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Understanding the Negative Effects of High Starch Diet
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Understanding the Negative Effects of High Starch Diet

When taking care of horses, mustangs, and other equine animals, one of the things that caretakers should greatly consider is diet. It is extremely essential to know the dos and don’ts when it comes to feeding them and the food they can or cannot eat.

According to a recent study, a high starch diet has negative effects on horses. The study revealed that the diet can:

  • greatly disturb the gut or stomach microbiotic activity and composition
  • increase the animal’s risk of colic, which is a severe, frequently fluctuating pain in the abdomen as a result of the accumulation of intestinal gas or intestinal obstruction
  • negatively affect the stress response of the horse as well as its behavior

Dr. Alexandra Destrez, a PhD Lecturer at AgroSup Dijon, an Ecole d'Ingénieurs or Faculty of Engineering specialized in Food Science and Technology, the intestinal microbiota interacts with the nervous system. That is why any modification or alteration of the microbiota may directly affect or alter the behavior of the horse.

To further determine and understand the negative effects of a high starch diet, researchers tried to investigate the extent of behavioral changes caused by intestinal stress. They employed six healthy castrated male horses, or geldings which have been previously affixed with a surgically-made passageway to the digestive system, known as a fistula.

For three 3-week periods, the horses were fed twice daily with a couple of energy-equivalent diets. A five-day transition period was implemented between the first three-week period and the second. Comprised of 100% grass or hay, Diet H was given to the horses for the first and third periods. Diet HB, with only 57% hay and 43% barley, the high starch diet, was provided on the second period.

Bloods samples were collected during week 2 of each period and colonic and cecal samples were taken during week 3 of each period in order to monitor the effects of the diets on the physiological status of the horses. For the analysis of the behavior changes of the animals over the course of the study, the researchers put each of the geldings through two different tests during week 2 of each period:

  • Test for sociability – each horse was introduced to an unfamiliar horse
  • Test for novel stimulus – each horse was placed in an arena wherein buckets of pellets are stationed on the opposite side

With the samples, the researchers found out that white blood cell concentrations were higher on the HB diet indicating hind gut acidosis. With the tests conducted, the team confirmed that microbial disturbances, or the modification of the intestinal microbiota, induced by the high starch diet resulted to an alteration in the stress response and behavior of the horses.

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