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Equine Metabolic Syndrome and the Intestinal MicrobiomeBy Kentucky Equine Research Staff · June 28, 2016

Horses and humans have a lot in common, including a propensity for developing metabolic syndrome. Recent research in humans suggests that alterations in the intestinal microbiome—the community of microorganisms that exist in the large intestine—could contribute to endocrine upheaval. In horses, equine metabolic syndrome (EMS) is characterized by insulin resistance, regional adiposity, and laminitis.

“Investigation into the mechanisms and factors contributing to EMS is becoming increasingly important considering its negative health consequences in these horses, in particular, the increased risk of laminitis,” wrote a group of Canadian researchers in a recent study*.

To determine if changes in the intestinal microbiome exist in horses with EMS, the research team collected fecal samples from both healthy horses and horses diagnosed with EMS. The genetic material from the bacteria in those fecal samples were then analyzed to identify the type of bacteria present.

The researchers found that EMS horses did not have significant differences in bacterial colonization in the intestinal tract compared to healthy horses; however, the relative abundance of the bacteria was different compared to healthy horses. In other words, the same types of bacteria were present in the fecal samples, but the number of each type of bacteria differed in EMS horses, which can occur if certain bacteria are either overgrown or depleted in the community.

“Protecting the intestinal microbiome is imperative for keeping horses healthy,” emphasized Kathleen Crandell, Ph.D., an equine nutritionist for Kentucky Equine Research.

Thoughtful, consistent management, including avoiding abrupt changes in diet, underpins gastrointestinal health. Use of a hindgut buffer such as EquiShure and certain probiotics may help maintain a healthy population of microorganisms in the hindgut.

*Elzinga, S.E., J.S. Weese, and A.A. Adams. Comparison of the fecal microbiota in horses with equine metabolic syndrome and metabolically normal controls fed a similar all-forage diet. Journal of Equine Veterinary Science. In press.