Supporting your horses digestive tract health

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.

 

For more information visit www.succeedfbt.com/uk or contact Emma Hardy [email protected]

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Could your horse be suffering from digestive tract health problems?

By guest blogger Emma Hardy from www.succeedfbt.com/uk

Whether you find your horse refusing or rolling poles, experience changes in the quality of work under saddle, or begin noticing changes in temperament, poor performance is something every rider experiences at one point or another. While the underlying cause is often unclear, such lapses in performance are usually short-lived. We may put it down to an off day whilst we mutter “well, that’s horses for you.” Still, even with all our best efforts, that occasional “off day” sometimes turns into an “off week,” an “off month” or more. It’s easy to think in terms of the horse’s behaviour as purely a training issue, and only in cases where the issue seems to go on endlessly do we consider physical health issues at stake. But it’s wise to consider how the horse’s digestive health may be the true culprit. How do you know? And, what do you do about it?

This is the first of two blog articles to look at how problems with the horse’s digestive system, especially the hindgut, may be creating seemingly unrelated issues. In this first post, we’ll focus on how we can more easily recognise the signs of digestive tract health conditions, and how we can begin to establish a definitive diagnosis.

How the outside affects the inside of the horse

Over the course of millions of years, horses evolved to survive on an ad lib, fibre-rich diet accompanied by a low stress lifestyle. In short, horses are designed to support a pastoral life of grazing. Unfortunately, even with our very best intentions, this is a far cry from how many horses exist today. Competition horses especially are faced with a plethora of stresses, including travel, stabling, training and competition, all of which can negatively affect the health of the gut.

In order to do all of these activities, appropriate nutrition must be provided to fuel the energy required. So, we supplement the natural diet with concentrate feeds, and stable the horse, which may limit access to forage. From the point of view of the hindgut, these factors prove a risky combination.

The microbiota

The horse’s hind gut is home to millions of protozoa, fungi and bacteria which make up the gut microbiota. With this, the horse is living with a delicate balance between beneficial microbes that live in symbiotic harmony with the horse, and harmful pathogens that can cause no end of damage.

As a hindgut fermenter, the horse relies on these microbes to produce upwards of 80% of its energy through the fermentation of fibrous feedstuff. Further, the health of the microbiota is considered essential for the overall maintenance of many biological systems in the horse. At the same time, microbial imbalances resulting from stress responses, dietary changes, starchy feed reaching the hindgut, infection and even the antibiotics prescribed to treat disease can reduce the numbers of beneficial fibre-fermenting bacteria. Such imbalances can decrease the ability of the GI tract to optimally utilise forage and maintain good health. When this occurs, damaging endotoxins are released which can also have deleterious effects on the gut, such as inflammation, as well as systemic effects as they enter the blood stream, potentially leading to colic, laminitis and more.

Sadly for the horse, this cascade of events encourages the bad bacteria to proliferate, causing an increase in acidity and ultimately leading to a condition called Hindgut Acidosis. Since the bad bacteria much prefer this type of acidic environment, they thrive creating a vicious circle which can be difficult to break.

 

Spotting the signs of poor GI health

How can we best recognise the signs and symptoms which tell us that our horse’s digestive tract is not in the best shape? The most obvious sign might be a change in weight or condition. But what if the signs aren’t typical or obvious? In fact, sometimes issues that seem completely unrelated to a digestive problem may actually be early signs.

With any digestive tract imbalance that creates inflammation and ulceration, the horse may feel discomfort or pain. This can manifest in many ways but generally results from a degree of discomfort emanating from the abdomen and flanks.

Signs to consider may include:

  • reluctance to extend and collect
  • resistance to the leg aids or frequent tail swishes
  • finding it difficult to work over the back, engage the hindquarters or flex through the body (particularly to the right)
  • intermittent hindlimb lameness
  • demonstrate a general drop in performance, attitude and willingness to work

From the ground, as with any digestive tract issue, we might see:

  • negative changes in temperament
  • sensitivity to rugging, girthing up or brushing
  • loss of condition and weight
  • diarrhoea and undigested feed in the droppings
  • stereotypies

Sadly, many of these performance-related “red flags” can be misinterpreted as bad behaviour, particularly when clinical signs are vague. However, as those who work most closely with our horses on a daily basis, we must always first assume that the horse is conveying a “can’t” rather than a “won’t” message.

Reaching an accurate diagnosis

The next step may be to consult the professionals. This includes chiropractors, physiotherapists, massage therapists, and other paraprofessionals.

From the perspective of the novice, the role of the paraprofessionals is often limited to the treatment of skeletal and musculoskeletal conditions only. But in reality, the scope of the paraprofessional’s work can reach far beyond. Paraprofessionals may consider the effects of internal anatomy and physiology on other body systems, and on the horse’s overall health and performance. As such, these systems all play an important role in the paraprofessional’s accurate and complete assessment.

The vet is also likely to be involved when GI tract issues are at stake. If the vet suspects a gastric problem, a gastroscopy may be recommended to visualise the stomach. But when it comes to diagnosing a hindgut condition, diagnostic options are limited.  Endoscopy cannot be used for the hindgut and other techniques, such as biopsy and ultrasound, can prove less than reliable.

 

 

The SUCCEED FBT may be the answer

Given the significance of hind gut health issues, and the limitations of current modalities to provide for a definitive diagnosis, an effective diagnostic tool would be extremely valuable. Such a tool does exist in the SUCCEED Equine Fecal Blood Test, or “FBT.” This simple test is non-invasive, affordable and reliable, and returns results quickly. Best of all, it helps differentiate foregut from hind gut conditions.

The SUCCEED FBT is a stable-side test kit that uses exclusive antibodies to detect occult albumin and haemoglobin in a sample of manure. These blood proteins serve as markers of inflammation and bleeding which help to indicate whether something is afoot, and to also indicate where the problem originates from – from the stomach or from a point thereafter (effectively hindgut).

Understanding that a digestive tract problem exists and at which location within the gut provides clear, objective data to guide effective strategies for treatment and full recovery. This is ultimately the responsibility of the vet, which is why the SUCCEED FBT is only available to vets. Although the test is simple to use, haemoglobin and albumin loss can occur as a result of several different conditions. Combining FBT results with a full work up and perhaps additional investigations, the vet is best positioned to establish a complete differential diagnosis.

If you feel that something isn’t right with your horse and some of the signs outlined within this blog post seem familiar, consider that a digestive tract problem may be responsible. Having the vet test the horse with the FBT kit is a quick and easy first step to take in finding out the cause and hopefully getting your formerly co-operative and content horse back to feeling like his old self.

For more information visit www.succeedfbt.com/uk or contact Emma Hardy [email protected]

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