By guest blogger Emma Hardy, PhD, of www.succeedfbt.com/uk
This is the second in a two-part series looking at the health of the equine digestive tract. In the first article we focused on what can go wrong, how to spot the signs and how the SUCCEED Equine Fecal Blood Test (FBT) kit can help vets to identify an issue and contribute to a diagnosis. This blog entry moves on to the next steps in discussing how we can facilitate recovery from a gastrointestinal tract problem, and looks at the preventative approaches to supporting optimal digestive health.
Challenging the routine approach to digestive tract problems
As many of us are only too aware, gastrointestinal tract issues are common and diagnosis is not always straightforward. Recognising and understanding the signs and symptoms is the crucial first step, and sometimes requires a bit of “thinking outside the box”. The problem is that common clinical signs can be unreliable as the basis of a diagnosis. Many clinical signs commonly associated with digestive tract issues, such as weight loss or diarrhoea, may also be associated with other conditions. Other issues, such as lameness or subtle changes to the quality of work when ridden, may be clues to an underlying GI health issue, but are not commonly associated with digestive health. To add to the confusion, the symptoms of gastric complaints, such as ulcers, can appear from the outside to be similar to those related to intestinal issues, despite the causes and treatments being very different.
Pain and discomfort created by a digestive tract problem can manifest in many ways. It is therefore key to consider causes that might go beyond the initial symptoms. If a gastrointestinal tract issue is suspected, the SUCCEED FBT can help to identify an issue and also to indicate whether it’s coming from the stomach or from somewhere further along the tract (intestinal). This information helps you and your vet to decide on the most effective treatment plan for recovery.
The “Treat-Repeat” Cycle
Responding to and treating symptoms of GI health is a common practice, but often leads to a seemingly endless cycle of “treat-and-repeat”. This is due to the fact that many treatment approaches are misguided. They either do not address the underlying issues, are treating the wrong part of the GI tract, or because the source of the conditions is inherent in the care and feeding of the animal, particularly for those that are regularly competing. This is reflected in the high degree of recurrence these horses experience after treatment has ended. Because a common and widely available treatment for gastric ulceration exists, gastric ulcers are often the “first choice” of diagnosis. That is, we may be more likely to suspect ulcers simply because we have “the solution” at hand.
The widely-available and most widely accepted treatment approach for gastric ulcers is Proton Pump Inhibitors (PPIs), usually in the form of Omeprazole, the widespread use of which is of real concern. Whilst inarguably effective in the short term, particularly for squamous gastric ulceration, Omeprazole is often prescribed without thought to the long-term effects, especially on the rest of the digestive tract. Conversely, intestinal disorders, whilst becoming better understood, remain difficult to diagnose and treat and may even be exacerbated by PPI treatment. Intestinal complaints such as Irritable Bowel Disease can often have many different causes which are sometimes never identified. As such, a treatment plan of trial and error to establish the most effective route back to good health is not uncommon. Unfortunately, this approach can be costly in terms of money and time and, of course, welfare to the horse. Again, without a clear understanding of the specific cause of an intestinal problem once treatment is removed, the horse may remain at risk of relapse.
Emphasis on prevention rather than cure
It is widely appreciated that if the gut is not functioning properly, the horse cannot function properly. Particularly for our horses out competing, that means they cannot perform at their best, and any downtime due to health issues is costly and disappointing. To be able to avoid these problems in the first place would surely be preferable, as prevention is less expensive and troublesome for the owner and less risky for the horse.
Supporting digestive tract health naturally
Clearly, implementing a gut-friendly management routine and diet is the ideal. Horses would have access to a diet of ad-lib, low quality forage, movement would be unrestricted and stress kept to a minimum. However, this can be tricky in meeting the physical and nutritional demands of the hard-working horse and, from a practical aspect, often impossible to implement on some yards. So, it’s critical to elevate our management of optimal digestive health in an effort to offset the digestive tract risks that can challenge our horses.
One way to do this is to supplement their diet with targeted nutrients to help normalise digestion, repair and replenish the structure of the tract, and enhance its natural defences against injury and disease.
A Nutritional Approach to Care
A daily supplement program is available which can be used to promote and maintain gastrointestinal tract health, particularly for horses faced with stressful conditions. This nutritional product, SUCCEED Digestive Conditioning Program (DCP) can also be a useful addition for horses on PPI medication in helping to protect the intestinal risks associated with longer term use of these acid-blocking drugs, while providing all-round gastrointestinal support following completion of PPI treatment.
SUCCEED DCP provides a unique and highly functional profile of oat-based polar lipids, beta glucans, amino acids and yeast products to benefit all parts of the gastrointestinal tract.
Beta glucan, extracted from micronised oat bran, is a soluble fibre, well established for its benefits to gut health. Not only does it create a hydrogel with feed to promote their complete digestion, it also stimulates the immune system to help fight infection. Horses will utilise better the nutrients contained within their feed, and reduce the risk of non-forage feedstuffs from entering the hindgut.
Polar lipids, from oat oil play a key role in strengthening the cell membranes of the gut lining, which actively helps to improve their natural defences to acidity and harmful pathogens.
Amino acids, Threonine and Arginine are essential for maintaining the mucus lining of the tract, as well as for increasing blood circulation to enhance tissue repair and reduce recovery time.
Mannan oligosaccharides (MOS) and yeast beta glucan, are both prebiotics, which are highly beneficial to the good fibre-digesting bacteria in the hindgut. They are also known to bind and safely remove harmful pathogens, including bad bacteria and mycotoxins.
Prioritising digestive tract health
Although the stresses our riding horses may face cannot always be eliminated, it can be possible to help minimise the effects with additional nutritional support. The health of the digestive system can create consequences for all the other biological systems in the horses body, so optimising digestive health within their feed and management programme is an obvious priority. Only when a horse is healthy from the inside out are they are best able to achieve their full potential.
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