Scientists Test Probiotic for Interrupting C. Difficile Outbreaks in Foals

Using a targeted probiotic might be an effective way to reduce C. difficile-associated diarrhea in neonatal foals, researchers found.
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Scientists Test Probiotic for Interrupting C. Difficile Outbreaks in Foals
Shortly after birth, foals might develop C. difficile-associated disease, causing enterocolitis, diarrhea with or without blood, fever, reduced feed intake, and lethargy. | Photo: Anne M. Eberhardt/The Horse
Foals lack the established populations of beneficial bacteria in their gastrointestinal (GI) tracts that adult horses have. This makes way for bacteria such as Clostridium difficile to set up shop instead, causing a variety of GI signs and even death. During a recent C. difficile neonate outbreak at a Thoroughbred farm, researchers sought to find out if a probiotic could make a difference.

Steven Frese, PhD, a microbial ecologist with Evolve Biosystems, which funded the study led by Monica Aleman, MVZ, PhD, Dipl. ACVIM, and John Madigan, DVM, MS, Dipl. ACVIM, of the University of California, Davis, described C. difficile infection and the research findings at the 2017 American Association of Equine Practitioners’ Convention, held Nov. 17-21 in San Antonio, Texas.

Shortly after birth, foals might develop C. difficile-associated disease, causing enterocolitis (inflammation of the small intestine and colon), diarrhea with or without blood, fever, reduced feed intake, and lethargy. The standard course of treatment—administering an antibiotic such as metronidazole—is not always effective, due to drug resistance, and so C. difficile can be a cause of mortality on breeding farms.

Mare’s milk contains short chains of simple sugars known as oligosaccharides that get broken down by bacteria in the foal’s GI tract. The end product differs, depending on whether pathogenic (disease-causing) or beneficial bacteria do the breaking down

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Clair Thunes, PhD, is an equine nutritionist who owns Clarity Equine Nutrition, based in Gilbert, Arizona. She works as a consultant with owners/trainers and veterinarians across the United States and globally to take the guesswork out of feeding horses and provides services to select companies. As a nutritionist she works with all equids, from WEG competitors to Miniature donkeys and everything in between. Born in England, she earned her undergraduate degree at Edinburgh University, in Scotland, and her master’s and doctorate in nutrition at the University of California, Davis. Growing up, she competed in a wide array of disciplines and was an active member of the U.K. Pony Club. Today, she serves as the district commissioner for the Salt River Pony Club.

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