There are different terms tossed around today in relation to gut health. Terms such as prebiotics, probiotics, and direct-fed-microbials are all used and sometimes cause confusion for horse people. The technical definitions are below.
Prebiotic – products that can't be digested by the animal but does promote the growth of beneficial bacteria. Examples could be fructooligosaccharides (FOS) or lactose (for some animals that do not have the enzyme lactase).
Probiotic – products that contain microorganisms or bacteria that are beneficial to the animal. A few examples are Lactobacillus acidophilus, Bacillus subtilis, or Bifidobactia bifidus.
Direct-fed-microbials (DFM) – same as probiotics but recently this term has been used by many regulatory agencies such as the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO)
There is a place for DFM in the Equine Industry. Some horses are under stress, which can lead to negative impacts on gut health resulting in a reduction in the nutrient utilization for the horse. When this happens, performance and health of your horse may be at risk. In these situations adding DFM will give your horse the extra benefit it needs.
1. Probiotics may be useful to your horse especially if gut health issues have been a problem.
2. Some positive effects of probiotics are:
a. Improve nutrient utilization due to an improved gut environment (which can reduce the amount of feed needed),
b. Improve mares milk (possible improved growth and development of your foal),
c. Reduction of stress in your horse during competition, diet change, and other stressful situations.
d. Reduction in the incidence of scours in foals that may lead to improved growth and development of young horses.
Talk to a feed representative to make sure you understand what type of DFM is added, how much is added, and the stability of that organism. The more understanding and assurance you have about the DFM added the better you will be able to decide what feed is best for your horse.
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