Study: Prebiotics Might Help Prevent Digestive Upset

Prebiotics, such as short-chain fructo-oligosaccharides, are specially fermented compounds that alter the composition and/or activity of gastrointestinal bacteria and microflora to ameliorate the health of the host. Until now, only a limited amount of research on the effect of prebiotics in horses has been performed, despite the fact that horses are particularly sensitive to changes in the microflora in the hindgut (including the colon and cecum).

In a study performed by French researchers, the short-chain fructo-oligosaccharide supplementation was evaluated in four horses subjected to a sudden diet change designed to mimic a feeding error.

The study found that daily supplementation with 0.05 to 0.07 grams of short-chain fructo-oligosaccharides per kilogram of body weight should be beneficial in preventing digestive disorders caused by stressful situations, such as acute starch overloads.

Horses are exceedingly sensitive to environmental stress and rapid alterations in diet. According to Equine Extension Specialist Carey Williams, PhD, from the Equine Science Center at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, "These changes can result in the development of colic or laminitis, potentially due to alterations in the microbial population or lack of the proper microbes in the hindgut."

"Based on the positive results reported in this study, prebiotics may also be beneficial for horses subjected to a variety of stressful situations, such as transport, competition, or weaning," explained Williams. "However, further research is certainly warranted."

The study "Effects of dietary short-chain fructo-oligosaccharides on the intestinal microflora of horses subjected to a sudden change in diet" will be published in an upcoming edition of the Journal of Animal Science. The abstract is currently available on  PubMed. Contributing authors were Respondek, Goachet, and Julliand.

About the Author

Stacey Oke, DVM, MSc

Stacey Oke, MSc, DVM, is a practicing veterinarian and freelance medical writer and editor. She is interested in both large and small animals, as well as complementary and alternative medicine. Since 2005, she's worked as a research consultant for nutritional supplement companies, assisted physicians and veterinarians in publishing research articles and textbooks, and written for a number of educational magazines and websites.

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