The Probiotic Push

If you read labels and ingredients lists for your feeds and supplements (which we hope you do!), you?ve probably noticed that it’s difficult to buy anything that goes into your horse’s mouth, whether a feed or supplement, that doesn’t contain probiotic or prebiotic ingredients. it’s so ubiquitous that we made an editorial decision years ago not to list these in most product descriptions. Why are they so popular’

that’s simple: pro- and prebiotics are dirt-cheap ingredients to add. In most cases, even in some digestive supplements, they’re only added to make the ingredient list more impressive. However, ?it’s in there? doesn’t cut it with us.

THere’s no denying that maintaining a healthy population of intestinal organisms is critical to the horse’s health. they’re required for efficient digestion of the plant sugars and fibrous portion of the diet. they’re gentle immune-system stimulants. They prevent colonization of the bowel by disease-causing bacteria and can even neutralize fungal toxins (see page 10).

That said, there are two important things to consider:

1) A horse that is healthy, utilizing feed well and free of any gastrointestinal symptoms already has a thriving population of gut organisms. This horse has a synergistic balance between food items taken in and survival of bacterial and protozoal populations. Dumping more organisms in there only increases competition for available food with a population that was already doing its job. We just don’t know enough about how all the different organisms interact to be able to ?improve? on what nature is already doing very well. Basically, if it ain?t broke, don’t fix it.

2) Dosages. If we assume that feed and supplement manufacturers actually know what organisms are likely to be beneficial (which they likely don’t), we then have to assume they know what’s the proper therapeutic dosage. At a bare minimum, it takes billions of organisms to have any influence on the populations of organisms in the intestine. One billion is 109 organisms. A million is 106. Take a look at any of the feeds or supplements you have around that contain pre- or probiotics. Do they come even remotely close to that number’ No, they don’t.

Bottom Line:

The dosage of pre- and probiotic bacteria or yeast in most equine products is too low to be harmful (even if you add up all the ones you’re inadvertently feeding), but it’s not helpful in any way either. it’s window dressing. Leave it out of your product choices, if you can, but certainly don’t plunk down more money for a product just because it claims to include these ingredients.

Article by Eleanor Kellon, VMD, our Veterinary Editor.