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Horse Digestive System | 5 Signs of Gut Problems | Global Herbs

Chris Price

Few people realise how key digestion is to their own health.  In the same way, the horse digestive system lies at the heart of keeping your horse healthy. Although complex, an understanding of how this system works pays dividends in other areas of health. The nutrients that are absorbed from food can only be utilised by the rest of the body if the digestive system is fully functional.

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Gut Layer

The digestive tract of every animal is coated with a thick layer of healthy bacteria – known as the ‘bacterial gut layer’ or BGL.  One doctor (Dr Campbell-McBride) describes this bacterial layer as much like a layer of turf which provides natural protection to the underlying cells.  The body’s cells need protection from undigested food, toxins and parasites. Dr Campbell-McBride says that just as unprotected soil becomes eroded, the gut wall suffers without its protecting ‘layer of turf.’  There is still a lot to be discovered about the horse digestive system many basic principles are similar to humans and you may notice cross overs in how our bodies process nutrients.

This ‘bacterial gut layer’ (BGL)  essentially feeds your horse’s gut wall, helping to keep it healthy and fully functional. Without this underlying support and feeding from good gut bacteria, the cells of your horse’s gut lining (called enterocytes) begin to degenerate and if left untreated begin to die therefore struggle to properly breakdown food.

Jobs of the BGL

The ‘BGL’ has so many jobs to do; not only does it feed gut cells by providing them with up to 70% of their energy supply, but it also stops unnecessary bad bacteria growing. Importantly the BGL produces chemicals that kill unwanted bacteria, viruses, inhibit parasites and helps the whole digestion process.  In people there are about 1.5-2kg of these bacteria in the bowels, in horses, there are a lot more, particularly because unlike people, horses also use these good bacteria to ferment food in their hindgut.  Without friendly fermenting bacteria, horses would not be able to digest grass.

When the horse digestive system is strong, the gut cells are healthy, normal and responsible (whilst maintaining a good defence), for breaking down food particles to be taken up by the body.  Alternatively, when your horse’s gut cells are not healthy, they are unable to properly prepare food for uptake by the body and the partially digested food remains too long in the gut.

Food sat undigested in the gut is then utilised by unwanted (bad) bacteria, that consequently grow and multiply leading to problem health conditions that can spread to other areas of the body.  The toxins produced by these ‘bad’ bacteria can be very strong and if left to multiply can cause longer-term damage.

Damage to the gut lining

When the gut lining becomes damaged it can start to become thinner and fragile like a ‘crumbling wall’.  The cells will not be able to absorb nutrients properly and will start to let through undigested food, ‘leaking’.  A leaky gut will mean that a horse or a person will be much more likely to develop allergies to foods and other things in the environment.

This is because of the way the body reacts to undigested food leaking it into the body. If left untreated this can affect the body’s ability to absorb water and the body can develop food sensitivities.  Food allergies can ease off when the gut is healed.  When you consider that up to 60-70 per cent of the body’s immune system resides in the gut lining it is not surprising what a dramatic effect improving gut function has.

So you can now see how important it is for your horse to keep its gut bacterial lining intact and in good shape for overall health.

What can upset the bacterial lining?

  1. Antibiotics
  2. Stress
  3. Sudden changes in food
  4. Too much hard food
  5. Lack of forage
  6. Overeating/too much rich food

What are the signs of gut problems in horses?

  1. Loose runny droppings
  2. Gas in the droppings
  3. Inability to put on weight
  4. Colic of any sort
  5. Behavioural problems
  6. Allergies

What can I do to repair my horse’s bacterial lining if I suspect a problem?

  1. Stop feeding hard feed or reduce it gradually as to not upset its routine
  2. Feed grass or roughage or both
  3. Remove stress and if necessary feed a calmer such as SuperCalm
  4. Feed a good mineral and vitamin formula e.g. GlobalVite
  5. Feed a prebiotic to feed the good bacteria back into life.  This acts as the best form of ‘feed balancer’- Gut Support
  6. Feed a probiotic whenever you have to use antibiotics to support the bacterial balance

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Gut Support

Horse digestive system – Probiotics vs Prebiotics

To date, most support for a damaged horse digestion system seems to have come from the world of probiotics.  Probiotics found in live yoghurt are mixes of good bacteria which can help to build up all the good bacteria to help maintain normality. Unfortunately, the bacterial gut lining is a bit too complex to respond to just probiotics on their own.  The gut requires many different types of bacteria to stay in a stable community.

Prebiotics, on the other hand, are compounds, which attempt to feed the good bacteria back into shape.  However, I have been constantly amazed at the results I have achieved with the complex herbal formula called Prebioherb.   This is a very old traditional herbal formula originating from Asia and aims at the same time to help as many different parts of the digestive process.  It was formulated for animals that ferment food in the gut such as horses and cows.

The Feed Balancer

A modern-day feed balancer consists of ingredients to balance the ‘bacterial gut lining’ and a source of minerals and vitamins to ensure that the body has all it needs.

At Global Herbs we suggest that all you need for balancing gut bacteria is ‘Prebioherb’ and the product we recommend is Gut Support.


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