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Research Update: Diarrhea in Young FoalsBy Kentucky Equine Research Staff · June 26, 2017

Many foals develop diarrhea during the first months of life, including foal-heat diarrhea and more serious varieties. While bacteria are frequently blamed for diarrhea, the underlying cause remains unclear in many cases. Recently, researchers suggest that dysbiosis, an alteration in the intestinal microbiota, could contribute to the problem.

“The intestinal microbiota consists of bacteria, viruses, and other microorganisms such as yeast that ferment nondigestible feedstuffs and help maintain the overall health of the gastrointestinal tract and the entire animal,” explained Kathleen Crandell, Ph.D., a nutritionist for Kentucky Equine Research (KER).

She added, “Any change in the intestinal microbiota can contribute to diarrhea.”

A recent study conducted by a group of researchers from the Ontario Veterinary College in Guelph, Canada, supported this theory*. The researchers analyzed the microbiota of 20 foals, including nine foals with diarrhea. They found a decreased “bacterial richness” in the microbiota of diarrheic foals, with bacteria in the Lachnospiraceae and Ruminococcaceae families underrepresented compared with healthy foals. “Richness” was defined as the number of species present in a sample.

Based on those results, the researchers suggested “preventative and therapeutic measures for diarrhea should focus on maintaining bacterial microbiota richness.”

“An estimated 60% of foals develop diarrhea during the first six months of life, which means that protecting the gastrointestinal tract right from the start is paramount,” Crandell noted.

Marine-derived omega-3 fatty acids, like KER’s EO•3 containing both docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) could strengthen a foal’s immunity.

“Foals may also benefit from supplementation with a natural-source vitamin E. A water-soluble, natural-source vitamin E, such as that found in Nano•E, affords the greatest antioxidant advantages,” advised Crandell.

*Schoster, A., H.R. Staempfli, L.G. Guardabassi, et al. 2017. Comparison of the fecal bacterial microbiota of healthy and diarrheic foals at two and four weeks of life. BMC Veterinary Research. 13(1):144.