Diagnose GI Health Issues in Horses with the FBT

The signs are pointing to some kind of problem in the horse’s gastrointestinal tract. Cribbing signals a gastric issue, while diarrhea reflects a problem in the hindgut. But symptoms such as inappetance, weight loss, poor coat and body condition, attitude changes, and performance and training issues may be related to a problem anywhere in the gut.

Before a veterinarian can determine what the problem is and how to treat it, he or she needs to know where the problem may be – the foregut, hindgut, or both.

The FBT detects components of blood in a fresh fecal sample, which can indicate whether injury exists in the GI tract and can help differentiate whether it’s in the foregut, hindgut, or both. This data gives the veterinarian useful information to direct further diagnostics and provide a more accurate diagnosis.

Of course, in many cases, the total array of possible diagnoses may be substantial for a given set of presenting symptoms and other data points. But using FBT results, in conjunction with these and other diagnostic indicators, helps the veterinarian rule in and rule out various possible diagnoses with greater certainty. Here are just a few common GI tract pathologies in horses that the SUCCEED FBT may help a veterinarian detect and differentiate.

Differentiate Gastric and Colonic Ulcers

Ulcers are lesions anywhere in the digestive tract. They occur when mucosal tissue that lines the GI tract is compromised, eventually resulting in an open sore. The exact cause of ulcers is still a matter of debate.

Equine Gastric Ulcer Syndrome is well-documented and well-understood, and also a common problem particularly among performance horses. Now, evidence is accumulating for the incidence of equine colonic ulcers, which also seem to be widespread. In our own necropsies of more than 1,000 horses since 2003, we have found more than 80% suffering from gastric ulcers and more than 60% from colonic. Over 50% of the horses had ulceration in both the stomach and  colon.

While accurately diagnosing gastric ulcers is possible with the use of a 3-meter endoscope, only the SUCCEED FBT provides a non-invasive, affordable tool to aid the veterinarian’s diagnosis of conditions anywhere in the digestive tract of the horse – distinguishing between gastric and colonic ulceration. It is capable of detecting bleeding ulceration (grade 2 or higher) in the stomach, and even low-grade ulceration in the hindgut. Note that grade 1 gastric ulcers (or ulceration without whole blood loss) will not test positive on the FBT. 

Diagnose Protein Losing Enteropathy

A protein losing enteropathy is effectively “leaky gut” whereby blood protein (primarily albumin) seeps into the digestive tract. A CBC/chem profile will indicate a positive for hypoalbuminemia or hypoproteinemia. If this happens, the FBT can help rule in or rule out a PLE (particularly Test A – that is, it will verify that albumin is in the gut, which is a PLE).

The underlying cause of the PLE may still not be identified, and colonic ulceration would be one potential source of that albumin. Thus, it’s important to combine the FBT result with other diagnostic indicators for a complete and accurate diagnosis.

The presence of hypoalbuminemia or hypoproteinemia on a CBC/chem profile in conjunction with a NEGATIVE FBT test result rules out a PLE. A protein losing nephropathy may be one of the possible diagnoses in this instant.

Detect Excessive Parasites That Can Lead to Other Problems

Internal parasites can cause colic in horses and often contribute to many respiratory, digestive, and performance problems. Because some parasites survive on the blood of their hosts, they regularly pose a threat to the integrity of the digestive tract wall, seeking a blood meal. Pits they leave when they evacuate are lesions in the mucosal membrane. As a result, parasites may be one contributing factor in the development of ulcers.

Keep in mind that modern anthelmintics and proper deworming implementation only reduce the potential for parasites – they don’t prevent them entirely.

The results of the SUCCEED FBT on a horse with visible signs of possible parasitism may help narrow the possible diagnoses.

Subclinical Anemia May Indicate Blood Loss

For years, many veterinarians have noted red cell counts in performance horses that, while not generally indicative of a clinical condition, are strangely low for an athlete. Performance horses in training and competition normally have red cell counts at the upper level of the hematological range. Thus, these lower counts during active seasons – which would be considered “subclinical anemia” – may actually reflect a pathological cause.

Anemia is a condition in which blood lacks enough healthy red blood cells, or hemoglobin, which are responsible for oxygenation. Subclinical anemia is when red blood cell counts fall within a healthy range, but are lower than they should be for an active horse. The broad causes of anemia are either a lack of production of red blood cells in the bone marrow, or a loss of blood cells as a result of bleeding. Anemia due to inadequate red blood cell production is thought to be the most common form of anemia in horses, but it’s also the most challenging to identify. These horses may show low-grade exercise intolerance, poor appetite and lethargy, but these signs may be attributable to a number of conditions.

For a horse with visible signs often associated with subclinical anemia but lacking visible evidence of bleeding, testing with the SUCCEED FBT can help to assess whether the condition may be associated with internal blood loss somewhere along the digestive tract.

Without a large body of studies on the subject, veterinarians can only make educated guesses as to the causes of sub-clinical equine anemia. And while it’s often considered a problem on its own, low-grade anemia may be a secondary symptom of parasites or blood loss due to ulceration in the digestive tract.