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    Essential Advice for Preserving Horses’ Digestive Health
Essential Advice for Preserving Horses’ Digestive Health
Image courtesy of Standardbred Canada

Essential Advice for Preserving Horses’ Digestive Health

February is designated as Colic Prevention Education Month by Equine Guelph, with the primary objective of combating the most prevalent cause of equine fatality. 

Alterations in behavior, such as increased irritability or moodiness, can be indicative of gastrointestinal unease in horses. Furthermore, flank biting can signify abdominal pain and a negative reaction to saddling. If a horse demonstrates a sudden decline in performance without any discernible lameness, gastrointestinal issues should be given significant consideration.

The well-being of a horse's entire body relies on maintaining a healthy gut microbiome. An unhealthy digestive system can lead to subpar performance, pain, discomfort, diarrhea, and a plethora of issues that can sideline your horse. 

Dr Luis Arroyo, a researcher from the Ontario Veterinary College, emphasizes that horses, as herbivores, are biologically designed to consume forage and break down complex sugars. The gut microbiota plays a vital role in this process, making healthy digestion reliant on its proper functioning. Recent research has established a connection between alterations in microbial diversity and conditions such as colic, colitis, and gastric ulcers.

Arroyo also provides valuable tips for stable management to safeguard digestive health:

  1. Horses are hind gut fermenters and require an adequate amount of fiber in their diet to maintain optimal gut function.
  2. Gradually introduce dietary changes to avoid disrupting the microbiota.
  3. Large grain meals should be avoided, as they can be detrimental to the microbiota and increase the risk of gastric ulcers. Instead, distribute concentrated feedings into several smaller rations.
  4. Prolonged periods of fasting should be prevented, as horses are continuous grazers and need a constant flow of small amounts of feed to ensure optimal digestive system function.
  5. Implement a comprehensive parasite prevention program.
  6. Provide access to fresh water 24/7 to maintain proper hydration and facilitate smooth passage through the gastrointestinal tract.
  7. Stay up to date with regular dental appointments.
  8. Encourage regular exercise and turnout, as they significantly contribute to gut function.

According to Mike King, national lead of equine programs at Acera Insurance Services Ltd. (formerly CapriCMW Insurance), there is no better risk management tool for preventing colic than education.

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