Exploring the equine microbiome: Changing the game for horse health

A new project aims to increase knowledge of the equine microbiome to improve overall horse health.
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Understanding the microbiome has long been a focus of researchers across the globe, and it isn’t just human health researchers who are trying to increase knowledge of this complex system.

Animal health is also driven by the microbiome in a variety of ways. Horse health, in particular, can be affected by subtle changes to the microbiome and these effects are not yet fully understood.

Jenifer Nadeau, associate professor of animal science in the University of Connecticut’s College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources, has received a $US25,000 grant from the Office of the Vice President for Research’s Research Excellence Program to investigate the effects of changes in the gut microbiome of horses as a means of parasite prevention.

Common practices in equine care encourage rotational deworming based on factors such as age or geographic location. It can be overwhelming for horse owners to navigate the myriad conflicting recommendations when it comes to deworming products and schedules for their equine partners. Additionally, horses are prone to developing resistance to common treatments of internal parasites.

Current research suggests that negative changes to horses’ microbiomes can increase parasitic load. Additionally, regular de-worming practices have shown negative effects on the equine microbiome.

“This grant will enable us to further explore the impact of parasitic load on the equine microbiome,” Nadeau told the university’s online publication UConn Today.

The proposed study will investigate the relationship between the equine gut microbiome, hematology and parasite load. The goal is to understand how the gut microbiome affects a horse’s predilection to parasitic infections.

It will look specifically at strongyles, a common equine parasite, and how microbiome changes can affect how susceptible horses are to this parasite. This research will inform future research grant proposals for Nadeau’s lab related to strategies for controlling parasites in horses.

If Nadeau and her lab can shed light on the effects of improving equine microbiome health, the best practices for parasite control might be altered to decrease costs of care and improve overall health.

Understanding how the equine microbiome is affected by different factors can have positive impacts on this complex problem in the equestrian world.

Nadeau expressed her gratitude for the grant. She holds a Ph.D. in Animal Science from the University of Tennessee. Her research interests include improving equine health through evaluation of best practices, selective deworming, and dietary interventions.

Michelle Lewis

Michelle Lewis is with the University of Connecticut's College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources

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