Recently I have received a lot of emails asking about what probiotics to use for horses with diarrhea, or for overall GI tract support.
Unfortunately, the answer is not simple, because the microbiome of every horse is not identical. A probiotic that works for one horse with diarrhea may not work on another. This is due to the complex biology of the microbiome. Remember horses, like humans, are host to more microbial genome than their own! On the human side, research into the microbiome of humans is one of the fastest growing areas of study. Researchers have already linked some disorders like obesity to a disproportionately high level of one specific microorganism that is found in very low densities in people who are not obese.
From an Ayurvedic point of view, the digestive tract, including healthy elimination, is one of the cornerstones of well-being and longevity. Ayurveda recognizes that the GI tract is the very first place that imbalances arise.
In Ayurveda foods are warming, cooling, or balancing (neutral). In the case of probiotics: yeast probiotics are warming, Lactobacillus and Bifidus probiotics are cooling.
When to use warming probiotics:
Warming probiotics are the yeasts: Saccharomyces cerevisiae and Saccharomyces boulardii.
Yeast probiotics are specific to the hindgut, and boulardii is also active in the small intestine. Horses that have hard, dry stools benefit from a warming probiotic, as do many older horses whose digestive fire may not be as strong as it once was. Yeast probiotics can help older horses maintain weight. Yeasts can be genetically modified, so if you don’t want to feed GMOs make sure the yeast probiotic you are using is GMO-free.
When to use cooling probiotics:
Cooling probiotics are the Lactobacillus and Bifidus strains that come from milk. These strains work primarily in the small intestine and stomach. However, a specific Lactobacillus strain (L. equi), has been discovered and is considered one of the predominant Lactobacillus strains of the equine hindgut.
A horse with manure that is wet and loose would benefit from the Lactobacillus or Bifidus microorganisms because cooling foods reduce the “fire” in the intestines. Horses that tend to be “hot,” as in reactive, also benefit from cooling foods and cooling probiotics.
The horse with diarrhea:
Diarrhea can be caused by a multitude of factors from imbalance in the pH of the hindgut, ulcers in the hindgut, to a microbial imbalance in the small intestine, to too much “fire” in the GI tract, antibiotic associated diarrhea, to food allergies, change of feed or hay, and stress.
Intuitively one would think that diarrhea would need cooling probiotics, and for some horses that works well. But others may not respond to cooling probiotics, and instead need the warming yeasts. This may be due to a microbial imbalance affecting the pH of the hindgut which yeast can help to restore.
I have gotten to the point where I have a yeast probiotic and a Lactobacillus probiotic on hand at all times.
Colony Forming Units:
To know whether you are feeding an active or live probiotic, the label will indicate CFUs (Colony Forming Units). This tells you how potent or active the strains are. To provide enough viable organisms for colonization, we need a minimum of 100 Billion CFUs. Many probiotic supplements are so low in CFUs that it would take feeding 5-20 ounces per day to get to 100 billion CFUs.
Often, companies use “Fermentation products” in feeds and supplements. For instance, “Lactobacillus fermentation product,” “Bifidobacterium fermentation product,” “yeast fermentation product“ are not live, or viable. These fermentation forms are wonderful prebiotics but they are not probiotics.
Overall GI tract support:
When it comes to overall GI tract support, I tend towards the cooling Lactobacillus strains, which will support stomach and small intestine colonies. Biostar’s BioFlora provides several different strains of Lactobacillus to reflect the various and different strains that reside in the respiratory track and through the stomach and small intestine, plus hindgut support with MOS (Mannon Oligosaccharides). One teaspoon provides 100 billion CFUs. BioFlora is micro-encapsulated to protect several of the strains from being destroyed by the environment of the stomach.*
With older horses, and horses on diets that are mostly hay and forage, I tend to go with the warming yeast probiotics. Also during very cold weather, I will add yeast probiotics to help warm the body system. Biostar’s Bio Yeast combines the 2 predominant yeasts (Saccharomyces cerevisiae, and Saccharomyces boulardii) for hindgut and small intestine support and colonization.* One teaspoon provides 100 billion CFUs.
Keep in mind:
Remember, each horse has its own unique microbiome, depending on genetics, diet, and stressors. If a warming probiotic does not improve a specific issue like diarrhea, switch to a cooling probiotic. If a cooling probiotic doesn’t help, switch to a warming one. With so many probiotics on the market for horses, read the labels carefully, and always check to see if it is a viable probiotic and what levels the product has of CFUs.
* These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration.
This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.