Happy with bacteria!

Happy with bacteria!

Bacteria are often seen as the villains because they cause disease, right? But did you know that bacteria also play an essential role in the immune system? Not just in humans, but in horses too. The gut contains millions to billions of micro-organisms per gram of food. These micro-organisms include bacteria, yeasts, protozoa, archaea and fungi. In this article, we tell you more about why we should be happy with bacteria!

Defence mechanism

Before we delve deeper into the world of bacteria, it is important to know more about microbiota. Microbiota refers to the set of micro-organisms that live in a particular area of the body, such as the gut and skin. The microbiota of the gut and skin affect health from the inside out, as well as from the outside in. Among other things, the microbiota act as a defence against pathogens. In this article, we will take a closer look at the microbiota of the skin and gut.

Intestinal microbiota

Intestinal microbiota are micro-organisms found in the large intestine of horses. They have been studied extensively in humans. In horses, this is still limited, but we already know that various disorders of the intestinal microbiota can be linked to various diseases such as laminitis, grass sickness and colitis, a chronic inflammation of the large intestine.

The intestinal micro-organisms have several functions. The first important function is the fermentation of fibre and some carbohydrates. This produces volatile fatty acids and provides the horse with energy. A second important function of the micro-organisms is their role in the immune system. Micro-organisms protect the horse from within. Did you know that micro-organisms can get out of balance? Fortunately, there are many things you can do to restore the balance. A complete and balanced ration is the first step. Supplements containing prebiotics, probiotics and postbiotics can also help. Would you like to know more about biotics? Then read this article.

Skin as defence

The skin’s micro-organisms, or bacteria, are the first line of defence against pathogens and help the immune system to defend itself. The skin’s microbiota is thus extremely important. The skin is home to a variety of bacteria, viruses and fungi. They contribute to healthy skin by providing the right pH, moisture balance, protection and wound healing. When the skin microbiota is disturbed, the horse becomes more susceptible to:

  • Bacterial infections
  • Fungal infections
  • Greasy heel
  • Skin irritation
  • Allergic reactions

To prevent this, it is important to support the good micro-organisms rather than killing the pathogens. This will prevent damage to the natural microbiota and prevent resistance.

Horse rations

When you look at a horse’s ration, you will notice that it already contains quite a lot of prebiotics. In fact, a horse’s roughage can also be considered a prebiotic, as fibre has a prebiotic effect on the intestinal microbiota. The daily intake of fibre already has a prebiotic effect. In addition to the roughage ration, extra fibre can be added by using a high-fibre concentrate. The advantage of this is that different types of fibre are added to those found in the roughage. In this way, different types of fibre are obtained, ensuring a healthier microbiota. This can be done by adding alfalfa, beet pulp, bran or various types of grass.

A variety of fibres creates variation in the microbiota, resulting in healthier microbiota. Horses in the wild have a wide variety of micro-organisms in their microbiota, which can be explained by their consumption of a greater variety of grasses and herbs. Domesticated horses are often fed roughage and grazed on pastures that usually contain only one to three different grasses. This reduces the diversity of fibres in their diet. This can be overcome by adding concentrates containing a variety of fibre sources.

The use of biotics in practice

Besides fibre, there are other prebiotics and probiotics that can be added to support the microbiota. Below are some situations where prebiotics and probiotics can help:

A situation may arise where the owner of a horse notices that the horse does not look completely healthy, e.g. a dull coat and not the right weight. In such a case, it is important to look at the feeding schedule first. If the feeding schedule is fine and other horses do not have the same problem, there may be a problem with the absorption of certain substances. In this case, pre- and probiotics can be used to help the horse.

Another situation where prebiotics and probiotics are useful is during recovery from antibiotics. Antibiotics kill all bacteria, including the good ones. It is then important to restore the microbiota with pre- and probiotics.

A third example is the effect of stress on the microbiota. Stress can be caused by transport, competition or events, for example. The use of pre- and probiotics can help keep the microbiota in balance during times of stress.

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