Improve Digestion to Prevent Intestinal Upset in Sport Horses

One of the many factors that can affect a competition horse's focus is intestinal upset--specifically impaction and spasmodic colic. Kyle Newman, PhD, of Venture Laboratories, explored how sport horse owners can help prevent these colic episodes in their equine athletes at the Veterinary Sport Horse Symposium, held Sept. 22-24 in Lexington, Ky.

According to Newman, an increased risk of impaction or spasmodic colic can be attributed to changes in diet (for example, if you change your horse's hay, the fiber content increases and digestibility decreases), changes in grains or concentrates (i.e., greater than 2.7 kg oats/day), and a decrease in pasture availability.

He said horse owners can help prevent colic by "examining simple sugar and fiber of forages, avoiding (dietary) changes that increase gas production, stabilizing fermentation, and improving digestibility."

To improve a horse's digestion, Newman suggests maintaining neutral pH levels in the cecum and colon (the major site for fiber digestion). Yeast cultures can help maintain a pH favorable for fiber digestibility, as shown in a study conducted by Newman et al. using the yeast Yea-Sacc1026.

"Nutritionally, we might be able to decrease these colics by improving fiber digestion," said Newman. He also listed several products that might aid in preventing intestinal upset: - Omeprazole - Bio-Sponge (absorbs microbial toxins) - Pro/Prebiotics such as glucan (an immune-stimulant), fructooligosaccharide (feeds beneficial bacteria), and mannan oligosaccharide (pathogen adsorption and immune modulation).

On the whole, horse owners that carefully monitor any changes to their horse's diet and work toward improving digestibility should have a lesser chance of encountering colic.

About the Author

Alexandra Beckstett, The Horse Managing Editor

Alexandra Beckstett, Managing Editor of The Horse and a native of Houston, Texas, is a lifelong horse owner who has shown successfully on the national hunter/jumper circuit and dabbled in hunter breeding. After graduating from Duke University, she joined Blood-Horse Publications as Assistant Editor of its book division, Eclipse Press, before joining The Horse.

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