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Stomach, Hindgut, & Digestion

A Healthy Digestive Tract is the First Step to Overall Health

The horse’s digestive tract is composed of various regions that all contribute differently to digestion and absorption of nutrients.  Because of this, each region can be prone to unique disturbances that can benefit from different types of support.

The stomach is the first site of digestion, using acid and stomach contractions to start breaking down feeds (especially protein).  Because of the acidity, some horses may experiences irritation of the stomach lining that can lead to ulcers.  Factors like diet, management, stress, breed, and behaviors can increase the risk of ulcer development in some horses.

The small intestine is next, which is the major site of enzymatic digestion of more simple carbohydrates, fats, and proteins.  This is also the main site of absorption of nutrients from the diet.

The large intestine and cecum are often referred to as the hindgut.  Digestion of fiber – like in forages and the outer layer of seeds - takes place in the hindgut by microorganisms (bacteria, fungi, protozoa). These microorganisms can digest the fiber, freeing up the otherwise trapped nutrients inside, and then they produce vitamins and other nutrients that can then be absorbed and used by the horse.  Because the natural diet of the horse is forage based and the hindgut represents such a significant and important aspect of the digestive tract, horses are often referred to as hindgut fermenters.  A healthy hindgut is a key aspect in overall horse health and wellbeing, and disturbances in the hindgut can lead to gas, bloating, diarrhea, vitamin deficiencies, weight loss, laminitis, and even colic. 

Digestive tract problems may indicate a problem with the stomach, hindgut, or both, and while some behaviors are unique to the stomach and some problems unique to the hindgut, some symptoms cross-over, making it difficult to know which area of the tract needs support – or if both are in need. 

We strongly recommend that if you are uncertain about any aspect of your horse or pony’s nutrition, diet, health, or well-being, please call the Nutrition Advice Line at (844) SCI-SUPP (724-7877).

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