Do Horses Really Need Supplements?

To stay alive – no.  To have the most vibrant health possible – yes! I’m not talking about specialty supplements here, like joint or hoof, just the core essential nutrients of protein/amino acids, vitamins and minerals.  Somewhere on earth there may be a perfectly balanced forage with adequate total levels of all nutrients – but I doubt it.

These photos show what proper balancing can do in just one month:

Coat color before supplementation

Horse’s coat color one month after proper supplementation was started

The horse above had an unbalanced intake of iron, manganese, zinc and copper. This is a very common scenario. In addition, the supplemental forms of minerals being used were not very bioavailable so not getting into the horses body.  The coat changes when the situation is corrected because production of the skin and coat melanin pigments depends on an adequate supply of copper and zinc.

Horses eat exactly the same meals 24/7, typically for months on end.  Even if you are feeding a well balanced supplemented feed, the majority of calories, minerals, protein and vitamins are coming from the hay – which is not balanced.  Even if you gave the horse the equivalent of an equine one-a-day that contained the required daily minimum amount of all minerals you can still have deficiencies. This is because most minerals compete for absorption sites.

Picture a lottery machine with 99 black balls and 1 white ball.  The black balls are a mineral present at excessive levels.  The white ball is a mineral present at its recommended minimum. What color is most likely to make it to the chute (the absorption site)?

Minerals are for much more than bone formation. In addition to pigment production mentioned above, energy generation, DNA transcription, immunity, hormonal balance, muscle and nerve function, digestion and absorption of nutrients, blood vessel health, pH balance, fertility, tendon/ligament strength, hoof integrity, vision, enzyme activity – virtually anything you can think of relies on one or more minerals.

Hay or pasture analysis is by far the best way to determine what nutrients need to be supplemented and in what amounts. If this is impossible, regional analysis figures can be used.

All species can survive, even perform and reproduce, in the face of nutritional deficiencies.  That doesn’t mean you should ignore them. To really thrive and reach their true potential they need optimized nutrition. The investment required is minimal but returns can be huge.

Eleanor Kellon, VMD

 

Posted in Equine Nutrition | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Satisfying Salt Hunger

It’s a perennial question. Can a horse meet his salt needs from a salt block?  In a way, it’s a trick question.  There is more than enough salt there to meet the horse’s needs.  The real question is will the horse consume all he needs from a block.

Feral horses go on pilgrimages to find natural salt deposits

A widespread myth is that horses cannot get enough salt from a lick but  cows can because their tongues are rougher. A cow’s tongue is rougher (like a cat’s) – but not rough or sharp enough to slice salt off a block!  Cows and horses both get salt from a block by dissolving it with their saliva.  Same as licking a lollipop.

All herbivores have a strong drive/taste for salt. The sodium in salt (salt is sodium chloride) is the only mineral consistently at very low levels in the natural diet.  The drive to eat salt comes from the brain. Salt hunger increases with higher levels of the hormones aldosterone and angiotensin II.  The main function of this hormone system is to regulate blood pressure and maintain normal blood volume.  Sodium is important for this because of the major role it plays in holding water in the blood stream and the tissues surrounding the body’s cells.

Natural concentrated salt deposits are the beds of ancient seas which have dried up. They may be on the surface (salt flats) or underground, including under the ocean floor. Like all natural mineral deposits they are contaminated to varying extents by other minerals.  The table salt you buy in the supermarket has been purified of the contaminating minerals.

Raw salts have different colors depending on their contaminating minerals. Somewhere along the line someone got the bright idea that these basically dirty salts were more desirable, even offered a health benefit because of the myriad contaminating minerals they contain.  Problem is, the mineral profile of raw salts has virtually nothing to do with the mineral requirements of your horse.

For example, a typical analysis of one popular “natural” salt’s trace minerals shows it would take 150 kg (330 pounds) of this stuff to meet the average horse’s daily zinc requirement.  Toxic fluoride was much higher.

Bottom line is that unrefined salt has zero health advantage over refined table salt. Despite this, you will be paying at least three times more for this raw material than you would for the purified version of exactly the same thing.

Your horse needs about 1 ounce of plain salt daily in cool weather, up to 3 or 4 when sweating. If he won’t eat it freely, add to food or spray on hay to guarantee adequate intake.

