Probiotics and Prebiotics for Horses
It seems we hear a lot about probiotics and prebiotics for horses these days, but what are they exactly? How do they differ from one another? And most importantly, does your horse really need them?
Whether we like it or not, bacteria are living inside us all–our horses included. But bacteria get a bad rap, usually. Along with the harmful bacteria that can cause illness, there are also beneficial bacteria that help the gastro-intestinal system function properly. Since horses ingest forage on a continual basis (or should be), these ‘good’ bacteria help with the process of fermentation of forage in the gut. They keep things in balance, so to speak. And most of us know that horses are prone to digestive problems when things get out of balance. This is where pro- and prebiotics come into play.
A probiotic is a product containing live microorganisms that benefit the digestive tract. Probiotics are, essentially, the good bacteria (or yeast) which help to break down and ferment forage. They also help to keep the ‘bad’ bacteria from multiplying in the intestines. According to Dr. Eleanor Kellon, VMD, the problem with most probiotic products on the market is that they don’t provide an adequate dose. She does, however, recommend Equine Generator and DFM-EQ.
Prebiotics are ‘food’ for the good bacteria. Examples of prebiotics include fructooligosaccharides, xylooligosaccharides, polydextrose, mannooligosaccharides, galactooligosaccharides, pectin, and psyllium. It’s not actually the horse that digests the prebiotics, but the ‘good’ bacteria that do so.
Many feeds or feed ingredients such as beet pulp, flax, and yeast contain prebiotics. You can feed them daily to help promote a healthy gut. Two great manufactured prebiotics (again, recommended by Dr. Kellon) are Ration Plus and Forco. I, personally, feed Ration Plus and have seen good results with my older horses.
Probiotics can be beneficial for these short-term issues:
- antibiotic use;
- stress from transport or competition; and
- abrubt dietary changes.
Probiotics or prebiotics are considered helpful for these long-term issues:
- horses having trouble holding their weight;
- older horses with digestion and/or absorbtion difficulties;
- horses with history of diarrhea, colic, or gas; and
- young horses up until age 1.
While both pro- and prebiotics are considered to be generally safe, there are a few instances in which they should not be fed (such as to neonatal foals). It would be a good idea to speak with your vet or an equine nutritionist before administering pro- or prebiotics to your horse.