A fit horse that feels good and full of energy – these are the characteristics of a healthy horse. True health comes from within. How exactly does the digestive system work and how does it influence your horse’s health? To find out, read this article.
The intestine is an important indicator
A horse can only perform at all levels if it is in good health. And good health starts with a healthy digestive system. The horse digests in the hind intestine. This means that fermentation takes place in the colon. The horse’s intestine is home to many microorganisms such as bacteria, viruses and yeasts. These make up what is called the microbiome. It is important to ensure the health of the intestinal microbiome since it protects the horse from bad bacteria. High-quality, fiber-rich foods support the development of a stable and healthy gut microbiome. Studies show that diet (eg high in sugar and starch), stress and antibiotics have negative effects on the gut microbiome.
The development of a healthy intestinal system begins at birth. When the foal drinks the colostrum, the first antibodies enter his blood and the first bacteria settle in his colon.
The bacteria in the intestine therefore have a direct relationship with the immune system. They also produce substances that interact with it. These are, for example, short-chain fatty acids such as:
– Acetic acid
– Propionic acid
– Butyric acid
These short-chain fatty acids support intestinal health and increase the content of certain substances, which encourage immune cells to migrate to the intestine.
A healthy horse = good immune defenses
A healthy horse benefits from an optimally functioning immune system. This then protects the animal against intruders from outside. Anything that can harm the body and tries to enter the body, for example viruses, is attacked by an army of white blood cells. However, the stronger this army, the less the intruders are likely to cause disease. The intestine is the largest immune organ in the body. In fact, 80 percent of all immunological screening cells capable of recognizing pathogens are found there.
A healthy intestinal environment is therefore essential for a good immune system. However, this is easier said than done. There is no miracle food supplement to strengthen the intestine. Overall living conditions are decisive here. Stress, for example, can greatly weaken the immune system. Indeed, the horse’s body reacts to stress by secreting cortisol, which then leads to a decrease in the production of white blood cells.
But that’s not all. Stress harms the health of the gut microbiome and can cause stomach ulcers. Chronic (mental) stress thus has a huge influence on the health of the body. Immune defenses therefore go hand in hand with the physical and mental health of the horse. In order for the immune system to function optimally, the horse absolutely needs:
– A healthy diet
– Of regularity
– Frequent rest periods
Support may be needed
A change in diet, an excess of sugar and starch, the absorption of mould, mycotoxins or antibiotics, but also many other factors can disturb the harmony at the level of the colon. Harmful bacteria then take over and upset the fermentation process. The colon microbiome is characterized, among other things, by its need for stability. The same hay and the same food every day are for him synonymous not with boredom, but with balance.
Fortunately, in the event of colon dysfunction, certain components can help restore balance. Pre- and probiotics support the good bacteria in the intestine and thus prevent bad bacteria from harming the health of this organ.
The power of food
Fiber is especially important and helps support or, when necessary, restore gut health. Roughage is one of the main sources of fiber for horses. This is why it is imperative to ensure its quality. An analysis here can provide you with valuable information. However, it must be relevant. In fact, if you opt for a different roughage every month (that is to say from different origins), a single analysis will not help you. Is the roughage you are buying from the same batch for an extended period? In this case, an analysis can be interesting. Plant varieties, soil quality, its fertilization, sunshine, harvest time, storage conditions and many other factors have a considerable influence on the nutritional value of the food. But concentrated foods, especially mueslis, can also be high in fiber.
Tip: the indication of the percentage of crude fiber on the packaging informs about the fiber content of a product.
We cannot say it enough: health comes from within; a horse benefiting from a healthy base will shine on its own. Can you do anything else for even more shine? But of course. Skincare products are the icing on the cake here. Make sure you always use products specially designed for the skin and coat of horses. These products have a neutral pH and hydrate the skin instead of drying it out.
The natural pH of our skin is between 4.0 and 5.5. That of the horse is between 7.0 and 7.4. The pH is determined by the top layer of the skin (the epidermis), which is an important component of the horse’s immune system. The epidermis indeed protects against heat and cold, but also against bacteria and other harmful intruders. This is why it is important to take care to maintain a normal pH – that is to say a neutral pH in the horse – in order to avoid infections. Products with too low a pH, e.g. eg shampoos for humans, have a hydrophilic nature, that is to say they absorb moisture, dry out the horse’s skin and then promote the appearance of dandruff. Bleaches and good degreasers, on the other hand, have a high pH. Due to their hydrophobic properties, they absorb natural sebum and make the coat dull, dry and sensitive skin, which can lead to infections.
Four tips from our animal feed experts
An optimally functioning intestinal system is a basic rule for enjoying a healthy and therefore performing horse. Does your horse show symptoms indicating possible digestive disorders? So here are some valuable tips:
- Supplement its ration with pre- and probiotics to support the gut microbiome. Probiotics are microbes capable of restoring the balance in the event of digestive disorders. Prebiotics serve as food for the good bacteria. However, well-fed bacteria are healthy bacteria! Cavalor Vitaflora rebalances the colon microbiome.
- Distribute enough fiber. A horse should absorb at least 1.25% of its body weight in dry matter from roughage. Read all about how much roughage your horse needs here. Besides roughage, concentrate feeds can also contain fiber. Cavalor FiberForce is a high fiber concentrate feed.
- In any case, avoid giving your horse too much starch and sugar and opt for a specific food that is particularly digestible.
- Also be sure to distribute several small portions throughout the day. A horse that does not have regular access to roughage is at risk of developing health problems. Unlike humans, horses only produce saliva when chewing. This stimulates digestion and neutralizes stomach acid. Does your horse have a sensitive stomach? Cavalor Gastro Aid. Available in paste and powder form, has a neutralizing effect. It supports the maintenance of a normal acidity level in the stomach and contributes to the protection of the gastric wall.