Is Stress Affecting Your Horse’s Digestive Health?

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Source: Arenus Animal Health 

Our Horses Lead Stressful Lives…  

Their genetics dictate that horses live free, roam large areas, graze 20 hours a day, and have established position in the “pecking order” of their herd. In captivity, our horses live in a confinement management system, are fed intermittent meals, and are often separated from other horses. Although there have been many advancements in horse care, it has been a constant struggle to address and manage the stress today’s horses suffer. Feed schedules, show schedules, training and exercise, separation from friends, and everyday life in stalls and confinement all contribute to stress.   

Can Stress Influence Digestive Health?  

Several studies have been conducted on the effect of stress on the horse. However, very few have focused on the influence of stress on digestive health. They often focus on heart rate, cortisol levels, or reproduction, which, although important, fail to address one of the main systems most influenced by stress: digestion. Many times, we recognize this stress as acute or chronic diarrhea, weight loss, poor condition, or behaviour changes. Horses with these conditions are living in a state of constant digestive disturbance and consequently predisposed to suffer from acute or recurrent colic episodes. Even a small amount of additional stress, such as a change in temperature or a low water trough, can tip these individuals into a state of digestive distress. 

You may be asking, if these issues are so prevalent, why haven’t more studies been performed to better understand this relationship? One key component is access to the affected area. As many of us have experienced firsthand, it is extremely difficult to image or enter the hindgut due to the horse’s anatomy, whether in cases of emergency or as a diagnostic tool. Consequently, with the development of the three-metre endoscope, most of the studies involving digestive health have centered around gastric ulcers, as the stomach is more easily accessible. Work has been done to observe the influence of psychological stress such as training and showing on gastric ulcer formation. Although the stomach is quite important, it is still only a small portion of the total digestive system.  

Humans and Horses… What Can We Learn?  

Unlike the horse, the human digestive tract is more easily accessible, allowing for the use of many new technologies, including positron emission tomography (PET) and functional magnetic resonance imaging (FMRI), helping physicians to better understand the causes behind many gastrointestinal (GI) diseases. These technologies have led many physicians to a shift in approach, from merely managing the symptoms to treating the root cause of the disease and its predisposing influences. New technologies have made it possible to classify all the GI diseases in humans by location and better understand the underlying causes of disease, leading to a new term: functional gastrointestinal disorders (FGID). 

Even though these new technologies are not available to the horse, we can still use the components of FGID in humans to better understand equine digestive disorders. There are many similarities between FGID in humans and horses. Both involve abnormal motility and inflammation. There is also a connection between the nervous and digestive systems, creating a negative feedback loop, often the cause of digestive disturbances such as hindgut inflammation and possibly even colonic ulcers. In the horse these FGIDs may start out small with weight loss or poor performance, but if left untreated can, over time, develop into ulcers, chronic and acute diarrhea, colitis, or even colic. 


A Stressful Cycle  

But how does this process start? There are many different factors that can lead to hindgut disfunction including intermittent meals, sand irritation, antibiotics, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, and large grain meals. These elements can lead to a buildup of lactic acid, altered motility, and the death of beneficial hindgut microflora. Together, these negative effects merge, leading to bacterial overgrowth, a change in mucosal secretions, and mucosal inflammation resulting in colitis. Underneath these changes are the everyday stressors our horses endure: confinement, trailering, separation, and the stress of performance and training all feed into this cycle, intensifying the underlying GI disorder. This cycle can greatly alter GI function, not only affecting performance and overall condition, but also leading to various disorders including leaky gut syndrome.  

Stress Management 

Within traditional management practices, the changes needed to reverse this stressful cycle are difficult and at times impossible to implement. Lack of available land and the relocation of horse owners to more suburban areas limit the ability of the horse to live in its natural state: on pasture. Some changes can be made to their diet, such as feeding less concentrates, providing higher quality and free choice forage, as well as feeding more frequent meals per day. Changing training and trailering routines may also help reduce everyday stressors. However, these changes alone may not be enough to improve the horse’s stress level and mitigate its effect on their digestive health. 

Secure Guard Gold: The Ultimate Digestive Aid  

Incorporating a high-quality digestive aid, such as Secure Guard Gold, into your feeding program may be the best solution to stabilizing the negative effects caused by the plethora of stressors your horses encounter on a regular basis. Fast-acting and effective, this patented and veterinarian- approved supplement provides a powerful digestive support solution for enhanced performance and fast relief. Secure Guard Gold is designed to decrease acid, increase pH, improve the microbiome, increase butyrate, decrease inflammation, and speed the healing of colonocytes. 

Secure Guard Gold provides the most complete and effective method to resolve digestive disturbance and provide support to the entire digestive tract from the stomach to the hindgut, helping your horse face daily digestive disturbances and look and feel their best. 

Ask your veterinarian today about incorporating Secure Guard Gold into your horse’s daily routine. 

Don’t hesitate to contact one of our Solution Specialists at (866)-791-3344 or by online chat at We are committed to providing your horse Solutions, not just Supplements.  

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