BMC Vet Res. 2022 Sep 8;18(1):338. doi: 10.1186/s12917-022-03433-y.
BACKGROUND: The conventional feeding management of horses is still characterized by high starch and low fibre diets, which can negatively affect horse’s gastrointestinal health. Thus, the aim of this study was to compare the effects of a high-starch (HS) vs. a high-fibre (HF) diet on gut health in horses. A total of 19 Bardigiano horses destined for slaughter and aged 14.3 ± 0.7 months were randomly allotted to two dietary groups: HS (5 fillies and 4 colts,) and HF group (7 fillies and 3 colts). They received the same first-cut meadow hay but different complementary feeds for 72 days: HS group was fed 8 kg/animal/day of a starch-rich complementary feed while HF group was fed 3.5 kg/animal/day of a fibre-rich complementary feed. At slaughter, stomachs were separated and washed for the evaluation of the glandular and squamous regions. Also, duodenum, jejunum, ileum, apex of the caecum, sternal flexure, pelvic flexure, right dorsal colon, rectum and liver were excised and submitted to histomorphometrical evaluation.
RESULTS: The glandular region of HS group presented more severe gastric mucosa lesions compared to the HF group (P = 0.006). Moreover, a statistical tendency (P = 0.060) was found for the squamous region, presenting a higher score in HS than HF diet. Regarding morphometry, in jejunum villus height to crypt depth (Cd) ratio was influenced by sex, being greater in males than in females (P = 0.037) while in ileum Cd depended on interaction between sex and diet, being greater in males of HS group (P = 0.029). Moreover, in the duodenum and right dorsal colon the severity of the inflammation depended on sex (P = 0.024 and 0.050), being greater in females than in males. On the contrary, in the jejunum and in the pelvic flexure, inflammation was influenced by diet, being more severe in HS than in HF group (P = 0.024 and 0.052).
CONCLUSIONS: These results suggested that HS diet provoked more severe mucosa lesions in the glandular region of the stomach and a higher inflammation both in the jejunum and pelvic flexure. The present study can represent a starting point for further investigations on gut health in horses.