Tuesdays with Tony
A long, long time ago, in a pasture far, far away, horses evolved eating plants and grasses from a wide variety of locations as they migrated vast distances following the growth of those plants and grasses. They also had to stay on the move, so my great grandmother about 1000 times removed didn’t eat them. Sampling from all these outdoor dining locations exposed ancient horse guts to a wide variety of bacteria, viruses, and fungi. While supervising the recording of the podcast, Straight From The Horse Doctor’s Mouth recently, I learned just how important these microscopic creatures are for not just horse guts, but cat and human guts, too!
For this podcast, Dr. Lacher brought in an expert: Dr. Rob Franklin from Full Bucket Animal Health. Now, I have to tell you, this week’s blog is the short version. Dr. Franklin and Dr. Lacher talked about a ton more stuff on the podcast. After you read my version, I highly recommend you take a listen.
What is a probiotic?
I was sure I knew the answer to this question. Please take note of the following statement: I did not, in fact, know the answer. That’s right, I was wrong. It even happens to us cats now and then. I thought probiotics were “good” bacteria in the gut. Dr. Franklin gave it a much, much broader definition: probiotics are any living organism which helps you do what you do. From digesting food to keeping your skin healthy, and a bunch of other stuff, we (including cats) rely on other critters to survive. Those other critters also rely on us, so it’s a two-way street. I was sort-of right in that lots of these probiotics are bacteria, but some are fungi, some are viruses, and some are critters we don’t even know what to call.
How do we get these bugs?
Dirt, and food, and your parents. Basically from the world around you. Every time your horse goes out in the field to graze, they are picking up probiotic organisms. When your horse was born, they started the process on the way out of the uterus. I know! I thought this was crazy too! But the moment we enter the world, we are picking up bugs. Before you get all grossed out like you humans like to do, remember, we need those bugs to survive. Anyway, back to probiotics.
If you think about the way horses (and cats, and humans) live these days, there are fewer and fewer opportunities to acquire these probiotics from the environment. Stalls are far from natural, and are often filled with heat-treated shavings, processed feed, and hay. Let’s not even talk about what you humans eat. And my food comes from a can, so I can’t say much. I will say I would rather not have to put out all that effort to catch my food, though. It really cuts into my laying on the front porch time.
No really, how do we get these bugs?
So how does one go about acquiring probiotics in the modern world? You merely have to check out the shelf at your nearest feed store, or grocery store, for the humans. You’ll see a ton of products offering up probiotics. If it was that easy, I wouldn’t be writing a blog, so you know there’s a trap here somewhere.
It’s not that easy. However, for horses, lots of turnout on good pasture is a start. It gives them the opportunity to return to their roots. Literally. They can eat some roots, get some dirt, and help repopulate their gut with good bugs. In fact, my Docs will often tell owners of horses who have recently had diarrhea to turn them out. Now I know why they say that! For humans, your parents were right: eat more fruits and vegetables.
Again, how do I get probiotics?
But there are probiotics on the shelf at the feed store, you say. I know, I know. But you need the right kind, and you need the right amounts, and you need them to be alive. That is a trick! You’ve probably seen lactobacillus mentioned. Along with, maybe, bifidobacterium. These sound great, but in horses, we haven’t figured out, #1 How important they are, and #2 How to keep them alive in the quantities we need while getting them through the stomach. Another tricky part is that we often need probiotics when horses are on antibiotics. Know what lactobacillus and bifidobacterium think of antibiotics? Not a whole lot. They also get killed.
Yeast to the rescue!
Enter saccharomyces boulardii (pronounced: Sack-Row-My-Uh-Sees Bow-Lard-E). This particular strain of yeast is the ultimate hero. S. boulardii goes in, tells the bad guys to leave, and helps the community return to normal law and order. Super bonus: as a fungi, it isn’t killed by antibiotics. Marvel should make a movie about this yeast. It’s the stuff legends are made of. And note the boulardii part of the name. There are other saccharomyces out there, like brewers yeast, but it’s not the same thing. Don’t get confused about that.
Now we have the right organism, but you have to make sure you have the right amount, and that it’s alive. Insider tip: there are no living probiotics in your feed, no matter what it says on the bag. And that’s why we were talking to Dr. Franklin. He explained how hard it is to keep probiotics alive long enough to get them into your horse and past their stomach, and trust me, if it isn’t encapsulated and freeze-dried, it ain’t gonna arrive alive.
Dr. Franklin had the same issues with the available S. boulardii supplements, so he made his own. It’s been a long project to get the right numbers, and to get the buggers to survive in a form a horse will eat. The result is Full Bucket Probiotic granules, pellets, and paste. The granules and pellets work great as a day to day. The paste is a super-high dose for sick horses. It’s good stuff. My Docs have found Full Bucket super helpful on cases ranging from diarrhea to chronic colic.
Now you know the quick version of the probiotic story. Go listen to Straight from the Horse Doctor’s Mouth for the full version. You should really listen to all the podcasts. It’s tons of good information for free! You can’t beat that. And go ahead and subscribe to this blog while you’re here. It’s down just another inch or so.
Until next week,
Tuesdays with Tony is the official blog of Tony the Clinic Cat at Springhill Equine Veterinary Clinic in Newberry, Florida. If you liked this blog, please subscribe below, and share it with your friends on social media! For more information, please call us at (352) 472-1620, visit our website at SpringhillEquine.com, or follow us on Facebook!