miércoles, 31 de marzo de 2010

The horse digestive system

The equine digestive tract is large, complex,
functions like a factory, yet is exceedingly
delicate. Digestive tract dysfunction
is an important concern for hosre owners
and veterinarians, and life-threatening
problems can secondarily develop, including
sepsis (the presence of bacteria or bacterial
toxins in the blood) and laminitis.
Structure of the Digestive System
The equine digestive system includes
structures involved in the reception, reduction,
digestion, absorption, and elimination
of food. It begins with the lips and oral
cavity, including the teeth, tongue, and accessory
structures such as salivary glands,
the oropharynx, hard and soft palates,
and the larynx. The esophagus extends
from just dorsal to (above) the larynx to
the stomach—a distance of approximately
50 to 60 inches. The stomach is relatively
small and rapidly empties food into the
small intestines (the duodenum, jejunum,
and ileum). The entire small intestine is approximately
70 feet long and only 4 inches
in diameter. The liver and pancreas both
have ducts that enter the small intestine to
deliver bile and digestive enzymes, respectively.
The ileum enters the cecum, which
is approximately four feet long, one foot in
diameter, and has a capacity of 10 gallons.
The remainder of the large intestine has an
approximate length of 12 feet and a diameter
of 10 inches. The digestive tract ends
with the rectum and anus.
To sum up, the route of the GI tract is
the stomach, duodenum, jejunum, ileum,
cecum, right ventral colon, left ventral colon,
left dorsal colon, right dorsal colon,
transverse colon, descending colon, and
Function of the Digestive System
From stem to stern, the digestive system
is essentially a muscular tube that propels
food in the oral to anal direction, breaking
down food particles and absorbing nutrients
along the way. Horses are grazing animals
and hindgut fermenters. As a result,
the stomach is small and the large intestines
are large. Digestion begins in the oral cavity
when the food is masticated (chewed)
and mixed with enzyme-containing saliva.
Once swallowed, the food is further, albeit
briefly, broken down in the stomach by
the action of stomach acid before being
propelled into the small intestines. In the
small intestine, the liver and pancreas secrete
bile and digestive enzymes to further
break down the food particles into their basic
components: carbohydrates, fats, and
proteins. These compounds are absorbed
from the small intestines along with vitamins
and minerals.
The remaining ingesta—the fibrous or
starchy components of forage—are passed
into the large colon, where they are broken
down by microbes (bacteria and protozoa).
The resultant breakdown products (volatile
fatty acids and lactic acid) are used by the
horse, as well as nutrients such as B vitamins
produced by the resident microbes.
When Things Go Wrong
Considering the length and complexity
of the digestive tract, it is not surprising
that anatomic and functional dysfunctions
can have a profound impact on the horse.
Some of the more common problems include
oral problems, choke, gastric ulcers,
and intestinal problems (including colic
and diarrhea).
Infectious agents can also wreak havoc
on a horse’s digestive system. This can be
as mild and relatively easily managed as
intestinal parasite infestations (e.g., roundworms,
bots, tapeworms, and small and
large strongyles) to the development of
profuse, watery, and fatal diarrhea caused
by such bacterial species as Salmonella or
What Can Go Wrong?
Colic This horse-sized “belly ache” is a
major concern for horse owners and vets.
Intestinal problems can occur anywhere
along the length of the intestinal tract. If
the problem occurs in the large intestines,
a rectal examination might be able to help
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diagnose the cause of the colic and guide
treatment options. For example, horses
with a simple displacement of the large intestine
or a mild impaction could be managed
medically. In contrast, horses with
a twist in the intestine generally require
emergency surgery.
Gastric ulcers Recent studies have shown
that within just three days of a stress condition,
a horse can develop gastric ulcers.
One researcher noted that for gastric ulcers
to develop there needs to be exposure
to hydrochloric acid (digestive juices of
the stomach), volatile fatty acids (VFAs,
fermentation byproducts of sugar sources
found in hay or grain), and bile acids (reflux
from the small intestine). Researchers
have found with just three to four hours
of exposure to these substances, tissue resistance
in the stomach lining dramatically
decreases. If acid exposure continues, the
tissue begins to slough, with severe damage
within 12 hours. Incidence of gastric
ulcers ranges from 10% to more than 90%,
depending on the horse, its environment,
and its activities.
Colonic ulcers These arise in the hindgut
of the GI tract and can cause digestive and
health problems. Buffering the equine
hindgut could counteract adverse effects
from rapidly fermentable pasture fructans
and/or grain. Ulcers of any kind can become
eroded to the degree that they cause
bleeding into the GI tract and reduce the
amount of nutrients the horse can absorb.
Available Diagnostics
Due to the large size of the horse and
the small size of the veterinarian and his
equipment, diagnosing a problem in the
intestinal tract can be challenging. Endoscopy,
passing a nasogastric tube, and performing
a rectal examination are important
diagnostic techniques, but they can
only assess a fraction of the entire digestive
system. X rays are sometimes useful.
Other diagnostic tools used to diagnose
digestive system dysfunction include a
complete physical examination, routine
blood work (complete blood count and
blood biochemistry), blood gas levels, fecal
tests (e.g., to diagnose diarrhea causes
such as Clostridium spp.), ultrasound of
the intestines to detect displacement, torsion,
or thickening of the walls, abdominocentesis
(analysis of the fluid in the
abdominal cavity to assess inflammation
or infection), fluoroscopy, and radiographs
(e.g., for horses suspected of sand colic).
Treatment and Prognosis
Treatment and prognosis are highly variable
because of the wide variety of problems
that can occur along the digestive
tract. This means treatment and prognosis
are generally determined on a case-by-case
basis. h
Fast Facts
■ The equine digestive tract is large, complex,
delicate, and functions like a factory.
■ The digestive system includes all structures
involved in the reception, reduction, digestion,
absorption, and elimination of food.
■ The digestive system is essentially a muscular
tube that propels food in the oral to anal
direction, breaking down food particles
and absorbing nutrients along the way.
■ Some of the more common problems that
can occur in the digestive system include
choke, colic, gastric ulcers, colonic ulcers,
and diarrhea.
■ Life-threatening complications such as
sepsis and laminitis can develop secondary
to intestinal dysfunction.
Fact Sheet
Now you can be sure, easily
and affordably, with the
new SUCCEED® Equine Fecal
Blood Test.™
Before you spend money on expensive
digestive health products
and treatments, ask your vet to test
all your horses with the SUCCEED
Equine Fecal Blood Test. You’ll see
which horses have a condition in the
foregut, the hindgut, or both, in a
matter of minutes.

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