Gastrointestinal Issues in Equine
Today’s pet food market is loaded with products that are specifically designed to help treat an array of different health conditions. Commercially sold pellets, wet food, veterinary diets, and supplements that help with weight management, the urinary tract, hip and joint mobility, kidney support, and a popular one - gastrointestinal tract support. This is due to the fact that animals often suffer from digestive issues that are caused by food. However, these can also be alleviated by food.
What is the Gastrointestinal Tract?
Just as proper function of the gastrointestinal tract is extremely important to humans, it’s essential to animals, such as equine, for the same reason. The gastrointestinal tract of equines and other animals is where the digestive system’s process carries out. It consists of the organs needed to take in food, properly digest it and its nutritional content, and turn the remaining waste into fecal matter.
While there are many components and parts of the digestive system, in order to understand the gastrointestinal tract and how horses can even begin to digest their food, it’s key to first comprehend gut health and its essential part in maintaining a healthy immune system.
The digestive tract begins with the foregut, which consists of the stomach and small intestine. The stomach is where enzymes break down the food and water consumed by the horse, which can be up to two to three gallons of matter. It then moves into the small intestine where the food continues to be broken down, as well as where the nutrients are absorbed and used. Located close to it is the hindgut, where the fiber of the horse’s food, typically forage, can be turned into fatty acids and vitamins that give animals boosts of energy. Unfortunately this is where many of the gastrointestinal issues equine face occur due to imbalances of harmful and helpful bacteria. Because the digestive system is so complex and multifaceted, the possibility of problems arising only increases.
Symptoms & Signs of Gastrointestinal Issues
Before pinpointing what exactly is the source or cause of your companion’s illness, first know the many warning signs that indicate your horse may be experiencing gastrointestinal upset:
- Constipation or straining to use the bathroom
- Loss of appetite
- Abdominal pain (colic), bloating, or cramping
- Excessive vocalizing
Causes & Disorders
Should your equine have any of the above symptoms, it’s crucial to determine what is causing such effects in order to properly address the problem. Possible reasons why your horse’s gastrointestinal tract is acting abnormally include:
- Blockage or Obstruction: If any part of the digestive tract or intestines become blocked, whether by a physical object or lack of flow, it is likely that food will no longer be able to properly move through the digestive system. Blockage occurs due to its own list of causes, many of which include infections, changes in the intestines’ position, physical activity, inflammation, etc.
- Parasites: There are an unfortunately high number of various types of parasites that many horses ingest and become infected by, many of which have their own individual ways of thriving, side effects, and ways of being diagnosed. Signs of parasites vary from problems like inflammation and lack of energy to weight loss, dehydration, and more.
- Gastric Ulcers: These are extremely common in horses and can affect them at any lifestage, but especially foals or those highly involved in performance activities. Ulcers involve inflammation, thinning, or holes in the lining of the stomach. This occurs as a result of complications in any of the organ systems or being confined to the stall for too long. Unfortunately, clinical signs and other symptoms are often nonspecific or hard to notice. Some may include fever or lethargicness. It’s critical for tissue to be repaired when ulcers form.
- Hindgut Acidosis: Acidosis happens when there is an imbalance between the “good” and “bad” bacteria present in the equine’s hindgut. When the harmful bacteria begins to persist, it can reduce the pH and instead increase the acidity to an unhealthy level.
When trying to address or fix any of the above mentioned causes, it’s always best to consult your veterinarian on which course of action is needed. Your veterinarian may suggest prescription drugs, supplements, or diet options to help alleviate your horse’s symptoms or discomfort, whether it be diarrhea, constipation, gas, abdominal pain, etc. The prescribed medication or antibiotics may also kill off whatever it may be that’s causing such symptoms, such as parasites and their toxins. Because gastrointestinal issues can be caused by lack of forage, low quality seeds or grains, high levels of starch, and other diet factors, a new diet may be the more simple solution in place of medication. Many premium brands carry veterinary diets for gastrointestinal care. These are specially formulated diets or meal supplements that are typically appropriate for specific life stages or all life stages, have controlled starch to reduce acidity, balance pH levels, and support the overall gastric system’s health.
Gastrointestinal issues are quite common among animals, though it can be an especially frustrating and discouraging occurrence among equine. Whether you have a horse to compete or just as a companion animal, it’s important to focus on identifying your horse’s symptoms and cause of gastrointestinal upset so you can both experience relief for the ride ahead!
Author Biography: Megan Lim is a writer for The Hungry Puppy Pet Food & Supplies Store located in Farmingdale, NJ. The Hungry Puppy is a one stop shop that provides pets and pet owners with all their dog, cat, equine, bird, wildlife, farm and small animal needs! Carrying premium brands at the lowest prices, they have all the food options and products you need to be the best possible pet parent!