Should You Be Feeding Pre & Probiotics?

Should you be feeding Pre and Probiotics?

Modern equine athletes are subjected to many stresses and challenges, including strenuous training and competition programmes, national and international travel, including moving yards, often involving unavoidable changes in forage and contact with unknown pathogens, high starch diets to provide energy, the use of antibiotics following illness or injury  – all of which can result in short term, or sometimes ongoing disruption to the microbial population in the hindgut (known as the gut microbiota).

This disruption can adversely affect performance in many ways, ranging from a subtle decrease in energy production or a reduction in immunity through to a decrease in gut pH, metabolic disruption, leading perhaps to colic or laminitis, but certainly to a significant decrease in performance. Broodmares going away to stud, and youngstock starting sales preparation may also experience disruption, as their feed, forage and management regimes may alter. 

When there is a likelihood of microbiome disturbance, or the need for an immune system boost, the use of pre and probiotics can help to re-establish and maintain a healthy microbiota, and improve performance and immunity. 


What do Probiotics do for our horses?

Probiotics help to:

•Promote optimum digestive function and energy production from dietary fibre sources (about 60-70% of the energy the horse needs comes from microbial fibre digestion) 

•Promote synthesis of vital B vitamins and vitamin K by the gut microbiota

•Prevent colonization by pathogenic or undesirable micro-organisms resulting in a drop in hindgut pH


All of which are vital to maintain optimum health and performance in equine athletes, youngstock and broodmares.

Good quality probiotics should contain verifiable levels of live yeasts, displayed as the number of colony forming units or CFUs (e.g 1.25 x 1012 cfu/g) and will often contain prebiotics, and other beneficial materials. 

Probiotics (from the Greek “for life”) There are a very limited number of probiotics licenced for use in horses. The most widely used are live yeasts, which play several vital roles:

•helping fibre digestion, by using their hyphae to help pull the fibre particle apart. This enables the fibre digesting bacteria to colonize and digest the fibre more readily, producing volatile fatty acids (VFAs) which are a vital energy source for the horse. 

•scavenging pockets of oxygen in the gut, which would otherwise be toxic to many of the beneficial microbes. 

•out-competing the lactic acid producing microbes, and encouraging the growth of those which can use lactic acid, thus helping to reduce the likelihood of a drop in hindgut pH.

When the hindgut microbes are disrupted, and a significant drop in pH does occur, many of the beneficial microbes will die, and release endotoxins, which get into the blood stream and cause an inflammatory response. In specific instances, vasoactive amines may be released, which may affect blood supply to the hoof.


What about Prebiotics?

Prebiotics are typically fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS), usually obtained from sugarbeet, but are also naturally found in a number of vegetables of fruits such as onions, asparagus roots, garlic, Jerusalem artichokes, leeks and bananas. 

Unlike most carbohydrates, these FOSs are largely unaffected by stomach acid, and other digestive enzymes, but instead, they are selectively fermented by many of the beneficial bacteria in the hindgut. In other words, they act as a food source for, and selectively encourage the growth and activity of the beneficial intestinal bacteria which are associated with health and well-being.


What is MOS?

Mannan-oligosaccharide (MOS) is a carbohydrate/protein complex which is obtained from the cell walls of yeasts, and has the ability to bind or attach to specific,  undesirable or pathogenic bacteria, and carry them on through the gut to be excreted, thus preventing them colonizing the gut and causing disruption to the microbiota and a reduction in performance.


What supplements can I feed that have Pre and Probiotics?

Equine America Product Range:

Pro-Gut Balancer is a unique triple action pre and probiotic with MOS*, on a palatable linseed and alfalfa base, which should be fed for 10 days before, and 10 days after any stressful activity which could disrupt your horse’s vital hindgut microbiome such as:

• Changing forage – from pasture-based to hay-based as horses are stabled for the winter months with reduced grazing
• Changing livery yard – different feeds, forage and new companions in a new environment (including mares going away to stud)
• Worming – vital to ensure a low parasitic burden, but can disrupt the gut microbes in sensitive horses
• Following antibiotic therapy – necessary to kill pathogens or bad bugs in wounds or illness, but may also kill some good bugs
• Elite competition and racehorses, with ongoing strenuous training and competition programmes, and frequent long-distance travelling, as well as young horses during sales preparation may benefit from longer term use.
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