Eleanor Kellon, VMD

Posted in Equine Nutrition | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Skeletal Development in Young Horses

“You are what you eat” is never more true than with a gr0wing animal.  The mare will rob her own body if necessary to provide for the growing foal, but by 2 months, when he starts eating solid food, only outside nutrition with supplements as needed can provide the horse with the raw materials necessary

Build a better horse through nutrition and appropriate equine supplements

Straight legs, tight joints and solid bone are the goals of every breeder and there’s only one way to get there.  Every mouthful is contributing (or not) to the integrity of the developing skeleton. Rapid growth is easy. It only takes calories.  A strong skeleton, joints and connective tissues requires adequate and balanced levels of amino acids, vitamins and minerals.

Calcium is the first thing everyone thinks of, and it’s very important, but that’s just the start.  Bone is formed on a web of collagen which needs both adequate total protein and sufficient essential amino acids.  Glycine, proline, lysine and its derivative hydroxylysine are the most abundant amino acids in these tissues. In addition to meeting the high total calcium requirements the young horse ideally should have sufficient phosphorus in the diet to achieve a calcium:phosphorus ratio of 1.5:1 to 1.2:1.

The proper formation of bone, joints and tendons/ligaments also is dependent on adequate supplies of, and a good balance between, iron, copper, zinc and manganese. Zinc in particular plays an key role in developing bone and copper in bone, joint and tendons/ligaments.  The balance between all the trace minerals is important because they can compete with each other for absorption.

The roles of trace minerals silicon and boron are less well studied. However, it has been established that in other species silicon  play an important role in connective tissue formation which impacts all the structural tissues. It may also influence the retention of  calcium in the body.  Boron is found associated with bone mineralization and influences density. Comprehensive equine supplements for skeletal support will include these nutrients.

Every vitamin has a job to do in rapidly growing bodies but D, K and C are particularly important on the structural end. Vitamin C is absolutely essential for connective tissue formation and the strength of bone, joint cartilage, ligaments and tendons. D  and K influence mineralization of bone and the  maintenance of correct levels of calcium and phosphorus.

Exercise/movement is also a critical factor in skeletal development. Constant field turnout is the ideal environment and stall confinement the worst. The combination of stall confinement with limited turnout is also problematic because of the youngsters running and playing too exuberantly when they do get out – injuring themselves.

On a final note, avoiding overfeeding is extremely important to  maintaining a safe growth rate and healthy bone and joints.  All young animals that have not completed growing should have ribs slightly visible and a slender abdomen (body condition score 4.5 to 5). Excess weight puts excessive stresses on immature bone and joints. High calorie intakes also cause hormonal upheaval which is believed to contribute to abnormally rapid  growth and skeletal abnormalities.

Bottom line is to never skimp on protein, vitamins and minerals but avoid excessive calories and rapid growth.  The horse’s future soundness may depend on it.

Eleanor Kellon, VMD

 

Posted in Equine Nutrition | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Your Horse Probably Needs Selenium and Iodine

Although selenium and iodine are two minerals where we do need to be mindful of toxicity, fears of supplementing them are largely inflated.  This is particularly true considering that most horses are likely to be deficient in one or both.

SOIL SELENIUM

Unless your horse is eating hay/feeds grown in the alkaline soils of the Midwest, there is a good chance selenium intake is marginal to deficient. Similarly, hays/feeds from Canada and the northern half of the United States are going to be deficient in iodine and levels in other areas may only meet bare minimums.

Both iodine and selenium are critical for thyroid function. Iodine is an integral part of thyroid hormones and selenium is needed to convert the relative inactive T4 form into the active T3 hormone.

Iodine’s other roles in the body are less well studied but deficiency results in fetal death or mental retardation, goiter and mammary gland disease. Selenium’s other functions include maintenance of the body’s glutathione antioxidant system and other antioxidant functions as well as male fertility.

The currently recommended bare minimum intakes for these minerals for a 1000 lb horse are about 1 mg/day for selenium and 4 mg/day for iodine.

Although either of these minerals could be toxic, it would take several months of ten times these minimal intakes to put the horse at any risk.  To put this in perspective, a horse getting 5 lbs/day of a highly mineral fortified grain mix would take in at most 1.25 mg of selenium and no  more than 1.5 mg if being feed a mineral balancer product.  This is 10% or less of the level suspected to potentially be toxic after months of exposure. Iodine contents of feeds and balancers are often not declared but are even lower than selenium when compared on a minimum requirement basis.

Bottom line here is that unless you know for sure your horse is getting adequate selenium and iodine you should at least supplement with the minimum recommended amount. For a 1000 to 1100 lb horse, this would be 1 mg/day of selenium (2 mg if in work) and 4 mg of iodine.

