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Can Kefir Keep Horses' Hindguts Healthy?By Kentucky Equine Research Staff · July 26, 2017

As hindgut fermenters, horses rely on the population of microorganisms in the cecum and colon to extract energy from their feed. Keeping the microbiome healthy involves various management strategies, such as offering an appropriate diet, minimizing abrupt changes in diet, and adding various dietary supplements, including prebiotics, probiotics, curcumin, and now possibly kefir, according to some researchers.

“Milk kefir is a fermentation product containing proteins, lipids, lactose, ethanol, lactic acid, as well as calcium, vitamins, and a variety of microorganisms such as lactic acid bacteria and yeast,” explained Kathleen Crandell, Ph.D., a nutritionist with Kentucky Equine Research (KER).

She added, “The use of kefir products has increased in the equine industry of late, presumably because of the probiotic benefits. The science supporting this product, however, is lacking.”

To assess the impact of kefir on hindgut fermentation, one research group* created an artificial equine hindgut in a laboratory setting by mixing a barley/alfalfa diet with normal digestive enzymes in a fermentation vat. Kefir was subsequently added to determine its impact on fermentation. The main outcome measure was the production of volatile fatty acids, which are a horse’s main energy source produced via fermentation of feedstuffs.

The key finding of the study was that the addition of kefir enhanced fermentation by increasing the production of three volatile fatty acids: propionate, butyrate, and acetate. In addition, a shift toward producing more acetate than propionate was observed, though the clinical significance of this was unclear.

The apparent positive effect of kefir, however, must be validated in live horses prior to its widespread endorsement.

“In addition to the above-mentioned products, hindgut buffers such as EquiShure maintain a pH ideal for the intestinal microbiome, thereby avoiding perturbations in the hindgut environment,” advised Crandell.

*de la Fuente, G., E. Jones, S. Jones, et al. 2017. Functional resilience and response to a dietary additive (kefir) in models of foregut and hindgut microbial fermentation in vitro. Frontiers in Microbiology. 8:1194.