Giving foals probiotics may help reduce parasite shedding

US study looks at the effect of probiotics on a horse's parasite burden.
Photo by Fabien Maurin on Unsplash

Probiotics are frequently added to horses’ diets with the goal of promoting a healthy microbial environment in the intestinal tract. But does their use have any effect on the worm burden in the gut?

Research by Dr Robert Jacobs and colleagues at the Purina Animal Nutrition Center in Missouri in the USA suggests that giving probiotics to foals may reduce the number of intestinal parasites they carry.

The research was presented at the 2021 virtual Equine Science Symposium. An abstract is published in the Journal of Equine Veterinary Science.

The researchers said that data from studies in humans and production animals has indicated that certain probiotics may interfere with the physiology of parasites, reducing the overall parasite load.

Twenty-nine quarter horse foals were involved in the study over three consecutive foaling seasons. Fifteen foals chosen at random were given a probiotic paste twice daily for eight days starting two days after being born. Fourteen foals received no probiotic.

Each 35g dose of probiotic paste contained 2.5 × 109 cfu each of B. subtilis, B. infantis, and L. acidophilus.

The groups were managed similarly – being fed twice daily and being turned out into dry lots during the day.

When the foals were 150 days old, the researchers collected faecal samples and analysed for parasite load using a modified Wisconsin Fecal Egg Flotation Method. The foals had not received any anthelmintic before then.

Analysis showed that “foals in the treatment group had fewer strongyle (1.07 vs 4.57/gm of feces; P = 0.02) and roundworm eggs (101.33 vs 216.00/gm of feces; P = 0.01) than those from the control group.”

The authors concluded, “that the administration of the probiotic paste to otherwise identically managed groups of foals may reduce their overall parasite load”.

They suggested that further research was needed to understand the mechanisms by which this is occurring and to determine if these effects persist.

Probiotic administration post-foaling may reduce parasite shedding in foals. R.D.Jacobs, M.L.Jerina, B.A.Tremayne. Journal of Equine Veterinary Science (2021), Volume 100, May 2021, 103565.

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