Digestion in horses is a very sensitive process. Therefore, it is important to both provide adequate support and to make sure that you recognise problems straight away. To help you with this, in this blog we discuss the entire digestive system of the horse and discover common complications in the digestive system.
How does the digestive system of a horse work?
Horses are herbivores. This means that they only eat plant-based foods. Since, in an ideal situation, a horse eats several small portions during the day, its digestive system is fully adapted to this.
Below, we discuss the various parts of the digestive system.
A horse’s digestion starts in the mouth. By chewing its food, the horse produces saliva. This saliva already digests parts of the food and enables it to pass easily through the oesophagus. The higher the amount of fibre in the feed, the more saliva a horse produces for digestion. This promotes the absorption of nutrients by the body.
A horse takes in small quantities of food during the day. There is therefore a constant flow of food from the stomach to the intestines. As a result, gastric acid is constantly being produced. The main task of this stomach acid is to eliminate bad bacteria and digest food into smaller particles.
In the small intestine, the digestion of starch, proteins and fats takes place. These are large molecules that are split into smaller molecules by the absorption of water. If they are small enough, they are absorbed through the intestinal wall and the nutrients enter the body.
Large intestine and appendix
In the large intestine and appendix, the fibres are digested by bacteria, fungi and micro-organisms. These live off the food that the horse absorbs. Their task is to convert plant cell walls into fatty acids which the horse can use as a source of energy.
The final stage of digestion takes place in the rectum. This is where the faeces are formed after which they are excreted on a regular basis.
How do you recognise digestive problems in a horse?
Problems in a horse’s mouth
Does your horse suddenly lose its appetite or weight? Then you should definitely check his mouth. A horse’s teeth continue to grow throughout its life, and this can cause discomfort. Irregular wear can cause sharp edges on the teeth, also known as ‘hooks’. This can lead to cuts on the tongue and sore cheeks, which in turn reduce your horse’s ability to chew.
Other complications include incorrect jaw position or crooked teeth. Horses cannot grind their food finely enough, and digestion is therefore difficult. A visit to the dentist is recommended if your horse has little or no appetite.
Problems with a horse’s oesophagus
The oesophagus is responsible for transporting food from the mouth to the stomach. If your horse is a greedy eater or does not chew properly, food can get stuck in the oesophagus. This can cause a painful blockage and should be treated by a vet.
General gastric problems in a horse
A horse constantly produces gastric acid, which is why it is important that your horse gets roughage at regular intervals. If a horse is deprived of food for a long period of time, the stomach acid attacks the stomach wall and can promote the development of stomach ulcers. An incorrect balance between roughage and concentrate can also cause the stomach acid level to become unbalanced.
You can recognise a gastric ulcer by
- Negative reaction when tightening the girth
- Yawning often
- A dull coat
- A general change in behaviour
Another common stomach problem is stomach overfilling. This can occur when, for example, you give your horse slobber that has not yet absorbed enough water or when you give it large amounts of concentrated feed. Also pay attention to the condition of the pasture. If there is a lot of long grass there, it is best to keep an eye on your horse’s nutritional intake.
Problems with a horse’s intestines
A horse’s intestinal flora is very sensitive. It is therefore important to avoid an imbalance by keeping an eye on the quantity of sugar and starch in the concentrated feed. Too much sugar and starch can lead to colic, laminitis, diarrhoea and irritation of the mucous membranes.
Equine colic: a frequent complication of the digestive system in horses
Colic is a collective term for abdominal pain and is a condition much feared by horse owners. There are different forms of colic. For example, gas colic and constipation. Colic is often caused by incorrect nutrition, worm infections, poorly maintained teeth and stress. There are some visible symptoms of colic that you can quickly recognise:
- No appetite
- Frequent rolling or lying down
- Sweating and high body temperature
- Increased heart rate and breathing
- Scraping with the front legs
- Kicking at the belly
Please note that the symptoms of constipation can be the same as those of gas colic. How your horse behaves, does not determine the type of colic your horse is experiencing.
What to do when a horse has colic?
Colic can in most cases be treated by a vet. For example with walking around, giving painkillers and Buscopan. Sometimes a serious form of colic requires surgery. Do you suspect your horse of having colic? Then it is important to intervene quickly as the consequences can be fatal.
Tips to avoid colic in horses
Unfortunately, the causes of colic are often beyond your control. Fortunately, there are a number of precautions you can take to significantly reduce the risk of colic.
- Never just change the feed, but do this gradually. This applies not only to concentrated feed but also to hay and grass in the field.
- Feed the right amount of food according to the performance of your horse. It is also important to ensure that there is sufficient exercise so that the intestines remain active
- Never forget to soak slobber in water before giving it to your horse
Global Medics Gastro-Care+ and Global Medics Gastryl
Stomach problems are one of the most common conditions in horses. This applies to both sport and recreational horses, but broodmares and foals are also regularly confronted with stomach complications.
Stomach issues typically arise because the stomach wall is damaged by an overly acidic stomach contents. Global Medics Gastro-Care+ ensures the protection of the gastric mucosa so that complications are less likely to occur. It neutralizes excess gastric acid and protects against irritation.
Global Medics Gastryl is a new supplement that has been specially developed to relieve stomach ulcers. As it is administered directly into the mouth via a tube, it allows the body to absorb the active ingredients quickly. As a result, excess gastric acid is efficiently neutralized.
A treatment of Gastryl can be followed up with Gastro-Care+ if necessary.
Do you have any questions after reading this blog? Then do not hesitate to contact us. We at Global Medics are always ready to give you advice.