By Dr. Shane Baird

rollinghorseEveryone in the horse industry knows that a healthy horse gut is of the utmost importance. As owners and stewards of the horse, we need to do everything that we can do to keep that gut in the best shape possible.

The use of probiotics and their relationship to a healthy gut has been researched and discussed extensively in both human and equine medicine. New information demonstrating the positive effects probiotics have on gut health is coming out regularly. Current human-based research is looking into the disruptions in the natural gut flora (good microbes) that occur with the use of both prescription and OTC medications. An important term being used in this research is “dysbiosis” – a microbial imbalance on or inside the body.

Dysbiosis has a couple of important impacts on health. First,  normal microbiota help the body in various, sometimes unexpected, ways. Digestion is an obvious one, but it’s also been shown to impact things such as brain health.  Second, with less of these “good bacteria” in the gut, there is more room for pathogens (infectious bacteria) to overgrow.  This overgrowth wreaks havoc on the lining of the stomach and intestines.

NSAIDS and Gut Health

As veterinarians, we prescribe non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) every day.  The most common examples of NSAIDS are bute and banamine.  We know that there is a direct link between the toxicity of these drugs and both gastric (stomach) ulcers and right dorsal colitis.  Because of this, we typically limit their use over time, doing our best to keep treatment lengths to under 10 days.

A paper presented at the 2017 AAEP (American Association of Equine Practitioners) meeting reported a change in the microbial population of the horses’ gut after only 5-10 days of NSAID use.  This means that through the course of a normal treatment for a lameness issue we will most likely cause a disruption in the gut microbiota population, and supporting gut health with probiotics throughout treatment and even after is critical to lessen the chance of a related ulcer or colic issue.

Equioxx and Gut Health

Newer drugs like fibrocoxib (Equioxx) are known as COX2 inhibitors.  COX2 inhibitors have an altered mode of action, allowing for a longer treatment regime, and some horses tolerate these drugs for months and even years with no obvious side effects. Keep in mind, however, that we have far less understanding of the effect these drugs and others have on the natural microbiota of the horse’ gut.  The above-mentioned paper from the AAEP has drawn a convincing link between relative short-term NSAID use and alterations in the gut, but there isn’t yet any similar research into how COX2 inhibitors might alter gut microbial balance.

The question then becomes, what changes happen if we have these patients in treatment for months or years?  Research has yet to answer this, but one might presume that we should also support these horses with probiotics, which can only help gut health.

More research will shed further light on this subject, and as always if you have any specific questions, feel free to contact us at Mobile Veterinary Services.