Uckele vitamin and mineral comprehensive supplements all include iodine and selenium https://uckele.com/horse/product-categories/vitamins-and-minerals.html and if you  need to add these separately there is selenium yeast https://uckele.com/selenium-yeast-blend.html or Ocean K https://uckele.com/ocean-k-8lb.html as well as the ever popular Vitamin E and selenium combo https://uckele.com/e-se-10x.html which is also available as a pellet.

Eleanor Kellon, VMD

Posted in Equine Nutrition | Leave a comment

Free Choice Feeding Is NOT The Answer To Equine Obesity

The advice to allow free access to food for an obese horse (or human for that matter)  is doomed to failure.  Too much food is how they got that way in the first place.  Things like age, metabolic rate and activity level can influence what calorie requirements are but it still boils down to too many calories in versus calories burned. With overweight glucose sensitive horses, the diet has to have both controlled sugar/starch and controlled calories. The same is true for overweight cats, dogs – and people.  Ever watch “My 600 lb Life”?

Obesity comes from overeating, even a low sugar/starch diet. Free access to unlimited food doesn’t make sense.

Let’s look at some of the claims floating around.

Claim:  Horses need to be able to eat 24/7 because that is what they do naturally.

Fact: The only reason “natural” horses on pasture spend so much time eating is that grass is about 80% water. On a calorie basis, hay has approximately 450 to 500% more calories per mouthful than  fresh grass.

= = = = =

Claim:  Restricting forage leads to weight loss that is mostly muscle, raging hormones, oxidative stress, leptin resistance and even Cushing’s disease.

Fact:  Have you ever heard the saying about how difficult it is to prove a negative?  Instead of trying to prove this is not true, how about where is the proof that any of it is true?  There is none. For example, research has clearly shown the stress hormone cortisol is higher when horses are fed than when they are restricted from eating: https://wp.me/p2WBdh-qq . Controlling access to food doesn’t increase any hormones or cause EMS. Weight loss that is mostly muscle never happens unless all body fat has already been burned.

= = = = =

There’s much, much more but it’s not very helpful for those looking to help their horse to know the details of what is not true.  Does the horse need constant access to food to avoid being mentally and physically traumatized? Absolutely not. Horses with a healthy body weight restrict their food naturally and don’t eat 24/7.  The leptin resistance and increased appetite that makes EMS horses overeat has nothing to do with how often food is available.  There is strong evidence this is an inherent metabolic type, determined by genetics. Allowing them to indulge it will never make it go away.

Returning horses to their natural state is the argument given in favor of free choice feeding even for obese horses. The fact of the matter is that unless you have 200 acres of scrub pasture available you can’t replicate it.  Logging double digit miles every day to find adequate food is the major difference. A paddock paradise set up doesn’t even come close.  Horses in endurance training and racing is about the most similar.  Can you do that?

I have followed thousands of horses with metabolic syndrome and PPID/Cushing’s for the past 2 decades on the Equine Cushing’s and Insulin Resistance group, current active membership over 12,000 https://ecir.groups.io/g/main . It’s not necessary to drastically reduce intake to control weight, but you can’t allow unlimited access.

To obtain weight loss safely we have always used the starting point of 1.5% of actual weight, or 2% of ideal weight, whichever is larger, as the target daily hay intake (i.e. 2% = 20 lbs  for a 1000 lb horse).  It may need to be adjusted down a bit for higher calorie hays. This rule of thumb is nothing new. It’s straight out the National Research Council  (NRC) recommendations for feeding horses. It works – quickly.

To give you some perspective, the NRC added an easy keeper category to its calorie requirements in the most recent addition. An inactive 1100 lb/500 kg horse is estimated to require 15.2 Mcal/day in calories. If your hay has 0.9 Mcal/lb, that’s only 16.8 lbs of hay a day. In contrast, a horse on pasture is estimated to consume 5 to 7.5 pounds of grass an hour; the point being they can easily eat much more than they need.

As much exercise as possible is indicated – free choice in a paddock or out in a pasture with a muzzle, hand walking, progressive riding once all evidence of laminitis is gone. The calculated daily hay allotment can be provided in a slow feeding set-up like small hole hay nets to reduce boredom but is NEVER given free choice.  The outcome would be as predictable as unlimited zero carb pork rinds for a human battling an excessive appetite.

The battle of the bulge isn’t fun for man or beast.  Giving in to the compulsion to eat is not the answer.

