Dr. Bray’s Corner

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Q: What are probiotics and prebiotics?

Probiotics are live microorganisms that are added to the feed which enhance the healthy flora or bacteria within the gastrointestinal tract. This “good bacteria” improves the intestinal balance of microbes while inhibiting the growth of “bad bacteria.” Probiotics work similar to the live cultures found in yogurt.

Prebiotics are soluble fibers that encourage the growth of “good bacteria” in the stomach. Unlike probiotics, prebiotics are not bacteria.

Q: My 27 year old has ulcers and my vet recommended feeding herbs. I feed mostly alfalfa, but I try to get alfalfa-grass mix when I can. What herbs would you recommend?

I understand the zeal many horse and animal owners have for herbs but I am not a supporter of herbal feeding. There are a plethora of herbs, herbal combinations, herbal processing, and herbal preparations that are promoted in animal feeding but the support provided that I have seen is anecdotal and lacks substantive reasoning, physiologically and biologically.

One should not become trapped by advertisements that use marketing slogans such as “evidence proves”, or “studies show”. The science regarding many herbal products is either non-existent or very weak at best for horses and other animals. I had a DVM professor at the University of Maryland during my early graduate studies who would frequently voice when treating a horse, “nothing is better than some tincture of time and scientific neglect”. This passage is one that I have frequently shared with students as well as with horse owners during my journey as an equine nutritionist.

Q: If I feed joint and digestive supplements and pain medication to my senior horse, do I have to add the supplements to the soaked feed immediately prior to feeding so they don't lose their potency? It would be easier to add them before soaking when others need to feed him, but I'm worried it would decrease their effectiveness.

You should not add any medication (prescription or over-the-counter) during the soaking process. The active ingredient type, air and water exposure and length of time soaking could be issues that may have an adverse effect on the effectiveness of the meds. Add the meds at the time of feeding. Another option is to prepare the meds in a separate, smaller container so your helpers can add after soaking and just before feeding.

Q: What's your opinion of feeding Diatomaceous Earth? People keep asking me about it.

Diatomaceous Earth (DE) has been around since I was a kid and originally was promoted to provide missing nutritive factors in an animal’s diet. The missing nutritive factors were suppose to provide benefits similar to known required minerals or vitamins. The definition of DE appears to have strayed over the years. Still today, many believe it is rich in minerals and that its unknown nutritive factors will improve the health of an animal.

Bottom line: there are no benefits, no magical nutrients, and you should not waste your money.

Q: I am looking for a feed for my 20 year old Morgan Mare and a 6 year old thoroughbred race horse who suffered a fractured ankle, and retrained as a pleasure horse. We are training him in dressage and would like to offer him a feed that will help his joints as well as fend off arthritis in the future.

We do not add glucosamine or chondroitin sulfate to our equine formulas. Prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) medications need to be administered by body weight of the animal. Feeds that contain OTC arthritic medication thus would have different levels of the ingredients relative to how much is being fed. For example a horse fed 2 lbs. of a commercial formula would receive – the glucosamine or chondroitin sulfate of a horse that is fed 4 lbs. In addition, studies strongly indicate that feeds containing glucosamine or chondroitin sulfate vary greatly in levels and in the vast majority of products are less than what is actually advertised on the product.

There is also the question of effectiveness. The injectable forms have demonstrated success but the oral forms are only supported by anecdotal stories. I wish I could provide more encouragement to the benefits. Also, there is zero evidence that administering oral glucosamine or chondroitin sulfate will prevent joint issues. Even if you do decide to use one of the OTC products you would be better serve to top dress the ingredients and feed relative to body weight.

Q: I have a 8 yr. Paint mare, in training; I usually work her daily for about 40 minutes. She is on Integrity, Adult/Senior; 1 1/4 lb., 2x daily along with the same amount of Bermuda pellets. I'm also supplementing her with an antacid supplement, prebiotic supplement, hoof supplement, and joint supplement, and psyllium 2x a week and bran mash as needed. I feed Bermuda hay, 2 flakes 2x a day. She had a knee injury about 2 years ago, then 1 year ago when I got her she scuffed up her back legs while being trailer to me, for about 8 months she would stock up every night. Every time she was brought out to work or she got excited she would get diarrhea. Am I over supplementing her or is it ok to supplement with the Integrity?

Integrity is a balanced formula to complement the forage portion of your horse’s diet. The formula is balanced for the 48+ nutrients required by the horse including biotin, zinc, copper, calcium, etc. which is a few of the ingredients in the over-the-counter supplements that you specifically referenced. The Integrity formulas also contains soluble fiber sources which are in the”family” of prebiotics as well as it contains a yeast culture. I do not generally recommend over-the-counter supplements for horses that are being fed a balance formula to complement the forage portion of the diet. If a horse is maintenance fed and can be maintained on only hay or pasture, then depending on several factors including geographic location and forage sources I may recommend a generic-complete vitamin/mineral supplement.

The diarrhea is most likely not related to feeding. Considerations to explore include deworming schedule, dental health, time of day worked, temperature where stabled and temperature when worked, horse’s temperament prior to work, and overall body condition relative to exercise deportment. I am not a big fan of daily psyllium supplementation and there is a fact sheet on those thoughts in Dr. Bray’s Corner. If your horse has been diagnosed by a DVM with ulcers and joint problems then I would visit with your vet about more proven treatments then the over-the-counter supplements. The Integrity formulas provide adequate levels of biotin, lysine and methionine which are the primary ingredients being marketed by your hoof supplement.

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