Natural Horse Health Q&A: Probiotics/Digestive Health

Why are probiotics good for my horse?

Why Are Probiotics & Digestive Enzymes Good for My Horse?

Natural probiotics (and digestive enzymes) for horses are important for digestive health because they help your horse:

  1. Absorb more of the nutrients they are already receiving in hay, grain and bucket feeds
  2. Maintain a healthy gut, which is the basis for a healthy horse

Why Does A Healthy Gut = A Healthy Horse?

Because the horse's intestinal/digestive tract is the largest immune organ in its body. Probiotics play a vital role in supporting the intestinal tract - and therefore its immune health - and preventing disease.

Probiotics may help in the prevention of ulcers in horses by helping to balance the pH of the gut, and are also known to help prevent some gas as well as possibly impaction colics. New research is also suggesting that some cases of laminitis, which can lead to founder, are due to an unhealthy gut, which cannot digest the food that goes through it properly.
The horse's intestinal tract - Copyright Earth Song Ranch

How It All Works

When a horse starts grinding food with his teeth, his mouth releases salivary enzymes, and thus begins that mouthful’s approximately 100-foot journey through the digestive tract. The food travels down the esophagus, enters the stomach and mixes with digestive juices and enzymes, and billions of good microbes begin their work.

The partially broken-down food then enters the small intestine, where most of the nutrients - soluble carbohydrates, along with minerals, fats and proteins - get absorbed into the bloodstream. Insoluble carbohydrates (which are the fiber) are not so easily digested, as well as any undigested soluble carbohydrates, these then pass to the cecum, the “fermentative vat” and the beginning of the large intestine. A variety of live microbes in the cecum break down the remaining food into a viable usable form including absorbable volatile fatty acids, which the horse uses for energy and nutrients.

Without a strong army of beneficial intestinal bacteria, the food moving from stomach to cecum is not “fermented” properly and some remains undigested. When this undigested food hits the gastro-intestinal tract (large and small intestine) it may lead to colic, bloat, or laminitis and increases the possibility of developing food-related allergic conditions when food is not digested properly and remains in the gut too long.

Probiotics Keep the Intestinal Bacteria Populations Flourishing & Balanced

Supplementing horses with natural probiotics (a variety of strains) helps to keep the intestinal bacteria populations flourishing and balanced (as there are good, neutral and bad bacteria that all live in concert in the intestinal tracts of all mammals).

These bacteria can get out of balance quickly when an animal:
  • Is stressed
  • Has been chemically wormed
  • Has had surgery
  • Has been on a course of antibiotics
  • Has had vaccinations
  • Is going through food changes
  • Is in competition

Each of these can change the balance of the gut flora from stress, undermining the health of the animal.
Digestive enzymes for Horses - Article by Earth Song Ranch

Which Probiotics Are the Best? Getting the Proper Strength is Key

The strength of probiotics is measured in Colony Forming Units (CFUs) - often cited as:
   - CFU - a measure of viable (live) bacteria or fungi
   - CFU/mL (colony forming units per milliliter) - used for liquids
   - CFU/g (colony forming units per gram) - used for solids

When selecting a natural probiotic with yeast culture - to either reintroduce good bacteria after a round of antibiotics, or just replenish good gut bacteria - it needs to contain 20 billion CFU per serving of multiple strains of beneficial bacteria, along with specific digestive enzymes to assure proper digestion begins properly so that the probiotics can do their job as well.  

Multiple Strains are Key: Probiotics - Prebiotics - Yeast

Although many people in the horse world use the term “pro-biotic” or say they feed them to their horse(s), they may not realize the major role these live beneficial organisms play in their horse’s health or that multiple strains - not just one strain - are needed.

In her book, Equine Supplements and Nutraceuticals, Dr.. Eleanor Kellon, DVM, states “Pro-biotics improve digestion, protect against dangerous bacteria such as salmonella, and reduce gas accumulation.” Dr.Juliet Getty is also a proponent of supplementing horses with probiotics and believes that 20 billion CFU or above is what is needed, fed at the rate of 20 to 40 billion per serving they will promote health and intestinal well being in your horses. She also writes about them in her book “Feed Your Horse Like a Horse“.

Pro-biotic means “for life” (Greek). Pro-biotics are live microorganisms, usually bacteria, and are similar to the beneficial microorganisms found naturally in the body, especially the digestive tract. Also known as “friendly bacteria” or “good bacteria”, pro-biotics are either already present in foods or can be added to them. When introduced into the body, they work together with the natural bacteria to help the digestive and immune systems function properly.

Pre-biotics (“pre-life”) are basically “food for life” for intestinal bacteria, and pro-biotics to promote their growth and activity. Pre-biotics cannot be digested directly by the body, but are consumed by the beneficial bacteria in order to help them function properly.

