Horse Hindgut and How a Probiotic Can Help Reduce Risk Factors

How Do Probiotics Work? How Do Probiotics Help Keep the Horse Hindgut healthy?

A common question asks how a probiotic such as Yea-Sacc 1026® can help with digestion in a horse’s hindgut. A previous blog post covered the horse’s foregut (esophagus, stomach, and small intestine) and how a prebiotic, such as Bio-Mos®, can help support the gastrointestinal tract and also reduce risk factors in the foregut. This article will cover the benefits of probiotics in the hindgut in the same type of format.  As before, an understanding of some basics of the horse’s digestive system, will allow a better understanding of how a probiotic can be helpful to the hindgut.

 The Hindgut

After feed travels through the mouth, esophagus, stomach, and small intestine, (the foregut) it travels to the hindgut. The hindgut (sometimes called the large intestine) includes the cecum, large and small colon, and rectum.  It comprises about 65% of the digestive system, and can hold 32 gallons.

The Cecum

  • The cecum is about 4 feet in length (15% of the digestive system), and holds about 8 gallons of food and water.
  • Food normally remains in the cecum for about 7 hours.
  • The cecum’s naturally occurring microbial population of bacteria, protozoa, fungi, and yeasts begin the fermentation process needed to digest feed.
  • Fermentation breaks down fiber and residues of starch overload from the small intestine.
  • The fermentation process produces energy volatile fatty acids (VFA), amino acids, and B vitamins, providing the horse with an important source of energy. (Most vitamin and mineral s are absorbed in the small intestine.)
  • The microbial population of the cecum becomes specific for the type of food the horse consumes. Thus, feed changes must be made gradually.
  • The cecum’s pH is normally neutral. This promotes the good microbes, and also inhibits pathogens such as E. coli and Salmonella. A change in pH can cause disruptions to the horse’s natural microbes, which can lead to gas, colic, and laminitis.

 The Large and Small Colon

  • The large colon is about 12 feet long, and holds about 15-20 gallons of food and water. The small colon is about 9-10 feet in length and holds about 4 gallons of food and water. Together they constitute about 45% of the digestive system.
  • Food normally remains in both colons for about 48-72 hours.
  • The primary secretion and uptake of water is from the large colon.
  • The large colon’s microbes process large volumes of fibrous material during the fermentation process.
  • The life cycle of the microbes in the gut is about 15 minutes. The population can change very rapidly.
  • The large colon is the primary site of fermentative gas production, which can rapidly increase when extra carbohydrates and sugars are fed, causing gassiness or gas related colic.
  • The small colon and rectum dry out the fecal mass as an important part of maintaining hydration in the horse

 Probiotics: What They Are:

  • By definition, probiotics are “living microorganisms”. The culture must be alive when fed, contain a specific microbe strain, and be safe for the intended use.  Yea-Sacc 1026® is a good example, meeting all these critieria.
  • Probiotics are also known as direct-fed microbials (DFM).
  • The microbes in probiotics aid in sustaining normal gut function.
  • Probiotics are often a live bacterial or yeast culture that is designed to repopulate beneficial microorganisms in the hindgut
  • Probiotics are often used by high-end feed companies or in specialized feeds for senior or performance horses.
  • For a more detailed description you might want to look at a article by Heather Smith Thomas..

 Probiotics: What They Do for the Horse:

  • Probiotics promote a healthy immune system in the intestine by improving the balance of normal bacteria. This is especially important for senior horses, “hard keepers”, or for horses that have allergies, received antibiotics, been wormed, or during stressful situations.
  • Probiotics help establish beneficial bacteria in the gut which can help keep the “bad” microbes (such as Salmonella and Clostridium difficle) from overpopulating the gut which can cause diarrhea and illness.
  • Yea-Sacc , a live yeast culture, helps break down proteins, starches, fiber, fats, and sugars for better food digestion.
  • Live active yeast, such as Yea-Sacc,  supports the digestive system, and thus the immune system. This is important for horses with allergies, whose bodies may already have a heightened histamine response.
  • Research has shown that live yeast culture, such as Yea-Sacc, can reduce excess acidity in the cecum and the colon, stabilizing the gut pH, and assist in the restoration of normal gut function. Horses can adapt to dietary changes better, fiber is broken down, and gassiness is reduced, thus helping to reduce some types of colic.
  • Yea-Sacc reduces the accumulation of lactic acid in muscle tissue, promotes regular bowel movements, and stimulates milk production in lactating mares and produces more nitrogen for higher milk quality-resulting in healthier foals.

 It is impossible to cover every aspect of equine nutrition here. Your veterinarian can help you design a feeding program that is right for your horses, and provide important information about diet-related illnesses such as obesity, founder, ulcers, colic, and orthopedic disease.

For more information regarding colic and Yea-Sacc® 1026:

Other helpful links about the hindgut: