Feeding the Horse: An Introduction to Probiotics
Though resilient, horses have a major Achilles heel — the GI tract. As horse owners, we aim to nurture their delicate gut with various supplements. Recent trends focus on the horse’s gut microbes, specifically probiotics. But, with hundreds of products on the market, how do we choose?
It narrows down to what we want to accomplish by feeding a probiotic to our horses. To determine this, we must first understand what a probiotic is and how it can affect our horse.
What is a probiotic?
Most of us have heard of probiotics, yet their true meaning may be unclear. Probiotics (AKA “direct-fed microbials”) are live strains of microbes. The Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) and World Health Organization (WHO) specify probiotics as microbes that provide benefits beyond their nutritional profile (e.g., carbs, vitamins, etc.) when given in “adequate” concentrations. To truly understand this definition, we need to examine probiotics on a molecular level.
First off, we must distinguish probiotics from prebiotics — they are not the same. While probiotics refer to live microbes, prebiotics are microbial fermentation products. However, the two are similar in that both must provide benefits to the host — the horse.
Prebiotics are fibers, primarily oligosaccharides, that benefit the host by feeding the microbes already present in the gut. In other words, prebiotics help grow and support microbes that help break down food and provide nutrients to the horse.