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Promoting Gut Health in Racehorses

A brief review of scientific advice to promote gut health in racehorses.

The quantity of hay currently recommended to reduce gastric ulceration in horses is 5 - 7.5kg for a 500kg horse and a maximum of 2.5kg concentrates daily. These recommendations are not practical in a racing setting, so what steps can be taken to promote gut health?

Promote feed availability

  • Ideally, horses should not be without food for > 4 - 6 hours;

  • The use of hay nets can prolong horses' hay intake time, promoting natural buffering of the stomach.

Optimise starch intake

  • Starch is required in the diet of racehorses for energy, but overfeeding starch will contribute to gut disturbances;

  • Diets should be formulated relative to the amount and type of work the horses are in which will differ from trainer to trainer;

  • Some horses will tolerate starch better than others - reducing the starch level in the diet for individual horses may be advised.

Probiotics and other supplements

  • Adding a yeast-based probiotic has been shown to help to mitigate the effects of a high-starch diet (Medina et al., 2002);

  • Various other supplements show promise, although beneficial effects may take longer than veterinary grade treatments.

Be mindful of water/electrolytes

  • Limiting water access has been associated with gastric ulcer formation (Luthersson et al., 2009);

  • Repeated administration of hypertonic electrolytes has also been shown to increase both number and severity of gastric ulcers (Holbrook et al., 2005).

Address ulcers early

  • Simply starting new training programs has been associated with gastric ulcer development (Vatistas et al., 1999). Ideally ulcers should be addressed early in the training program.

There are many factors that contribute to gastrointestinal health and ulcer formation in horses. A combination of management with veterinary treatments is currently the best advice, with research into gastric supplements continuing.

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