Scouring is a natural flushing process which occurs when the normal digestive processes in the lower gut of an animal are disturbed. The equine digestive system, in common with that of other mammals, carries an enormous microbial population. In healthy, correctly-fed animals, potentially harmful microbes such as Escherichia Coli, Salmonella, Streptococcus, Clostridia, etc. are largely naturally suppressed.
Insults to the digestive tract for example by lush spring grass, or poor quality haylage can allow such pathogens to proliferate and colonise the gut, leading initially to loose droppings and scours, with potentially lethal consequences.
Hind-gut wall irritation and inflammation can be caused by parasite infestation by large and small redworm, tapeworm etc etc. This often exhibits as chronically soft, poorly formed droppings, passed with fluid which stains the hind-quarters and can cause skin sores. Colonic ulceration caused by drugs such as phenylbutazone can give similar symptoms.
Viruses can also cause digestive upsets; Equine Coronavirus is fortunately rare in the UK (it’s specific to horses – we can’t catch theirs; they can’t catch ours), & not normally fatal. It is a nasty illness, caused by ingesting droppings from another infected horse. The virus adheres to the lining of the intestine where it replicates, creating large numbers of disease-causing particles. Infected horses don’t always display symptoms, but when they do the most common ones are weight loss, lethargy, fever, and diarrhoea. The horse’s colon can secrete large amounts of fluid as well as proteins into the digestive tract, which is the probable cause of low blood protein levels.
The inflammation in the intestinal lining resulting from the problems outlined above can cause gaps to occur between the cells that line the digestive tract. These cells are normally tightly bound to each other and form a barrier between the contents of the gut and the bloodstream. If the bonds break gaps form between them, & a condition known as “leaky gut” can occur. The gaps between the cells allow bacteria and toxins to enter the bloodstream and proteins etc from the bloodstream to leach into the gut.
Key nutrients such as zinc are vital to the integrity of the gut lining. Ensure your horse is receiving adequate supplementation; if necessary feed a broad-spectrum supplement. A relatively new ingredient shown to be potentially beneficial for leaky gut is butyric acid. The hindgut bacteria normally produce this short-chain fatty acid naturally. It promotes the growth of tissues along the digestive tract. Work in other species has shown that supplementing with butyric acid can strengthen the bonds between cells in the small intestine, therefore strengthening the intestinal barrier. It may reduce inflammation in the intestinal lining. Encapsulated butyric acid is found in a number of commercial supplements. Encapsulation allows for targeted release of the butyric acid along the length of the intestine.
Research has shown that hydrolyzed yeast cell walls, mann-oligosaccharides (MOS), and fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS) – derived from the cell walls of some strains of yeast – can prevent the colonisation of the gut wall by these harmful organisms, thereby minimising scour and loose droppings.
Prevention & treatment of Loose Droppings, Scour & Leaky Gut:
●first add Live Yeast – in particular, Saccharomyces cerevisaea as this inhibits the proliferation of harmful microbes by depriving them of essential sugars. It can rapidly reverse a microbial imbalance caused by spring grass, a switch to rich haylage, or excess starchy feed.
●reduce rich grass or haylage; replace with a lower grade of hay.
●Increase fibre in diet & consider reducing the amount of long-stem fibre and substituting with pelleted forage for a short time, as this is less abrasive to the gut lining. Very short fibre such as that found in pellets is easier to digest.
●reduce/eliminate starch from feed (as in flaked maize, barley, oats etc)
●Do not give laxatives e. g. Epsom Salts
●avoid/reduce use of drugs such as ‘Bute
●Check your worming programme with particular regard to redworm and tapeworm – if necessary consult your vet or qualified retailer.
●Include Brewers’ Yeast, to provide a source of MOS & FOS.
●More difficult cases may require the additional use of adsorbent supplements (adsorption is a process whereby toxins & other substances become bound within the structure of particles of adsorbents such as charcoal, clays such as kaolin, montmorillonite, bentonite etc). The toxins thus bound are excreted with the faeces. As useful substances can also be removed from the body by such adsorbents they should not be used for long periods – more than, say, a couple of weeks.
●Long-term severe cases may suffer inflammation of the gut wall; anti-inflammatory & demulcent herbs such as slippery elm bark, chamomile, burdock root, beetroot, etc etc plus amino-acids such as glutamine can be used to mitigate the problem.
●Chronic cases may require a supplement such as ButiPEARL® or antibiotic treatment with e.g. Clostat® – for clostridial infections – for both of which a prescription is required in the UK.
Horseheath Nutrition can provide free advice on management and diets for horses experiencing the problems outlined above. You can telephone 0344 8844 850 or 07721 384508 or 07807 47 94 95 or use the Nutrition Enquiry Form here.
A range of suitable products is available from Gravenhorse Feeds
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