IBD In Horses

Chronic inflammatory bowel diseases, or IBDs, are a group of gastrointestinal (GI) disorders experienced by humans and animals alike. When it comes to IBDs in horses, there is a lack of standardisation in relation to the method of diagnosis.

In horses, IBDs are recognised as an infiltration of the mucosa and submucosa with various forms of inflammatory cells. Although the pathogenesis is still unclear, the resulting bowel inflammation seems to be due to an altered immune reaction to unidentified antigens. As IBDs can be detrimental to your horse’s health, it is important to take the correct steps to ensure your horse lives the happiest, healthiest life possible.

Treatment of IBDs in Horses

The ultimate end goal when treating horses with IBD is to decrease the exposure to potential dietary, parasitic, or environmental antigens. Although there are no standardised or clearly defined indications of what the dietary recommendations should be for horses with IBDs, administering highly digestible, high fibre horse food has been known to improve digestion and absorption. 

Furthermore, corn oil can be added to horse’s ration in the attempt of achieving sufficient levels of energy, while avoiding the excessive use of carbohydrates.

The potential relationship between the management of horse feed and IBD development has been proposed within several equine studies, although these are merely hypothesised notions at this stage and no clear link has been established.

Corticosteroids are often used as the preferred treatment for horses with IBD. In this case, a prolonged tapering course is essential, administered parenterally. Again, it must be noted that there are no standardised or specifically indicated doses and duration of this therapy. It should also be pointed out that systemic administration of corticosteroids in horses has shown to present several unpleasant side effects. These are inclusive of:

  • Adrenocortical suppression/dysfunction
  • Laminitis
  • Hepatopathy
  • Muscle wasting
  • Altered bone metabolism
  • Increased susceptibility to infections

Other treatments have been suggested for horses with different forms of IBD, although none have specifically proven to treat IBDs in their entirety. Further systematic studies are necessary to determine clear guidelines for IBDs in horses. These include:

  • Metronidazole
  • Hydroxyurea
  • Sulfasalazine
  • Azathioprine
  • Chlorambucil
  • Mycophenolate
  • Probiotics
  • Faecal microbioma transplant (FMT)

Prognosis of IBD in Horses

Towards the end of the 20th century, the response to medical treatment for IBDs in horses was not especially successful. Thankfully, in more recent times, this has improved. 65% of horses who suffer with IBD survive at least three years, which is thought to be due to diagnosis of the issue occurring at a much earlier stage, allowing for treatment in a timelier manner, before the disease becomes severe. An association has also been observed between hypoproteinemia and non-survival of horses. This is in cases where horses have a good appetite, yet unfortunately suffer from severe weight loss. Although the complete prognosis for long-term survival in horses with IBD has seen an improvement in recent years, it must be reiterated that there are no detailed markers, and each horse should receive a full individual evaluation for the best chance of survival.