A general understanding of a horse’s digestive system is the first step to ensuring overall equine health. Horses evolved as foragers, grazing on any wild vegetation that they could find. As a result, they have developed a very particular digestive system that is uniquely adapted to this kind of diet. The stomach and small intestine are the proper size to receive a continuous amount of small quantities of food. However, modern feeding practices have resulted in a system that provides horses with infrequent, highly concentrated feed access. This has resulted in an increase of digestive problems among horses exposed to such practices. Developing the proper feeding methods for your horse requires a basic overview of how the animal digests its food.
Maintaining the cecum pH
From the mouth to the stomach and through the small intestine, horse digestion is very similar to that of humans. However, horses have a structure right at the beginning of their large intestine called the cecum. This large chamber functions similarly to the rest of the large intestine, and together the two comprise of what is known as the hindgut. This area houses expansive microbial colonies responsible for the breakdown of dietary fiber. In order for these microbial colonies to live and thrive, the cecum and large intestine must maintain a certain pH. If the environment becomes too acidic or too basic, the microbes cannot survive leading to a host of possible ailments.
Colic and laminitis
When the pH of a horse’s digestive tract suddenly drops very low the bacteria die off in large quantities, releasing an endotoxin as they do. This endotoxin is what is ultimately responsible for such diseases as colic and laminitis. In the case of colic, the horse will experience intense abdominal pain. Symptoms of colicking include increased sweat production, curling the upper lip, looking at the flank, lying down repeatedly and rolling. If you believe your horse to be colicking, contact your veterinarian immediately, as it may be life-threatening. Laminitis affects a horse or pony’s feet by weakening the lamina that bonds the hoof. If left untreated, it can lead to the horse’s foot sinking, known as founder.
Proper nutrition is necessary to protect your horse from the maladies that plague the digestive system. Finish Line’s U-7™ Gastric Aid promotes the digestive health of both the foregut and the hindgut to ensure an overall healthy animal. Available as a liquid or a powder, U-7™ Gastric Aid is a blend of herbs and vitamins that may result in a healthier, happier horse.