Eleanor Kellon, VMD

 

 

Posted in Equine Nutrition | 12 Comments

Be Cautious With Iron

Iron is essential for all forms of life; a mineral element that has no substitute and powers key life-sustaining reactions in your horse’s body.  Iron also has an insidious dark side.

From pregnancy to performance, nothing happens without iron

The most well know role of iron is in red blood cells, where iron forms the active center of hemoglobin, the pigment which carries oxygen in the red cells. It performs a similar function in the muscle pigment myoglobin, which gives muscle its red color. Iron is needed for thyroid hormone production. Iron containing enzymes are also used inside the cell’s nuclear powerhouses, the mitochondria.

Iron has many functions because chemically it is extremely reactive – almost too reactive. Unfettered iron is like molecules in a nuclear reactor. It can do a tremendous amount of damage to the tissues. In a normal horse, there is virtually no free iron. It is all securely bound to carrier and storage proteins until well controlled and sequestered reactions free it up for use.

Because of the important jobs iron performs, and the fact deficiency is common in humans, iron finds its way into  equine vitamin and mineral supplements and fortified feeds. Iron is a common ingredient in “blood builders” and widely recommended for any horse that is anemic.

However, more is not better for iron and the truth is that equine diets contain more than enough (sometimes much more) iron than the horse needs.  There has never  been a documented case of iron deficiency anemia in an adult horse – ever.  Still, since it’s so important it can’t hurt to supplement anyway, just in case – right? Actually, no.

Because free iron is so dangerous to the body, there is an intricate system to keep it under control. Iron can be absorbed through the gaps between intestinal cells, a process that is increased in the presence of products of fermentation of hay/forage. Otherwise, iron is absorbed into intestinal lining cells in the small intestine. From there, its release into the body is controlled by hormones/regulators that can block movement out of the cell and control the electrical charge of the iron, which in turn determines if it can be picked up by its carrier protein, transferrin.

Once iron is in the body, it is basically there to stay. Unlike other minerals, the body has no avenue  for getting rid of iron other than tiny amounts in sweat. This iron accumulates over time. A high enough dose all at once can kill a horse (foals are especially susceptible) but toxicity is more likely to build up over time.

In 2019, Theelen et al published a paper documenting iron overload and liver damage in horses consuming natural water sources with iron contents of 0.72 to 75.2 ppm at the time of testing. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30269378/ . Kellon and Gustafson 2020 described abnormal iron indices in two populations of horses with high insulin levels https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6971364/ –  an association that is well established in people, multiple other species of animals and even birds.  Less dire consequences may include anemia, muscle pain, copper and zinc deficiency, poor performance and poor coats from the oxidative stress.

Even unsupplemented diets often contain considerably more iron than the horse needs and levels in the body will rise over time. It makes no sense to add to the burden with the horse’s supplements. Look for the words iron and ferrous in both the analysis and the ingredients list.

Eleanor Kellon, VMD

 

 

Posted in Equine Nutrition | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

How To Build A Diet

Whether you are horse or human, you must be conscious of what you eat.  With processed foods and feeds gaining popularity due to its convenience and affordability,  many of us have lost sight of the very foundation of healthy eating habits, passing this on to our horses as well.. so let’s start from the bottom. For proper equine nutrition:

1.)  Start with a foundation of forage, feed and high quality fatty acids.   For feed, be sure to choose one that is low in starch and sugar unless you have a high performance horse that needs that rock fuel.  Look for an Alfalfa, Beet Pulp, Flaxseed, Soybean hulls and  Brewer’s Grains.  For fatty acids, avoid corn oil.  Use a cold-pressed or crude, unrefined oil.  Flaxseed, Soy and Coconut oil are all great options.

2.)  Build upon this with targeted vitamin/mineral support to balance the forage, feed and work level, along with a digestive enzyme and probiotic blend to support optimal digestion of nutrients.

3.)  Add antioxidants and phytonutrients to support natural detoxification and the immune system.  Grape seed extract is one of the most potent antioxidants known.

4.)  Consider more targeted supplements according to your horse’s special needs – Joint Tissue Support, Calming, Neurotransmitter Support, Hoof Support, Blood Sugar Support, etc.

These steps constitute a feed pyramid for horses.

The more we learn, the better off we will be.  Many common metabolic traits call for adjustment of the basic diet – low sugar and starch for metabolic syndrome and many muscle disorders, low potassium intake for HYPP.  There’s no drug or supplement that can substitute for the correct foundation diet.

By following these basic guidelines you will provide your horse with the proper nutrition he or she needs.

