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Sunday, 21 November 2010

Hind gut acidosis - learn to love your microbes

And you thought that all you had to worry about was your horse?

They might not be fluffy and cuddly and have super cute silvery moustaches, but the microbes in your horses gut deserve your love...... :-)  if only because keeping them healthy helps keep your horse healthy too.

You'd be forgiven for thinking I've given microbes quite enough attention in this earlier post.  I certainly did, but some recent conversations with various horsey peeps including experienced professionals made me realise just how little is known about hind gut acidosis (where the hind gut becomes too acidic).

The symptoms of hind gut acidosis can range from mild short term 'not quite right' to reduced appetite, mild colic symptoms, diarrhoea, development of repetative behaviours such as wood chewing, weaving, and box walking,weight loss, reduced performance and according to some sources eventually laminitis.  The first thing you may notice is sour smelling, loose droppings.

Techy Stuff

The equine digestive system alters ph along its length; the stomach is acidic, the cecum is relatively neutral and the colon is alkaline.

The beneficial fibre digesting bacteria in the cecum such as Ruminococcus albus and Fibrobacter succinogenes are sensitive to decreases in pH. For optimal performance, these bacteria prefer an environment with a pH between 6.5 and 7.0.  When pH drops below 6.0, which is often the case with subclinical acidosis, fibre digesting bacteria become less efficient and begin to die off.

In contrast, lactate-producing and lactate-utilizing bacteria thrive in an environment with a low pH.  Certain microorganisms such as Streptococcus bovis actually shift their metabolism and produce lactic acid rather than VFA (volatile fatty acids) when exposed to acidic conditions, serving only to compound the problem.

Some research uses ph testing of droppings to test for cecal acidosis, but this doesn't appear to be a widespread, general practice.  Certainly a number of vets I have spoken to were not that familiar with the practice, but I can't help but think I might try it, just to see what I get.

Hind gut acidosis is usually triggered by over ingestion of sugars/starches.  There is some anecdotal evidence that other factors, such as stress or over use of antibiotics may also be implicated.

If you suspect your horse has hind gut acidosis, and you know you are not over feeding sugars/starches, then please speak to your vet about potential causes and how to manage them.  Acidosis is not trivial and shouldn't be ignored.

Personal note
My own horse Grace arrived with sour smelling droppings and had them for ages, months even.  At first I just dismissed it as 'normal for her'.  Now I know it is not normal and I can help her by feeding a 'proper' good quality probiotic. (As well as watching her diet etc).

Grace also makes me think about causes, her diet could not practically be any lower in sugar/starch, but she still on occasion gets rancid droppings.  I pretty much have these incidents tied into stressful episodes.  So as I can not predict when Grace will stress out, I now feed probiotics routinely.  A little expensive, but better than her being ill.


amandap said...

Really interesting and makes sense of the link of behavioural issues to diet. I know this isn't the only link but it's I assume the most missed one.

How would you test the faeces for ph? Would a strip test work? If the poos were sloppy it may not as how would you read it? lol
I have a soil ph test, might try it.
I have a horse you used to have rancid smelling droppings sometimes but I haven't noticed it for ages.

Lucy Priory said...

Nitrazine paper is cited by some sources. It is more sensitive than litmus.

I am tempted to try it, but have yet to find a supplier of small quantities.

Di said...

A great post. My horse has had loose droppings, discomfort,bloating and mild colic symptoms for a long time. She's been looked at by many vets, treated for gastric ulcers to no avail. None of the vets consulted ever suggested hind gut acidosis, but I came across it through my seemingly never ending research. There is a product - KER Equishure, which is basically a protected form of Sodium Bicarbonate which reaches the hind gut and helps to neutralise excess acid. She's been on this for a few months now and it really does seem to work.
p.s. I'm not an agent for the product, just thought it might be useful to mention it.

Deb McDaid said...

Hi I see this was wrote a long time ago, but I have a stb, that has suffered with what I now know is HGA. We have had to diagnose him with this ourselves, as our local vets have no clue other than to give horses Omeparazole (sorry if spelled wrong). My horse sand coliced first, also at the same time he ate dirt from a paddock that had heavy metal toxins in it, and drank from a creek with same toxins. This led to a year of colic, and our struggling to keep him alive. We found out a lot, struggled and never gave up, and now know a lot about the problem. I need to know more though, as Che is a lot better but not 'right'. Some things that have helped: yogurt daily (enzyme products and probiotic products actually made him worse), a tub of yogurt a day is how he survives. Two if he has any stress. Also he lives on grass (hay in winter) and hay cubes. He is a race horse so he needs more than fiber, so he does get some whole western oats. No corn, no fillers, no chemicals, no preservities, no oil other than fish, or mineral. No bran, no wheat, and the list of nos is long, no anitbotics, no drugs, and even lately despite the fact he is anemic (heavy metal poisoning) he can't have NewCells either- he coliced before his qualifier and had to be scratched. He never misses a day of turn out, he never misses a jog day. He nearly lost his life first from colic itself, and secondly due to the damage to his once perfect feet. This is life altering and damaging to the extreme. Anyone with this problem needs to take it very seriously. If we didn't own Che he would be dead, our whole family thinks about him 24/7, how to help him, about him and his needs, and what to do next. And yet he is a delicate rope that could be dead each morning when you go to the barn. We are looking for more ways to help him and the EquiShure will be the next thing I will look into. For anyone that is intrested in some of our experience and some of the info we have found out, I would be more than happy to share, my email is my name is Deb McDaid I'm from Canada.

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