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Understanding Different Types of Horse Digestive SupplementsBy Kentucky Equine Research Staff · August 7, 2017

From stem to stern, your horse is a microbial milieu that works to maintain gastrointestinal health. Unforeseen circumstances can rapidly upset the delicate populations of bacteria, fungi, and yeast—collectively referred to as the microbiota—that inhabit the horse’s gut, especially the large intestine and cecum.

"The intestinal microbiota has enormous impact on the health and performance of horses. Although single pathogens can cause disease, gut microbial dysbiosis, a shift in the microbiota as a whole, is increasingly being identified as a cause of a wide range of diseases," wrote researchers in a recent study of equine probiotics*.

What is the best way to keep your horse's gastrointestinal tract in tip-top shape?

According to Kathleen Crandell, Ph.D., a Kentucky Equine Research (KER) nutritionist, "Avoiding abrupt dietary changes, feeding large amounts of roughage or forage, and protecting the gastrointestinal system during times of stress, illness, or antibiotic therapy are all ways to ensure beneficial microbes in the horse’s hindgut are preserved."

Probiotics and hindgut buffers are two of the most common ways to both prevent microbiota shift during times of health and help re-establish the microbiota during and following illness. Scientific evidence supports both probiotic and hindgut buffer use in the horse, but little information is available regarding whether they can be used at the same time.

Probiotics are dietary supplements that deliver live microbes, usually bacteria or yeast, to the hindgut of horses. They function by boosting the horse's immune system in the large intestine, producing some antimicrobial products, excluding disease-causing microorganisms, and inhibiting bacterial toxins. Hindgut buffers like EquiShure, on the other hand, have a different mechanism of action: they help maintain an appropriate pH for cellulolytic bacteria to flourish and consistently produce volatile fatty acids. Hindgut buffers are designed to keep microorganisms content so replenishment is not necessary.

"Both probiotics and hindgut buffers are nutritional supplements that are generally recognized as safe. This means that no adverse reactions to the supplement is anticipated; however, drug-nutrient-supplement interactions can occur, especially when multiple products are administered," explained Crandell.

The different mechanisms of action and overall product safety suggest that both a probiotic and hindgut buffer can potentially be used at the same time but only if quality products are selected and veterinarian recommendations followed.

*Schoster, A., J.S. Weese, and L. Guardabassi. 2014. Probiotic use in horses – What is the evidence for their clinical efficacy? Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine. 28:1640-1652