Does Equine Metabolic Syndrome Affect Gut Microbes?

EMS horses had less microbial diversity than healthy horses, potentially impairing gut health and affecting metabolism.

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The horse’s digestive tract houses a unique and diverse microbial population, each species in careful balance with the others to serve specific purposes. The job of the bacteria known as Fibrobacter, for example, is to break down cellulose in the large intestine.

Diet, age, and disease status, however, can all negatively affect the microbiota (the microbial population residing in the digestive tract). In humans, researchers know that metabolic syndrome can be associated with changes in the intestinal microbiota. So what happens in the gut when horses have equine metabolic syndrome (EMS)?

Sarah Elzinga, a graduate student working under Amanda Adams, PhD, at the University of Kentucky’s Gluck Equine Research Center, in Lexington, set out to answer this question.

Her team studied 20 horses of varying breeds and genders consuming free-choice mixed-grass hay for at least two months prior to sampling. They classified the horses—based on the presence or absence of insulin dysregulation, regional or general adiposity (body fat), and previous history of or predisposition for the hoof disease laminitis—as EMS or control (not affected) horses

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Kristen M. Janicki, a lifelong horsewoman, was born and raised in the suburbs of Chicago. She received her Bachelor of Science degree in Animal Sciences from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and later attended graduate school at the University of Kentucky, studying under Dr. Laurie Lawrence in the area of Equine Nutrition. Kristen has been a performance horse nutritionist for an industry feed manufacturer for more than a decade. Her job entails evaluating and improving the performance of the sport horse through proper nutrition.

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