Key Takeaways You'll Get
- All horses need pre- and probiotics. Feed changes, antibiotics, travel, disease, analgesics, anesthesia—even stress—are unavoidable in the domesticated animal and can overload and capsize the boat that is the equine gut microbiome.
- It’s crucial to predict and prevent gut microbiome imbalance... don’t wait for the system to break.
- Give the horse the keys it needs to unlock the nutrients in his diet by adding the correct prebiotics and probiotics that will arrive safely to the hindgut.
What prompts you to reach for a probiotic? A prescription for a course of antibiotics? A bout of a stomach virus? To restore balance, many of us know when our own gastrointestinal (GI) tract is out of whack, we must visit the yogurt aisle in the grocery store or, for high powered help, the probiotic shelf in the health foods store.
We need to consider the same for our horses, but for an additional reason; they are nonruminant herbivores, or hindgut fermenters, and, so, they rely on the good bacteria in their gut to digest forage—the primary component of their diet.
But the thing is with horses, as with our own bodies, it’s not just a round of antibiotics that throws off GI equilibrium, capsizing and sinking the proverbial ship. Many things do, so imbalances are something we should be considering all the time.
Here’s why: Veterinarians now know that the gut microbiome—the ecosystem of live microorganisms living in the digestive tract—of today’s horse is different from what we find in nature.
How we manage horses and how their guts have adapted to domestication, is one of the reasons we often see equine digestive issues such as colic, diarrhea, and sour gut.
“We all manage our horses’ health closely, doing our best to prevent things before they happen,” says Dr. Keith Latson, an equine surgeon and co-founder of FullBucket, a veterinary-strength supplement business based in Weatherford, Texas, “Oftentimes, though, small things, like insults to the microbiome, don't become apparent until there's a fire to fight.
“Here’s where we have to change the approach,” says Dr. Rob Franklin, an equine internal medicine specialist and co-Founder of FullBucket. “Disease—even in other body systems—is a downstream effect from problems related to the microbiome. Where can we find opportunities to prevent those fires rather than fighting them?
What basic things can disrupt equine gut balance, beneficial bacteria, and overall digestive health that I may not know about?
Don’t Wait for the System to Break: Protect the Good Gut Bacteria
Back in biology class, we learned about taxonomy of organisms, tapering categories from domain, kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, and genus, to species.
We can apply that basic knowledge to understand what’s going on in our horses’ guts. Franklin explains that just two phyla represent nine-tenths of the bacterial load in the normal domesticated horse’s intestinal tract that we currently know of.
But research is showing that there’s another baseline normal seen in nature we should strive for. “These are the things that horses for eons have been set with, certain phyla of bacteria, and they really work well,” he says. “They help digest fiber and cellulose (the tough part of plants). The microorganisms are very beneficial to the animal’s health, so whenever horses are put into unusual situations with risks of antibiotics, feed changes, stress, travel, disease, even pain relievers, they are equipped to withstand them.”
Our horses don’t have the microbial richness that their wild ancestors do, so we aim to achieve microbial diversity with the addition of prebiotics/probiotics to their diet. When managing our horses—or even handling our own health—we tend to think of supplementing in terms of deficiencies and excesses.
But each of us, whether horse or human, is different: our age, where we live, what we eat, what chronic medications are being administered and countless other environmental factors.
“It’s not a one-size-fits-all microbiome we’re talking about. And, it is not a ‘You’re low in this and you need to add that’ situation” says Franklin. “When we look at your microbiome, if your levels are ‘off,’ the lowness is not necessarily a deficiency in (one microbial species), it may be an expansion of something else.”
How to Improve Gut Health in Horses
So, how do you stabilize your horse’s microbiome, correcting overgrowths and expansions of the bad gut bacteria?
After all, this is happening at a microscopic level. It’s not like we can see what’s going on in there, though we can see the effects of it in unthriftiness, GI disturbances, manure inconsistencies, coat problems, and more.
Essentially, you can be meeting a horse’s nutritional needs, but he needs certain keys to unlock those nutrients—otherwise the components, at best, do no good, or at worst, cause harm.
First, you need to enable the good gut bugs to survive and thrive. Prebiotics are substrates that help harmonize digestive tract health—they’re the veritable buffet for beneficial bacteria.
“We add all these different hand-selected prebiotics that allow gut microbial populations to thrive, promoting their ability to digest and help the animal get energy from forage,” says Franklin. “Scientific studies show that if you feed prebiotics, horses digest their hay better.”
