Parents of colicky, low weight, diarrhea afflicted children in tropical countries have long turned to the fruit papaya to remedy these issues. Veterinarians are now exploring the fruit's relevance to horses, and they are getting encouraging results!
Papaya aids digestion in two general ways: it increases mucous secretion and its papain enzyme enhances digestion. Its palatable taste can also play a helpful role in administration of oral medications. Its effect on blood circulation may increase coat and joint health, and in some horses it is associated with improved temperament due to decreased stomach pain.
The most noticeable immediate effect of ingesting papaya is a surge in mucous secretion in the mouth, esophagus and stomach. In many cases, a horse that refuses to look at its food goes to its bucket within seconds of being syringed with papaya. The increased mucous seems to make the horse want to ingest food.
More importantly, the thickening of the mucous lining in the stomach provides protection against excess acid production, and thereby helps prevent and resolve stomach ulcers. In an ulcer study published in the March 2005 issue of The Horse Journal, "rapid relief within three to five days" was reported.
In several cases, horses with severe ulcers that did not respond to expensive pharmaceuticals did respond to papaya. One case known to the author was a weanling with severe ulcer symptoms. Another was a racehorse, unable to race while on anti-ulcer pharmaceuticals, who after three weeks on papaya had a clear endoscopic exam and shortly thereafter it won a stakes race.
Judith M. Shoemaker, DVM, a holistic practitioner in Southeastern Pennsylvania, has recommended papaya to her clients for years. "We use fresh Papaya and papaya products as our first option for Gastric duodenal ulcers, it does not interfere with normal gut physiology colon function as do some pharmaceutical approaches."
Papaya has an advantage over many other ulcer remedies because it is safe for long-term use. Most other ulcer remedies eventually cause side effects, such as poor calcium or vitamin B12 absorption, bacterial imbalance leading to colic, and poor utilization of dietary protein.
Increased mucous secretion triggered by papaya is useful in conjunction with administration of any product that might injure the stomach lining. Anti-inflammatory drugs and high doses of electrolytes, for example, cause less damage if administered with papaya.
The papain enzyme in papaya is what makes 'meat tenderizer' work. It resembles the digestive enzyme pepsin, and is extremely efficient in breaking down food.
Elderly horses with difficulties maintaining weight benefit from papaya because it breaks down what their less efficient digestive tract can't.
Foal "scours" associated with the mother's first heat improves as the papain helps the foal's digestion cope with the hormonal change in the milk.
Papain helps weanlings digest new diets while their gut microbes are adjusting.
Cribbing associated with stomach pain or missing nutrients often responds well to papaya.
When antibiotics kill useful gut microbes, leading to diarrhea, papain helps break down resulting undigested food, resulting in firmer manure.
Trailered horses can experience changes in gut motility leading to diarrhea. The papain enzyme helps break down the food more efficiently in the limited time it is in the "nervous"gut.
TASTE, CIRCULATION AND TEMPERAMENT
An important characteristic of papaya is its sweet taste. One racehorse repeatedly spit expensive antibiotics on the walls before its trainer realized he would happily swallow the dose if it were mixed with papaya.
Papaya is also a mild "blood thinner." The resulting increased circulation may account for the very shiny coats and improvement in joint health that many horses on papaya enjoy. Papaya should not be administered to a horse that is on an anticoagulant already, nor is it advisable to administer papaya to a mare who is pregnant or who is about to be bred.
Finally, some report a dramatic change in temperament, with papaya-fed horses becoming calmer and more trainable. Papaya has no tranquilizing effect, so one can only surmise that a horse with a more comfortable digestive tract is going to be happier in his job.
In its pureed form, papaya is a readily available, all natural, inexpensive remedy for a wide range of equine ailments and horses relish the taste. Furthermore, it makes a great healthful drink for the horse's human caretaker. A mixture of one part water to one part puree with a splash of lime juice makes a tasty drink. Some barns celebrate victories by adding a little alcohol to the mix for a cocktail!
Gillian Clissold is an Advanced Level Eventer sponsored by Healthmate Products. Contact them at www.stomachsoother.com or 800 584 8642.
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