Prebiotics or Probiotics? January 26 2018, 0 Comments

Prebiotics?  Probiotics?  What's the difference, and why would I choose one over the other?

This is one of the most common questions I get from customers, and given the prevalence of gut health issues in winter, I thought this would be a good time to air my answers for everyone to read.

In the store, we carry both- probiotics, and prebiotics.  They're all listed under the Digestion  and Complete Care section of the Supplements menu.  So why both?

So, first, a quick review of facts.  Horses are hindgut fermenters, which means their bodies break down the fibrous portion of their feed in their hind gut via fermentation, aided by gut bacteria. The gut microbiome lives in the hindgut and should stay in a delicate balance between beneficial bacteria and other microbes in order for the body to extract nutrients out of horses' feed.  Keeping this balance is the key to mastering the art of feeding for superior hindgut health.  Prebiotics and Probiotcs can help a horse balance out his gut bacteria.  Note that a horse's hindgut is designed to receive a near continuous stream of forage in order to function optimally.

Probiotics

Thanks to widespread consumption of yogurt, most people are familiar with probiotics.  They are essentially "good" bacteria in your horse's hindgut that effectively break down the fibrous material your horse eats.  Their population, however is dependent on the pH of your horse's hindgut and their ability to have material to feed off of.  The most common reasons for a decrease and/or imbalance in a horse's hindgut bacterial population include:

  • Feeding too many starches, or Non-Structural Carbohydrates (includes rice bran, "sweet feed", sugar sources, etc);
  • Administration of antibiotic medications;
  • Administration of NSAIDs;
  • Too much time between feedings resuling in hindgut acidosis (stomach acid buildup);
  • Stress due to travelling, separation from buddies, etc, resulting in hindgut acidosis;
  • Not enough access to enzymes for probiotics to feed off of, usually a result of a horse's inability to digest fibrous material or too much sugar/starch in the diet (related to bullets 1, 3, 4).

So, feeding probiotics makes sense if you suspect your horse's hindgut bacterial population has been damaged.  However, feeding probiotics is not a long-term solution.  Probiotics need to stay alive in the hindgut if they are going to do your horse any good.

Prebiotics

Prebiotics are enzymes, or simple sugars, that feed the probiotics that you feed your horse.  Without a healthy supply of these enzymes, the beneficial bacteria in your horse's hindgut will not survive.  Typcially, horses will "feed" their hindgut bacteria via a steady intake of fibrous forage- hay and grass.  However, due to the complexity associated with feeding the domestic horse, a horse's hindgut bacterial population does not always receive the proper "food" in order to function optimally.  In these cases, it makes sense to feed your horse prebiotics, following the re-introduction of probiotics, until your horse is on a steady stream, constant intake of forage and minimal access to starch.

Well, there it is in a quick nutshell- feed probiotics to replenish the population of bacteria, and feed prebiotics to keep those probiotics alive until your horse's gut has achieved its natural balance.

Sound like this is up your horse's alley?  Check out these products in the store:

Probiotics

Prebiotics

 

Questions? Email us!  info@wholeequine.com.  Thanks for reading!