Let's talk about food: dysbiosis (Part 1)
True story. There is a lovely horse who has difficulty keeping weight on, lacks energy, is sensitive while being brushed, grumpy while being tacked, has a dull hair coat, brittle hoof horn, and has regular bouts of diarrhea. The quality of this horse's stool is especially bad during show season.
A few months ago the vet was called (again) to take a look at this horse. The vet suggested that the owner increase the amount of grain the horse was receiving to help it gain weight. The vet suggested the owner treat the horse for ulcers (again) for one month and that the horse remain on an acid inhibitor to prevent recurrence of ulcers. The vet suggested that the owner purchase a gut support supplement to improve the action of the acid inhibitor, and that the horse be put in shoes to protect the hoof horn. In other words, the veterinarian suggested several expensive treatments for the symptoms the horse was expressing, but did not explore the underlying cause of the problems to offer a long-term solution.
Several things occur to me with this scenario.
1) Dysbiosis is most likely leading to many of the symptoms being expressed by the horse so unless the hind gut is rebalanced, I do not think the issues will be resolved.
What is dysbiosis? Dysbiosis is a term used to describe a microbial imbalance or maladaptation inside the body; such as impaired microbiota. Typical causes of dysbiosis include, but are not limited to:
a poor diet
dietary changes that increase the intake of sugar or food additives
consumption of chemicals or lingering pesticides
medications, such as NSAID's, antibiotics or acid inhibitors
high levels of stress or anxiety that weaken your immune system
Symptoms of dysbiosis include, but are not limited to:
dull hair coat
poor quality hoof horn
constipation or diarrhea
bloating - colic
2) Long term use of acid inhibitors and NSAID's has been associated with the development of right dorsal colitis in horses. This is extremely painful and difficult to resolve.
3) The treatments prescribed by the veterinarian will greatly increase the monthly costs associated with care of this horse and will not (probably) ever resolve the issues.
4) Shoes do not improve the quality of hoof horn.
5) The emotional, psychological and financial costs associated with caring for this horse will rob the owner of the enjoyment they should feel in their relationship. Many horses are sold or given away because their owners cannot afford to continue long term and expensive care.
There is currently a great deal of research being done on hind gut dysbiosis in horses. Researchers around the globe are finding that the problem is profound, severe, prolific, and the direct result of how we feed these animals. Horses kept in today's barns are almost all offered highly processed feed made from crops that are heavily laden with pesticides and herbicides. These so-called "balanced" feeds have synthetic vitamins, minerals and "other" added to them to round out the feed label so it meets Nutritional Council minimum's. Veterinarians at top research institutions are exploring the answers to questions like:
How much of a synthetic vitamin is absorbed by the horse?
How are the pesticides and chemicals impacting the micro biome of the horse?
Once dysbiosis has occurred, how do we feed to rebalance the equine system?
How are NSAID's and acid inhibitor's contributing to this problem?
What are the long-term costs associated with the current methods of addressing dysbiosis?
I will try to answer some of these questions in part 2.