Eleanor Kellon, VMD

Posted in Equine Nutrition | 4 Comments

Diet and Laminitis – No Link to Fructan

Horses and ponies, donkeys and mules, may develop laminitis on diets based on either hay or pasture. The cause isn’t fructan.  It isn’t hind gut acidosis.  Here’s the science.

Laminitis is linked to high insulin in metabolic syndrome horses on a diet too high in sugar and starch

The AAEP’s Laminitis Working Group did a four year study with the goal of identifying laminitis risks. Other than diet, EMS pattern obesity, known EMS or PPID and use of corticosteroids within 30 days were identified. All relate to equine metabolic syndrome [EMS] and elevated insulin.

A 2006 field study performed by a group from Virginia Polytechnic followed a herd of 106 mixed breed ponies on pasture for a year, performing pasture analyses and monitoring the ponies using proxies of insulin resistance they had developed from the results of intravenous testing. They found both prior laminitis and development of acute laminitis correlated well with indicators of insulin resistance. There was no increase of  fructan in the pasture when laminitis cases appeared, no indication of diarrhea or hind gut upset.

In a 2016 study, Menzies-Gow at al followed 446 animals on pasture over a period of 3 years. They found the most reliable indicator of risk of laminitis was basal insulin levels. Also significant were low adiponectin and high insulin response to dexamethasone. Fructan does not increase insulin. There was no indication of the diarrhea or hind gut upset that accompany fructan overload.

A 2019 study by de Laat et al looked at 301 cases of naturally occurring laminitis and found EMS and/or PPID in 94%. They were also careful to point out those that did not have elevated insulin at time of testing may have been reflecting their  current diet rather than their state at the time of acute laminitis. No diarrhea or other indication of hind gut distress was reported.

There are many other studies and they all come back to insulin. Very large doses of pure fructan by stomach tube (a highly unnatural scenario) can experimentally cause laminitis by resulting in extreme hind gut acidity, damage to the intestinal lining and absorption of bacterial products in the same way gorging on grain can. This hind gut upset is accompanied by diarrhea, septicemia and fever. These horses are clearly sick. None of that happens with naturally occurring laminitis.

Not only are there zero documented cases of high fructan in pasture causing laminitis, the levels of fructan naturally found in a whole day’s worth of eating pasture grasses almost never come even close to the amount needed to cause laminitis. Could laminitis prone horses be more sensitive to fructan?

Nope. Borer et al 2012 found virtually no insulin response to fructan in ponies whether they had a past history of laminitis or not.  Crawford et al 2007 fed a moderate fructan dose to normal and laminitis prone ponies and looked at the changes in fecal pH and fermentation products. They found that pH and fermentation products did change but none of that was reflected in blood levels so wasn’t absorbed. There was also no difference in documented changes between normal and laminitis prone ponies.

Only simple sugars (ESC fraction on analysis) and starch can increase insulin. Those two things should be less than 10% combined [ESC + Starch less than 10%] for at risk horses.

The greatest danger in perpetuating the fructan myth is that owners will rely on supplements designed to control pH or alter hind gut fermentation to protect their horse or pony from laminitis.  They won’t help if your animal is in the high risk group with endocrine disease, which accounts for 94+% of laminitis cases.

There are no magic bullet supplements to protect from laminitis. Only an appropriate basic diet can help.  Seasonal warning: Cushing’s disease (PPID) can cause high insulin and sensitivity to sugar and starch. An unexpected, first time episode of fall laminitis can be the very first sign of PPID,  long before the classical coat changes.

Eleanor Kellon, VMD

Posted in Equine Nutrition | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Plants and the Immune System

Green drinks are a hot human health craze these days and with good reason. Plant pigments possess a variety of beneficial properties for the immune system.

Plant pigments can be powerful support for the immune system

Green pigment (chlorophyll) is only a piece of the picture.  Flavonoids, carotenes, lycopene, zeaxanthin, anthocyanins, betalains and others are among the wide array of plant pigments.

A primary function for the plant is to capture the energy of light which the plant uses for photosynthesis, the creation of high energy compounds ATP and NADPH, which are then used to produce food sources for the plant, including glucose. The horse can’t use pigments this way but his body interacts with these nutritional substances, especially in the immune system.

