A species-appropriate approach to equine gut disease

Making sure your horse has a more species-appropriate lifestyle can decrease her risk of developing equine gut disease.

Equine gut disease has reached epidemic proportions in domestic horses. Studies suggest that 80–90% of performance horses have ulcers, which can also increase risk for colic. The consensus is that species-related stress plays a primary role in damaging the mucosal layer of the GI tract, the “home” of the microbiome. Researchers have identified tangible connections between gut disease and the following:

  1. Lack of turnout and social interaction
  2. Sudden changes in routine/housing
  3. Long periods without eating
  4. Diets that do not resemble natural forage

The more we synthesize their living environment and diet, the higher the risk for gut disease. We need to go back to nature in order to prevent disease and heal the gut.


Turnout naturally increases movement, promoting healthy gut motility and blood circulation. This increases nutrition and oxygen to the cells and creates a healthy vascular environment throughout the entire body. Turnout also allows your horse access to dirt! Healthy soil contains thousands of microbes that contribute to a functional microbiome.

Species-appropriate diet

Starchy, extruded feeds are high in hydrolysable carbohydrates which easily convert to sugar. These feed concentrates are associated with equine diseases including ulcers and gastric pH and microbiome imbalance. Avoid them at all costs.

A diet of organic forage as the base is fundamental for gut health in horses. Manage your fields without chemicals. Nourish the soil. Source out low-sugar organic hay. Frequent feedings are also important for ulcer repair. This lays the foundation for healthy gut mucosa.

Pre and probiotics

All stable-kept horses should have access to probiotics. If you can’t get them out on well-managed grass and dirt, they need to get their daily dose of microbes from somewhere else.

It’s also important to provide a high-quality prebiotic such as larch (not a sugar-based one). If you can, add species-specific probiotic strains instead of solely using human strains. New emerging science shows that there are microbes specifically suited to each animal species. Customizing the microbial community offers unique immune-modulative affects.

To read more on this topic, visit equinewellnessmagazine.com/species-appropriate-equine-gut.


Julie Anne Lee, DCH, has spent her life learning and teaching veterinarians and the public how to provide healthy, holistic care to all animals. Adored Beast Apothecary is the culmination of her decades of experience, which included opening the first licensed holistic veterinary hospital in Canada.