Yeast (meaning “boil, bubble, foam”) are fungi. Fungi can be very beneficial organisms, not just decomposers and pathogens. There are many species. Yeast have been used throughout history for fermentation (conversion of sugar to carbon dioxide and alcohol) and baking. Adding yeast or yeast culture may assist your horse in breaking down the fiber in his diet. Some species of fungi also provide valuable digestive enzymes including Amalase, Cellulase, Protease, and Hemiculase.

Some of the Most Common Strains of Beneficial Bacteria

The various strains of lactic acid bacteria (one being Lactobacillus acidophilus) found in many forms are the most common type of pro-biotics used as feed additives, not only for horses but interestingly enough also for dogs and cats. Some of the common strains of beneficial bacteria and what purpose they serve in the animal’s (mammal’s) digestive system are:

Lactobacillus Strains

Produce lactic acid that keeps “bad bacteria” in check. Continued colonization by this bacteria helps to inhibit the growth of pathogens by competing for nutrients and promoting healthy pH levels. Produces specific substances that have been observed to inhibit the growth of some pathogenic microorganisms including Escherichia coli, Staphylococcus aureus, and Salmonella species.

Bacillus Strains

Counteracts deadly bacteria that can cause diarrhea, they also help to ensure that the nutrients as well as vitamins and other supplements are getting in to your animals cells for better absorption, and guards the entire intestinal tract.

Enterococcus Strains

Help to keep bad bacteria in check and can help to prevent diarrhea, irritable bowel syndrome, and may help to prevent colic in some situations.

Bifidobacterium Strains

Help promote a healthy balance of flora in your animal’s intestine. What’s more, this organism is especially helpful for enhancing immune response and keeping things moving through the intestinal tract. (Note: “Bifidus regularis”, is a name that was created by Dannon, for marketing purposes, it is also known as Bifidobacterium animalisDN-1 73 010. This strain of probiotics is used exclusively in Dannon’s popular Activa products, which Dannon claims promote regularity in humans.

Further Reading - Published Articles by Earth Song Ranch

Questions? We're Here to Help

We know choosing the right natural supplement for your horse can seem daunting. Earth Song Ranch is dedicated to educating our customers because we want you to make the best choice for your horse and your unique needs.

You'll find a variety of information in our published articles and archived newsletters here on our site. But sometimes, you just need to talk a situation out. For those times, we offer private phone consultations.

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Consultations are available in the following increments.

  • 30 minutes - $75
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Recommended Product

Equine-zyme natural horse probiotic supplement from EarthSong Ranch

Equine-Zyme Probiotic/Digestive Enzyme

Customer Testimonials

I LOVE Equine Zyme! I have had my horses on EZ for about 2 yrs now. My chestnut was having symptoms of gastric ulcers and since the introduction of this product (along with slow feeding hay nets), she is a happy healthy horse again!

I was just telling my farrier last week how amazed I am with the quality of hoof growth on all of my horses. I would highly recommend this product to anyone with horses!

—  Chantille C.
"I'm an Equine Sports Massage Therapist. I just wanted to take the time to say "Thank You". I have been using Equine-Zyme on my horses for about 5 Months now and they are at their best thanks to it. I'll never let another one of my horses go without it. It has totally changed the lives of my horses and any horse that I recommend it to. As a Therapist I recommend the product to every client. P.S. I even use it on my dogs and cats!"

- Kristin S.
"We suspected when ulcers when we brought Remy to his new home (ours) after not a great situation. His original owner barely recognized him. He was cinchy, nervous and a bit grumpy. We tried different pre and probiotics, enzymes, etc. Equinezyme is amazing! We rotate it with Equinzyme Plus depending on the season. Katniss, our other quarter horse, is a West Nile Virus survivor rescue horse. She also has blossomed on Equinezyme and Happy Mare. They are beautiful and so amazing. Soul horses. Thanks for all you do!"

- Trish G.
"Our miniature horse had some digestive issues and I mentioned the Equine-Zyme Plus to our holistic veterinarian and she said she'd look into the product. She contacted us the next day saying that it looked like a very good product and to get him started on it. We had good results correcting the digestive issues and now the vet is recommending it in her practice."

- Melissa G.
"I have had my gelding on Equine-Zyme for over a year now and he recently had surgery. Not once during the entire process, before/during/post surgery, has he had any loose manure or lost any coat condition or weight. Neither has he exhibited any of the symptoms for ulcers. I am positive it is due to being on Equine-Zyme. I always receive compliments on how he looks and he is always a happy guy. He will always be on Equine-Zyme and I recommend this to everyone!"

- Kim S

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About the Author

Jessica Lynn writes articles for various national and international horse publications. She is the owner of Earth Song Ranch, an herbal feed additive, pre/probiotic & herbal supplement manufacturer based in Southern California. As a life-long equestrian and professional animal nutritionist, homeopath, herbalist and animal intuitive, Jessica uses her knowledge to formulate herbal blends, probiotics and digestive enzymes for equine immune health. She has been involved in alternative health care, herbs, homeopathy, osteopathy and nutrition for animals and humans for over 6 decades.