Immunity is an incredibly wondrous and intricate function.  It is divided broadly into reactions which shoot first and ask questions later – the innate immune system which responds  immediately to any foreign substance or organism – and the sophisticated/adaptive immune system which targets specific invaders with antibodies and remembers them in stored cells. Inflammation is an inherent part of the immune response to invading organisms or toxins, as well as the method of removal of dead or injured tissues. The immune system also has an intricate set of checks and balances which protects the body’s own tissues from direct attack as well as from collateral damage by friendly fire. Immune system reactions are turned off by a combination of the inciting problem being removed and counter-regulatory messages which control and eventually stop the reaction.

The nature and intensity of immune system reactions is determined by a complex formula involving genetics, the type of threat, the animal’s overall health status, adequacy of basic nutrition (calories, fats, protein, vitamins and minerals) as well as food fractions which normally interact with the immune system. The latter is where plant pigments come into play.

Many plant components interact with the horse’s immune system at the most basic level – gene expression. The study of this is called Nutrigenomics and it is adding tremendously to our understanding of how diet supports health.  Basic research into the functioning of the immune system also shows how diet goes far beyond supplying basic energy sources, vitamins and minerals.

Chlorophyll supports the production of innate immune system cytokines by lymphocytes lining the digestive tract. Chlorophyllin, a sodium copper derivative of chlorophyll, supports the natural healing of open wounds when applied topically and consuming it is associated with higher numbers of all immune system cells.

Chlorophyll and chlorophyllin are also natural antioxidants, as are all plant pigments. Quercetin and other citrus bioflavonoids are naturally occurring dietary participants in counterregulatory gene activity which maintains normal healthful levels of inflammation. Many plant flavonoids also work with the body in maintaining inherent defense systems against the invasion of cells by harmful organisms.

Proanthocyanidins from grape seed extract are one of the most potent antioxidants on the planet and possess all the attributes described above.  They also support the body’s ability to naturally regulate allergic reactions and responses to temporary irritation by environmental toxins.  The pigments of the blue-green algae Spirulina work with the horse’s body in the same way.

Brightly colored foods are as healthful for your horse as they are for you.

Eleanor Kellon, VMD

 

 

Posted in Equine Nutrition | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Fecal Transplants For Animals

Yes, it’s what you think it is!  Receiving fecal material from a healthy donor is in the news for people these days. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0929664618305552?via%3Dihub [click on “download PDF” to get the complete article].  It has been approved by the FDA as a method to help restore normal gut flora in situations where there is an overgrowth of harmful organisms like Clostridia.

Horses normally populate their gut from organisms in the environment and left behind from other horses’ manure.

There is now a company offering fecal transplants for dogs and cats – AnimalBiome. In humans, the prepared fecal transplant is usually deposited directly into the colon to avoid inactivation in the stomach. For the pets, enteric coated capsules are used to dose orally. This is easy to administer to a dog or cat by hiding the capsule inside a bite of meat or butter because these animals will swallow whole without chewing.

As with humans, donors are screened for general and digestive health.  Their feces are also tested for harmful bacteria and parasites.

Oral delivery dates back to 4th Century China in people and 17th Century Italy in animals. Transplantation of rumen contents is a well established practice in bovine medicine. It has also been used sporadically in horses. I remember straining fluid from the contents of the cecum of recently deceased horses for administration by stomach tube to horses. That was 40 years ago. The term transfaunation is typically used in horses and cows.

Is this really any different from using probiotic products? Yes and no. The microbiome in a living animal contains many different types of bacteria (and protozoa in horses and cows). The community works together, with some organisms living on the by-products of metabolism of other species. They each have a niche and a specific function. In addition to the organisms themselves, the liquid surrounding them contains volatile fatty acid products of fermentation, enzymes, growth factors and other substances which support the growth of some bacteria and inhibit survival of others.

Probiotic supplements contain a much smaller number and variety of organisms than a transfaunation would, but they are strains that have been documented to benefit the gut and their host.  The better ones contain fermentation products as well as bacterial strains that are specific for the species. Two products which fit this description are Uckele G.U.T https://uckele.com/gut-pellets-2-7-lb.html and Absorb-All https://uckele.com/absorb-all-4.html.

There is much more work to be done before we can successfully use transfaunation in horses. Fermentation in the horse is a significant source of calories and much more complicated that in humans, dogs, cats or even the rumen of a cow.

For one thing, the profile of organisms changes dramatically in different sections of the large intestine, and even from one horse to another.  Because the horse chews everything, we can’t use enteric coated capsules so the volume of transfaunation products must be high. It’s a complicated issue, but well worth investigating.

Eleanor Kellon, VMD

Posted in Equine Nutrition | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments