Reduce the risk of worming
01 June 2016
by supporting good gut health
Treating your horse for worms is important but worming drugs can cause imbalances in the gut bacteria which in turn can create its own problems. To help you protect your horse when giving this medication we talked to veterinary surgeon Liam Gamble MA VetMB MRCVS from Protexin Equine Premium about using probiotics help to restore the balance by promoting the growth of good bacteria.
Liam, can you explain the role gut bacteria plays for our horse's health?
Your horse’s digestive tract is over 100ft long and contains billions of bacteria – more than the number of cells in the rest of their body! This vast ecosystem of bugs (the microflora) consists of both ‘good’ and ‘bad’ bacteria in a delicate balance. The good bacteria help your horse to digest food, stimulate the immune system, and maintain a healthy digestive system; whereas the bad bacteria can be potentially life threatening. An overgrowth of bad bacteria can cause a range of problems including:
• inflammation and damage of the gut leading to diarrhoea
• a reduced ability to digest fibre and a predisposition to laminitis
• toxin release and blood poisoning
• excess gas which can lead to colic
• a grumpy disposition and aggression.
Dysbiosis is the term given to an imbalance of the microflora. There are many possible causes of dysbiosis – such as dietary change, stress, antibiotic therapy and anthelmintic treatment (worming).
Do worms influence our horse’s gut too?
Although some parasites migrate to other organs as part of their lifecycle (such as blood vessels, liver and lungs), most worms will spend the majority of their life in the horses gut. Their presence can cause:
• damage to the gut wall
• poor digestion
• malabsorption of nutrients
• physical blockages
These changes can ultimately lead to ill thrift, diarrhoea, colic and general ill health. Therefore, it is vital to have an effective worm control program in place which is appropriate for your horse and your yard. In addition feeding a daily probiotic & prebiotic supplement such as Protexin’s Gut Balancer can help to mitigate some of the damage caused by worms in the intestine, by reinforcing the good bacteria and regulating the immune response.
What about worming?
It’s likely that your worm control program will include the use of anthelmintic drugs (wormers). Worming your horse can cause a sudden and marked effect on the gut ecosystem. The gut can become inflamed, motility is affected, and the microflora can become imbalanced. This is especially so when there are large numbers of worms or when the encysted larvae of the small redworm are targeted. A key stage when carrying out a colic examination is taking the worming history, not only to gauge the chance of the horse carrying a large worm burden but also because recent worming treatment is a common cause of colic, and other conditions such as diarrhoea.
Will a targeted worming programme help?
One way to reduce the risk is to worm only when necessary by running a targeted parasite control programme based on worm counts and tests, treating only the wormy horses when needed. This has the added benefit of helping to reduce the build-up of resistance that renders the drugs less effective. Using faecal egg counts will not only help to prevent the spread of resistance but also reduces the risk of dysbiosis associated with worming, as most horses will be treated less often.
What if you do need to worm?
If you do need to worm then a helpful way to reduce the negative side-effects of worming is to provide increased probiotic supplementation at this time. A five day course of Quick Fix gives an intense boost to the good bacteria around the time of worming (or travel, stress, dietary change etc). Wormers are often given during times of dietary change, i.e. around turn out in spring, which can further increase the stress on the microflora.
Young horses are very vulnerable to worms; is there any lower age limit for using a probiotic with foals and youngsters?
Foals are very prone to worms such as the threadworm and roundworm and their gut flora are just becoming established. An imbalance at this stage can have long term consequences. Not only are young animals more susceptible to diarrhoea and dehydration, but also an imbalanced microflora has been implicated in reduced growth rates, reduced immunity and the development of allergies. It is vital to provide appropriate anthelmintic treatment to a foal, but great care must be taken to maintain a balanced microflora.
This is especially so during any period of digestive disruption such as foal heat diarrhoea. Protexin’s Gut Bind can help to soothe and settle a disrupted gut, and replenish the good bacteria. It is worth noting that intestinal problems can quickly become very serious in horses and we would always advise contacting your veterinary surgeon if your horse has a digestive upset.
Which sort of probiotic would I choose to use when?
Probiotics are proven to help restore a balanced microflora, stimulate the growth of good bacteria, and promote good digestive health. The Protexin Equine Premium range contains high quality probiotics along with Protexin’s unique Preplex® prebiotic, a food source that nourishes the friendly bacteria and supports beneficial bacterial growth.
Quick Fix is a highly concentrated probiotic and prebiotic paste to rapidly re-establish the horses gut microflora in times of stress or change, including travelling, worming and antibiotic therapy. Use an intense 5 day course around worming to minimise the risk.
Gut Balancer is an everyday palatable probiotic and prebiotic powder, specifically designed for horses and ponies. Use daily for general wellbeing, to normalise digestive function and efficiency, and for equines prone to digestive upsets.
Gut Bind is a two day course of probiotics, prebiotics, kaolin and pectin designed to settle a disrupted gut.
Intestinal problems can quickly become very serious in horses and we would always advise contacting your veterinary surgeon if your horse has a digestive upset.