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Understanding probiotics

The use of probiotics can be beneficial if a horse is convalescent after illness, or his digestive system is being exposed to the stress of competition or changes to routine.

Stress alters the level of acidity in both the upper gut (small intestine) and hind gut (caecum and colon) allowing opportunistic ‘bad’ or non-beneficial bacteria tomultiply and overwhelm the ‘good’ bacteria.

If left unchecked in the horse’s small intestine, bad bacteria, such as Salmonella and E. Coli, can cause health problems.

Probiotics consist of various naturally occurring lactic-acid producing bacteria that encourage the growth of beneficial bacteria already present in the horse’s small intestine.

They are safe and have no known side effects or overdose levels and can be fed in conjunction with other supplements.

How probiotics work

Probiotics work in three ways. They:

  • Rebalance acid levels in the small intestine
  • Use the food needed by bad bacteria
  • on the horse’s gut wall.

They also

  • Protecting against the effects of stress
  • Boosting the immune system
  • Reducing side effects of antibiotics
  • Protecting against gastric problems
  • Promoting efficient digestion
  • Increasing milk in lactating mares.

Choosing a probiotic

Teresa Hollands, equine nutritionist for Dodson & Horrell, explains: “There is a big difference between probiotics and feed balancers.

A probiotic is a mixture of live bacteria designed for the upper gut to improve its efficiency and is fed in grammes per day.

“A feed balancer is a complete feed that contains vitamins, minerals, cereals and protein sources to balance any forage deficiencies. The recommended feeding level is usually 1kg per day. Often they contain yeasts, as do other feeds that are recommended to be fed at higher levels.

“The equine industry often describes lactic acid-producing bacteria supplements that help the upper gut as probiotics. Yeast cultures (which are also technically probiotics) help the function of the horse’s hind gut. Both need to be fed for relatively short periods. Choose a product that targets the part of the gut you want it to.”

Read more about probiotics:

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