They also need probiotics, which are live microbes that help improve digestion and nutrient availability. Probiotics help eliminate bad gut bacteria, support the immune system, produce enzymes that break down harmful toxins, and stabilize the gut ecosystem.
Because probiotics are live organisms, they need to be protected from heat and moisture and the acidic environment of the equine digestive tract up until the point where they get activated and go to work.
“People say, ‘I’ll just get a probiotic,’ but there’s a lot more to it than that,” says Franklin. At Fullbucket “we put the right amount (concentration), we use the right type, the right strains of probiotics, and protect them with microencapsulation (from environmental heat and moisture and stomach acidity). Every domesticated horse needs to be on prebiotics and probiotics.”
The horse also needs digestive enzymes for breaking down starch into components the small intestine can absorb to create energy for the muscles to use to perform.
Undigested starch spilling over into the hindgut is another cause of hindgut microbiota imbalance, and we need to prevent that from happening.
“The more that we press our horses, I think that’s where you have to get more intensive with gut microbiome support,” says Franklin.
“In our experience, the horse that gets pressed the hardest is typically the young athlete, whether it’s a barrel racer, a Thoroughbred racehorse, Quarter Horse racehorse, could be a dressage horse—those horses are getting very intensive athletic training, and typically their diets are there to support them, but their ability to eat and subsist off of just pasture is not adequate. We have to feed these horses grain concentrate to meet their energy requirements.”
Balance the Boat a.k.a. Gut Microbiome Health
Veterinarians and nutrition researchers are amassing data showing how pre- and probiotics, enzymes, and preventative measures contribute to certain microbiome profiles.
Franklin explains this will help veterinarians and horse owners know, for example, how to help horses with the potential to develop equine metabolic syndrome and insulin resistance avoid these conditions altogether.
While that kind of specificity in preventing problems is a few years away, we can make shifts in how we manage our horses now to help balance the vessel, so to speak, and prevent it from capsizing when it hits rough water.
Robo Hendrickson, FullBucket’s third co-founder and director of marketing, likens it to how we manage our own health. “I take a probiotic, so does my entire family, we supplement to have a better digestive system, but we horse owners are not doing the same for our horses,” he says.
“Horses are dealing with digestive issues on a constant basis. Weather change, breeding, simple things like stall change, social interactions, getting pulled away from one horse that they’ve been with for a long time. Those all affect the digestive system.”
But we have tools, in the form of correct pre- and probiotics, to right the ship.
“It’s like we’ve all of a sudden been handed this map,” says Franklin. “The lens has been cleared, the map has been handed over, and onward we go. It is so exciting.”
What is the Best Probiotic for Horses?
FullBucket Equine Probiotic Pellets have 50 billion CFUs per serving of the most intensively researched probiotic strain on the market, combating pathogens (bad microbes) in the hindgut and supporting and improving optimal digestion, gut health, and immune system function. From the performance horse under stress, to the mare getting ready to foal this year, to older horses having trouble with weight or loose stool this will help you prevent a microbiome imbalance and keep your horse performance ready.
If you are needing a heavy duty probiotic, our Equine Probiotic Paste was developed by veterinarians to attack pathogens, eliminate symptoms, and rebuild and protect the microbiome in their patients. With 100 Billion CFUs per serving, this paste is 2,000% stronger than the competition. This probiotic was formulated for horses undergoing intensive treatment with antibiotics or those with extensive gastrointestinal disturbances (diarrhea, colic, etc.).
Help Optimize Your Athlete’s Microbiome with Probiotics for Horses
When we ask for maximum performance from our equine athletes, we need to take charge of protecting their gut microbiome to prevent it from being overloaded with undigested feed that leads to ulcers, diarrhea and that all too common ‘sour’ gut feel that puts them off their feed and behind in their training.
Between travel and competition your horse will need help optimizing their immune system and entire digestive system so that they can extract more nutrients from your current feed program, increasing nutrient absorption and digestion from 20% - 80%. It helps improve energy, strength & stamina with only essential ingredients that have been proven to improve the performance of your horse.
Formulated by expert nutritionists, our equine-specific Athletic Formula not only provides the wide-ranging benefits of FullBucket probiotic supplements, but also fills the gaps of typical performance horse diets to prevent common nutrient deficiencies, optimize digestion, and support peak health and performance.