Pre- and Probiotics for Horses

Providing pre- and probiotics, coupled with proper nutrition, can have positive effects on horses’ health.
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Feed digestion in horses is largely accomplished by microbial fermentation in the hindgut. The cecum and colon provide an environment that promotes the digestion and absorption of nutrients from fibrous products such as hay and beet pulp. Disrupting the microbe balance, due to mismanaged feeding practices or illness, can have detrimental effects on the horse’s health. Thus, some horse owners and veterinarians use pre- and probiotics to help keep the microbial balance in check and the horse’s digestive tract functioning properly.

Prebiotics are food components that stimulate hindgut microflora activity and growth. The horse does not digest these ingredients; rather, hindgut microbes do. These include carbohydrate fibers such as fructo-oligosaccharides and manno-oligosaccharides. Premium feed products include several prebiotics, including yeast cultures and fungi, to aid in digestion.

Probiotics, or direct-fed microbials, are the bacteria and entercoli typically found in the horse’s intestinal lumen. The goal in feeding a probiotic supplement is to enhance the hindgut’s microbial population and reduce the growth of potentially harmful bacteria.

Probiotics on the market today include live bacterial cultures and live yeast cultures. Equine probiotics typically include Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium species of bacteria and/or the yeast Saccharomyces boulardii

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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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