Beneficial bacteria might be invisible to us but they do a lot for your horse behind the scenes.
When we talk about beneficial bacteria, the first thing most people think is that they need to feed their horse probiotic bacteria, which adds "good bugs" into the gut. Adding probiotics to your horse’s diet is great, but unless we also provide the correct nutrients and environment in the gut, the beneficial bacteria may not survive long enough to multiply.
First, gut bacteria needs good-quality protein to thrive. An overall protein content of 12% to 13% in your horse’s diet is ideal. This is slightly higher than what most grains and grass hays will provide.
Other sources of nutrition for healthy gut bacteria include blue-green algae and arabinogalactin. Blue-green alga has a glycogen-like cell wall that provides an energy source for the bacteria. Larch arabinogalactin is a naturally-occurring polysaccharide (sugar) extracted from previously-harvested larch trees and is another good source of nutrients for beneficial bacteria. This sugar is not metabolized as an ordinary sugar so it will not affect your horse’s insulin levels.
Good bacteria in the gut compete with pathogenic bacteria by creating by-products that inhibit the growth of the pathogenic "bugs." It is possible to grow good bacteria such as lactobacillus acidophilus and bifidus, then harvest the by-products of their fermentation. These fermented by-products are called prebiotics. You can feed prebiotic products to your horse to improve the gut environment and support the good bacteria already present.
Examples of products containing prebiotics include Pro-Bi, KLPP, and Ration Plus. Prebiotics are also added to some feeds.
Another source of prebiotics is live yeast cultures. Yeast culture products contain proteins that include enzymes such as protease and amylase, which help horses, especially young horses, digest fiber. These cultures are often combined with bacterial fermentation products. Dead yeast cultures, such as brewer’s yeast, do not provide the same benefits as live cultures.
Other products that appear to support healthy gut bacteria include aloe vera, yucca, and kelp. The good bacteria in a horse’s gut are designed to digest fiber, so the less starch in the diet the better. High-starch diets will lower the number of healthy bacteria and interfere with fiber digestion.
The next time you are dishing up your horse’s dinner, remember who you are feeding…not just your horse but his "good bugs" as well!
Madalyn Ward, DVM, owns Bear Creek Veterinary Clinic in Austin, Texas. She is certified in Veterinary Homeopathy and Equine Osteopathy. Memberships include American Veterinary Medical Association, American Association of Equine Practitioners, American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association, Texas Veterinary Medical Association and the Academy of Veterinary Homeopathy. She has authored several books and publishes the monthly newsletter, "Holistic Horsekeeping." Contact: Madalyn Ward DVM, 11608 FM 1826, Austin, TX 78737. 512-288-0428, http://www.holistichorsekeeping.com