DIGESTIVE HEALTH & THE PREVENTION OF SCOURS (DIARRHEA) It cannot be stressed highly enough that if the horse’s delicate digestive system is compromised in any way it will have significant effects on performance, appearance and even temperament, so ensuring your horse’s digestive health is in peak condition is of paramount importance for his wellbeing. It’s not just about what he is being fed, as environment, well-being and good husbandry can also play a significant role in ensuring good digestive health.
CAUSES OF SCOURING Scouring can often be caused by illness or disease such as bacterial infections or colitis, so in the first instance it is always best to consult with your veterinary medical practitioner. The anatomy and physiology of the equine gastrointestinal tract implies strong adaptation of hindgut fermentation of structural fibre to provide a large supply of energy-rich short chain fatty acids. (SCFAs). One of the most important causal factors to consider in the association between diet and diarrhea is starch arriving in the hindgut after having overwhelmed small intestinal digestion. The arrival of such a rapidly fermentable carbohydrate initially increases the rate of bacterial multiplication and favours the growth of acidophilic bacteria that generate lactate, which results in a fall in gut PH from the normal 6.7-7.00 down to as low as 6. This acidification results in a reduction in fibre-fermenting bacteria, decreased fibre digestibility and decreased SCFA absorption by the colon. The following dietary changes are therefore strongly suspected as causes of scouring
- Sudden increased cereal feeding, which results in a significant delivery of starch to the caecum, limiting precaecal digestibility
- The rapid addition of oils/fats
- Sudden exposure to lush grazing
- Sudden change from one hay type to another eg legume hay to grass hay, cereal hay or meadow hay – any changes to forage type must take place gradually over a period of at least 2 weeks.
- Restrict grazing temporarily until resolved.
- Limit concentrate feed to no more than 1g starch per kg bodyweight per meal and feed several smaller meals per day mixed with forage.
- Include easily fermentable fibre such as unmolassed sugar beet pulp, psyllium or soya hulls.
- Ensure electrolytes are provided to replace those lost during diarrhea episodes; important anyway for the horse is in harder work, or if a horse has gone off its feed.
- Avoid feeding oil to a scouring horse until the scours have resolved. Then you can start reintroducing beginning with 0.1ml/kg of BW per day and increase over 2-3 weeks to a maximum of 1.0ml/kg of BW if weight gain is considered desirable.
- Add Fibregenix Platinum Pro balancer supplement – the quadruple action digestive supplements consist of the following highly specialised and beneficial hindgut and foregut packages…
- Actisaf live probiotic yeast, the world-leading probiotic yeast proven to promote fibre digestibility and help reduce lactic acid accumulation in the hindgut
- A Purified Nucleotide supplement which promotes the health of the mucosal gut lining
- Safmannan MOS prebiotic which assist in removing pathogenic bacteria from the system that may be attributing to scouring
- Profeed FOS prebiotic. This SCFA FOS helps limits the risk of digestive disorders in horses by modifying the faecal microbiota, increasing the growth of Lactobacilli and limiting growth of potentially pathogenic bacteria
When you consider that equine digestive behaviour, anatomy and physiology have slowly evolved to accommodate a gradual intake of high fibre, low starch, low fat diet, composed primarily of various species of grasses over a prolonged feeding period with slow and gradual changes in dietary quality, it’s hardly surprising with the increased nutritional requirements of working horses and the relatively high nutrient density of available feeds, forages and pasture in comparison to the typical feral diet, that digestive issues are commonly prevalent in today’s modern domestic horse. Therefore being aware of what can predispose equines to digestive issues such as scouring is fundamental, and it is up to us to implement a sensible diet regime for the ongoing health of our horses.