Which one should you give a probiotic or a prebiotic? Both have been used for digestive health, but they are two completely different types of supplements. Both prebiotics and probiotics can help make a difference and keep your horse functioning at its best.
Probiotics contain live microorganisms (bacteria) to benefit the digestive tract, but they don't really address the pH of the gut. Probiotics help break down and ferment hay, grass, starches, fats and sugars. It helps maintain the population of good bacteria in the gut.
Sufficient levels must be given in order to be of benefit to the horse. Do your research as some probiotics don't contain the number and types of bacteria they claim to have. Probiotics are not usually fed long-term, but are good during times of stress.
The probiotic should be kept in the refrigerator to prolong the life of the bacteria. Think about that before you buy a probiotic as most of them sit on the shelf at the feed store. Some feeds will have probiotics, but most of the time with processing it kills the bacteria. The bacteria can be killed by heat, acid or the passage of time.
Prebiotics do not contain live microorganisms (bacteria). A prebiotic feeds and promotes the growth of beneficial bacteria in the intestine and improves the environment in the gut. A prebiotic can enhance the effect of certain probiotics. A prebiotic provides the tools needed to correct the PH of the gut.
Pro and prebiotics are usually given to horses with any of the following:
Difficulty maintaining weight
Diarrhea (If the diarrhea is chronic you should check with your veterinarian)
Under a lot of stress (Stress can be such things as training, dental procedures, vaccinations, during weaning or shipping)
Also when going into fall or spring because the weather starts changing. With cooler temps at night horses may not drink as much. Horses under the age of two years will benefit as they do not digest fiber efficiently and that is why they get a potbelly.
All horses have beneficial bacteria living in the gastro-intestinal system which helps the system to work properly and keeps things in balance. Horses in the wild are able to forage on a wide variety of plants and naturally consume the good bacteria. Our domesticated horses are kept in stalls, dry lots or overgrazed pastures and don't have access to a variety of plants therefore the need for either a pro or prebiotic.
When deciding on which one to use make sure it has Vitamin E as it is essential for several body systems such as the nervous, muscular, reproductive, circulatory and immune systems. It helps protect the cell membranes from damage. Make sure the Vitamin E is d-alpha tochopherol, which is natural and not dl-alpha tocopherol, which is synthetic.
Whether you use a pre or probiotic keep in mind that when a horse is stressed it depletes their needed nutrients and weakens their immune system. When the immune system is compromised it sets the horse up for an increased risk of developing disease.
To address this, you must address the gut health because digestion is the key to a horse's health.