10 foods that support digestion in horses

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10 foods that support digestion in horses

When it comes to feeding your horse, there are certain foods that can help support digestion and promote an optimal environment in the gut. Take a look!

Looking for some foods to feed your horse that’ll help “move things along”? Support her digestion with the items on this list!

Beet pulp

Easily digestible and high in fiber, beet pulp is a great way to support your horse’s digestion. Because horses don’t have the enzymes required to break down fiber, it passes through to the hindgut where the process of bacterial fermentation takes place. The fiber is digested into volatile fatty acids, which provides a slow release of energy for the horse to use.

Tip: Introduce all new foods slowly to avoid digestive upset.

Soybean hulls

Like beet pulp, soybean hulls are often called “super fibers” due to the high levels of digestible energy they provide. These low-sugar pellets help maintain healthy digestion without putting horses at high risk of colic and laminitis.

Tip: No matter what you feed your horses, always provide access to good quality hay or forage.

Alfalfa cubes

“Alfalfa cubes provide fiber and boost the overall protein quality of the diet,” says equine nutritionist Dr. Juliet Getty. “Horses love them, so they make an excellent ‘carrier feed’ for added supplements. It is best to add water to soften them to avoid choke.”

Tip: Avoid foods that are high in nonstructural carbohydrates (sugar and starch), such as cereal-based feed and treats, and rich, spring grass. This is especially important for insulin-resistant horses.

Pumpkin

When fed in small quantities (too much can cause digestive upset), pumpkin flesh can help support your horse’s digestion. Because it’s rich in fiber and vitamins and low in sugar, it’s the perfect ingredient to add to a batch of homemade treats!

Tip: Enlist an equine nutritionist to perform a nutritional analysis on your horse. This will help you determine what elements of his diet need to be added/removed.

Fish oil

The average equine diet contains very little EPA and DHA – two very important fatty acids that contribute to optimal digestion and help reduce inflammation. Feeding a cold-water fish source, such as salmon oil, offers your horse these nutrients. “Fish oil is high in long chain Omega 3s, which are excellent for inflammatory conditions such as ulcers or colitis,” says Dr. Getty. “Though most horses do not like the taste of fish, the same benefits can be derived by feeding microalgae, which is more palatable.”

Tip: Talk to your vet about feeding supplements that support digestion, such as probiotics and/or fiber.

Flaxseed

You can also increase your horse’s fat intake by adding some ground flaxseed to his regular meals. Flaxseed is high in an essential fatty acid called linolenic acid (ALA). Often found in plant sources, ALA is converted in the body to DHA and EPA. Fresh grass tends to provide a good source of plant-based ALA, but supplementing with flax also supplies the horse with energy and benefits gastrointestinal function due to its high soluble fiber content.

Tip: Avoid giving potatoes, cabbage, Brussels sprouts and nightshade veggies to horses as treats, as these foods tend to cause intestinal gas.

Chia seeds

“Chia seeds are a wonderful way to add essential fatty acids that the horse must have in the diet (since his body cannot produce them),” says Dr. Getty. “In addition, chia is high in water soluble fiber, making a soothing gel that helps keep contents moving smoothly through the digestive tract.”

Tip: Moderation is key! As is the case with our own diets, it’s important not to feed your horse too much of any treat or grain. Even healthy fruits and veggies can cause diarrhea if consumed in excess.

Kelp

Besides being rich in trace minerals and omega fatty acids, kelp powder contains sulphated polysaccharides which have been shown to increase the growth of “good” bacteria and nourish the gut.

Tip: How you’re feeding is just as important – if not more so – than what you’re feeding. To best support your horse’s digestion, feed him small meals throughout the day, and take steps to ensure his stomach is never empty. In order for his digestive system to stay healthy, it needs to be working continuously!

Mint leaves

Certain varieties of mint, such as peppermint and spearmint, are antispasmodic, and are known to have soothing effect on the digestive system. Feeding your horse a few fresh mint leaves can help to expel gas and improve his appetite.

Tip: “Avoid weekly bran mashes, since they do not allow the microbial population in the hindgut time to adjust, potentially leading to colic,” says Dr. Getty.

High quality hay

There are a number of foods you can feed your horse to support good gut health and digestion, but nothing compares to good quality hay. Chances are, investing a little extra on this crucial dietary element now will save you loads of money on vet bills down the road.