Relevant Research: 11/04

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Beet Pulp’s A Prebiotic
Hard-working horses often need a lot of grain to hold their weight and replenish their muscle stores of glycogen. However, high-grain feeding can result in the overflow of undigested grain into the large intestine, causing pH drops that interfere with efficient fiber digestion and can cause loose manure.

The addition of a pound or so of beet pulp to the diet, divided between meals, can help significantly. Beet pulp slows the rate of stomach emptying, so that the small intestine is not overloaded. It also slows down transit time through the small intestine. The result of both of these effects is better digestion of the grain portion, with less being presented to the hind gut. The fiber in beet pulp is also easily fermentable in the colon and has a prebiotic effect, supporting growth of the appropriate organisms.

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Proven Equine Probiotic Identified
Dr. J. Scott Weese at University of Guelph is one of the few researchers taking a serious look at equine probiotics. In a recent issue of Equine Veterinary Journal, Dr. Weese states they’ve identified a strain of Lactobacillus organisms naturally found in the healthy horse’s intestinal tract that has the ability to inhibit salmonella, a pathogenic Strep (S. zooepidemicus), E. coli, and two strains of Clostridia that are associated with diarrhea and colitis.

This strain, called Lactobacillus pentosus WE7, survived acidic conditions and bile salts in the lab, and the study documented that when fed to horses and foals it did indeed survive the journey through the horse’s stomach and small intestine in almost 90% of the test animals. We’d like to see this strain of bacteria show up in equine probiotic products soon.

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Malignant Hyperthermia Confirmed
Original research from the late 1970s indicated that Thoroughbreds and Standardbreds with chronic problems with tying-up may have the equine equivalent of a disease called malignant hyperthermia. This problem is genetically determined, documented in people, racing greyhounds and pigs selectively bred to have less fat and more lean muscle. It causes its victims to be sensitive to some anesthetic gases, which trigger massive temperature elevations and muscle destruction. Affected individuals are also prone to muscle damage (“tying-up”) with exercise.

The idea fell a bit by the wayside since then, but a new study by Aleman et al at the University of California, Davis, and published in the September 2004 Muscle and Nerve, confirms the presence of a genetic change in the DNA of horses with malignant-hyperthermia-like symptoms that corresponds to that found in people.

This finding may lead to the development of a simple test for malignant hyperthermia in horses with recurrent problems with tying-up. It will also guide veterinarians in selecting treatment because this problem is sensitive to with the drug Dantrolene.