Many people don’t think about their horses’ digestive health until something is clearly not working. But the equine gastrointestinal tract is a sensitive and critical system, and as such even minor gut problems have the ability to negatively impact overall health, behavior, and performance.
The fact that your horse isn’t showing classic symptoms of poor gut health does not necessarily mean all is actually well in its gastrointestinal tract. Some horses are asymptomatic when suffering from GI pathologies. In fact, subclinical issues – digestive tract conditions that are low grade but could develop into more serious issues – can impact behavior and performance. As a result, regularly monitoring the heath of the full equine gastrointestinal tract becomes a critical component of any good wellness plan.
Risk Factors that Impact Gut Health
Horses today are highly susceptible to a host of gut problems, from minor imbalances to serious diseases. Here are some common practices that put horses at risk:
- Providing a diet of grain-based, concentrated feeds
- Feeding just 2-3 large meals a day
- Restricting turnout to less than 18 hours a day
- Limiting access to quality grass and/or hay
- Training, traveling, and competing
Even one of these elements of management has the potential to negatively impact a horse’s digestive health and should be monitored carefully.
Behavior and Performance Issues May Signal Digestive Distress
Many people don’t recognize that some behavior or performance problems could be signs of subclinical gut issues, such as digestive imbalance and low-grade hindgut inflammation. These symptoms may include:
- Poor coat health. Natural shine and dapples are one signal of optimal digestive health and cannot be replicated with any amount of grooming or spray sheens.
- Sensitive Flanks. Horses make flinch or react adversely when being brushed along their flanks or to leg pressure when ridden.
- Irritability. One of the possible reasons a horse is irritable on the ground and under saddle may arise from digestive discomfort.
- Resistance. Horses may resist on the ground or under saddle, be reluctant to move forward or respond to leg aids, or be difficult in training when they are uncomfortable.
- Cribbing. While for some this is learned behavior, some horses may crib or windsuck to relieve pain in their stomachs.
- Difficulty performing. Discomfort in the hindgut especially may impact a horse’s stride length, suppleness, collection, and jumping ability.
- Lamenesses. Discomfort in the colon can lead to a horse favoring one side. This, in turn, could give rise to fatigue and even injury in the legs and joints.
While there are many potential causes for a horse behaving or performing less than its best (poor riding, poor training, ill-fitting tack, or lameness to name a few), do not rule out poor digestive health as a possible reason for discomfort.
Fecal Blood Testing to Monitor Wellness
The SUCCEED Equine Fecal Blood Test has been carefully calibrated to only identify true pathological conditions while still being sensitive enough to catch even low-grade issues in the hindgut. A seemingly healthy horse may test positive on the FBT when used in regular wellness checks,which may indicate low-grade inflammation or other subclinical issues – or a more serious but asymptomatic pathological condition.
Identifying underlying digestive issues as soon as possible ensures early intervention. This allows for more targeted, effective treatments and may help avoid the development of more serious conditions.
The SUCCEED FBT offers an inexpensive, reliable, and non-invasive tool for monitoring a horse’s digestive health on a regular basis.