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Probiotics May Benefit Immune Function in HorsesBy Kentucky Equine Research Staff · December 26, 2014

Probiotics are popular nutritional supplements, not only for humans but also four-legged animals. Probiotics, defined as live microorganisms that confer a health benefit to the host when administered in adequate amounts, are reportedly beneficial for enhancing gastrointestinal health as well as fighting infections.

“Two organisms commonly included in probiotic products are the yeast Saccharomyces boulardii and the bacterium Pediococcus acidilactici. Published studies suggest that horses supplemented with a combination of S. boulardii and P. acidilactici have enhanced clearance of intestinal parasites and improved fecal consistency,” summarizes Kathleen Crandell, Ph.D., equine nutritionist at Kentucky Equine Research.

To assess the impact of a probiotic supplement on immune function, Martin Furr, D.V.M., Ph.D., treated horses with a commercially available probiotic containing both S. boulardii and P. acidilactici (one capsule containing 1 billion live particles per 200 lb of body weight) for 68 days.

According to Furr, “There are few empiric studies of the effects of these probiotics on equine health and gastrointestinal function, although numerous studies have demonstrated widespread effects on gastrointestinal health across a number of other species.”

In this study*, published in the Journal of Equine Veterinary Science, supplemented horses did indeed demonstrate some effect on systemic immunity compared to horses that received a placebo; however, statistical significance was not reached for some outcomes. The researcher suggested that the lack of significance could be due to either inadequate dose or product failure and that additional studies are warranted, while the “preliminary evidence suggests a possible role for [probiotics] use in the horse.”    

*Furr, M. 2014. Orally administered Pediococcus acidilactici and Saccharomyces boulardii-based probiotics alter select equine immune function parameters. Journal of Equine Veterinary Science 34,10:1156-1163.