Probiotics: The Other Side of the Story

For the last few years, I have been attempting to educate horse owners on the overuse/proper use of probiotics. Since probiotics are currently the “fad” of the equine feed world, they are found in quite literally everything! Complete feeds, supplements, and sold alone, probiotics have made their niche in the world of horse feeds. So, here’s the problem with that…

About four years ago when testing horses with my Herbal Sampling kit (which allows the horse to choose their own herbs) I kept finding mares who were bucky, sore in the back end, didn’t want their udders/stomachs touched but didn’t show signs of ulcers. Their urine was strong and sweet smelling and they just had a general crankiness to them.

When charting the herbs they picked, there was a pretty common story there…anti-fungal herbs. Herbs most commonly chosen were: Cinnamon, Oregano, Pau D’Arco, Echinacea, Clove, and Turmeric. All these herbs have strong anti-fungal, antibacterial properties. It occurred to me when researching candida overload that human females were having the same issues. Since then I have worked on tracking chosen herbs compared to diets of these symptomatic mares and I came to this conclusion: Too much of a good thing is no longer a good thing!

After having a fairly firm grasp of the connection between cranky mares and probiotic overload, I also noticed a correlation between geldings with sheath issues (such as swelling, “gunkiness”, frequent urination) choosing the same herbs and having those issues resolve themselves! Could it be the same issue? Yes, I think so!

As stated previously, probiotics are everywhere and in nearly everything. Coupled with feeds that have grains products and molasses that supply sugary “food” for fungus and bacteria and you have the recipe for an overload of candida. Candida simply put is yeast, also known as “thrush”. This applies to babies’ mouths, athletes’ foot, thrush in hooves, as well as an overload of the gut flora. When the gut flora is unbalanced, you will see fungal infections in other parts of the body.

Think of it like this:

You plant a garden. You fertilize the garden. Good, right? Then you fertilize it again, and again, and again. Every gardener knows that constant fertilization will burn out a garden faster than a desert summer sun, right? That is what is happening with the continuous use of probiotics! The “natural” gut flora becomes over fertilized from the constant use of probiotics and in the end, does more harm than good!

Well, as you can probably imagine since probiotics are the current hot fad in the supplement world (both human and horse alike) my theories about the overuse of probiotics were met with a tad bit of disbelief. After all, I’m not a doctor nor even a vet…certainly, I can’t be right about this! But interestingly enough, as I was researching for this article, I began to find articles from human doctors about this very thing! I would therefore highly suggest, that if you are using probiotics for either yourself or your animals, that you research the downside to using them. Some of the side effects of overuse of probiotics include mild side effects of gas and bloat up to extreme side effects like infections of the digestive tract whose symptoms include fever, rash and bloody stool and of course, candida overload. Probiotics should not be used by those with suppressed immune symptoms or those being treated for cancer.

It should, of course, be noted that there are times in which probiotics are important to use…after a round of antibiotics, after using chemical dewormers, and I have often averted catching the latest flu bug by eating yogurt when there is a flu bug in the house. Certainly, there are certain types of digestive issues that probiotics can help with! Senior horses and horses who do not get “live” foods (grazing, apples, carrots etc.) also benefit from the use of probiotics but not daily. I have noticed with a senior horse I have cared for for years that using probiotics quarterly for 1-2 weeks keeps her digestive system working well without any signs of overload.  As she has no teeth, she is unable to graze and the only live foods she can handle are small bites of carrots and apples. Giving quarterly doses of a good probiotic keeps things running smoothly for the old lady.

 It should also be noted that all probiotics are not alike and when using them, should be carefully chosen for quality rather than cost. Avoiding feeds that have probiotics added to them can be difficult in the current feed trend but is important to avoid the increasing chances of “probiotic overload”.

Perhaps by now, a light bulb is shining over your head and all those little symptoms that have cropped up with your horse has now come together with an “aha!” moment. So, what do you do? First, discontinue the feeds with probiotics in them. Avoid grains and molasses if possible, and stick with the basics. Good hay, grass pellets to mix herbs into, a good mineral mix to support deficiencies in your area, a tablespoon of organic apple cider vinegar and a couple of weeks of patience should see improvement not only in your horse’s attitude but the “smelliness” of a horse with candida overload.

It may take some thought, and some diet redirection, but your horse will thank you for it!


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