics and postbiotics  can help to ensure optimum health, digestion and bodyweight.

“My horse struggles with lameness during the winter”

Many horses suffer from stiffness or lameness which can be exacerbated during the winter months. This may be due to the change in weather and/or the change in turnout and exercise. It is common for anti-inflammatory (painkiller) treatment (for example ‘bute’) to be given, however in some cases this may damage the gut lining and cause problems.

“My horse requires regular antibiotic treatment”

Some older horses have on-going medical conditions such as PPID (Cushing’s Disease) which make them more susceptible to infection resulting in regular antibiotic treatment. The wet and muddy conditions of winter may contribute to an increased number of skin infections. As well as targeting the bacteria responsible for the infection, these antibiotics can impact the population of beneficial gut bacteria resulting in a gut microbial imbalance.

“My horse has to spend more time in the stable”

It is inevitable that during the winter months many horses have to spend more time stabled. This change in management often comes with a change in diet. The combination of these factors can have a negative effect on the balance of gut flora and this imbalance can cause inflammation of the gut leading to problems such as diarrhoea, colonic ulceration and poor body condition.

What are prebiotics?

Prebiotics are non-digestible food ingredients which act as a food source for the healthy bacteria within the horse’s gut. They selectively stimulate the growth and/or activity of the beneficial bacteria helping to support hindgut function. Prebiotics include glucooligosaccharides, xylo-oligosaccharides and fructo-oligosaccharides.

What are postbiotics?

Postbiotics are beneficial components produced by bacteria during the fermentation production process which have a positive effect on the healthy bacteria within the horse’s gut. These components are likely to: Support healthy gut bacteria by contributing to the structure of the cell wall. Protect the healthy gut bacteria against pathogenic bacteria. Support the gut wall barrier. Support the gut’s natural immune system

There are approximately 200 types of bacteria/organism in each section of the gut with different functions. By using prebiotics and postbiotics all of these healthy bacteria are supported.
A gut support which contains a mixture of prebiotics and postbiotics support the beneficial (good) bacteria and therefore support normal gut function.