Most equine digestive supplements have been formulated with the two greatest digestive problems in mind: gastric ulcers and colic.
Supplements that target the stomach and foregut tend to contain ingredients that support healthy stomach tissue and function. Some act to directly buffer or neutralize gastric acid, some supply the building blocks of new cells as tissue heals, and others are hailed for their ability to soothe and calm inflamed tissue. Calcium and magnesium are often included, as is the amino acid glutamine, plus herbs like licorice, aloe vera, sea buckthorn, slippery elm and marshmallow root. Pectin and lecithin are also favorites.
Two-thirds of the immune system is located in the gut. Digestive supplements approach hindgut health from two sides: providing additional microorganisms called probiotics to colonize the GI tract, and offering the microbes’ preferred food, prebiotics. Yeast and the various enzymes are added to help with digestive efficiency.
Other ingredients commonly seen in hindgut-focused supplements include adsorbent clays (designed to bind toxins), psyllium, and oat beta glucan.
When making changes to your horse’s diet or supplement regimen, it’s always best to consult with your veterinarian, who is most familiar with your horse’s medical history. Your vet can also fully evaluate your horse’s current diet, checking for both quality and quantity as well as the all-important balance. He or she can suggest ways that your horse’s overall health might be improved by making changes in his diet, which may include the addition of digestive supplements.
Lydia Gray, DVM, is the medical director and staff veterinarian for SmartPak Equine, where she directs the research and development of products and provides horse health and nutrition education to a wide variety of audiences. She is a past president of the Illinois State Veterinary Medical Association. Gray competes her Trakehner gelding in dressage and combined driving, and is a United States Dressage Federation “L” graduate.
This article originally appeared in the February 2014 issue of Horse Illustrated. Click here to subscribe!