Fast Facts About The Equine Digestive System

  • Unlike humans horses are hindgut fermenters which means their food is primarily digested through fermentation in the cecum. Humans have little ability to digest fiber.
  • Horses need to eat between 1.5-3% (1% at the absolute minimum) of their bodyweight daily. For the average horse that’s about 15-30 pounds.
  • Daily diets that consist 30% or more of cereals (oats, barley, corn, concentrates, etc) can have a negative impact on the horse’s ability to digest fiber
  • Feeding MORE than 200g starch/100kg BW/meal can result in 70-150g/100gBW/meal of undigested starch reaching the hindgut
  • When starch is fermented it creates volatile fatty acids (VFAs) which have pH of about 4.8 (acidic). These VFAs can damage the lining of the GI tract.
  • 80% of ulcers occur in the upper half of the stomach that is not protected
  • The horse can make 1.5liters of stomach acid EVERY HOUR
1.5 L; This is how much acid the horse’s stomach creates every hour
  • Equine saliva contains CaCl which helps buffer stomach acid
  • With the right conditions horses can produce 9-11 gallons of saliva every day. This is one major reason why grazing is so important to the horse. Grazing and nibbling creates more saliva.
These two blue hanging water buckets hold 10 gallons. This is about how much stomach acid is produced every day. Similarly, this is how much saliva a horse can produce every day if allowed to constantly graze.
  • The horse’s stomach is only 8-15 liters (2-4 gallons) in size
  • When fed intermittently the horse’s stomach pH drops in about 5-6 hours. The acidic environment puts the horse at risk for ulcers
  • Studies have shown that when the colonic pH drops (more acidic) horses display more anxiety-like behaviors
  • The horse’s digestive system is the host of a quadrillion microorganisms that aid in the breakdown of food

REFERENCES AND FURTHER READING

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