The University of Guelph has become a Canadian hub for gut health research in horses, and PhD student Shannon Stanley is eager to add to this research with her upcoming work. Shannon, who started her PhD in the Animal Biosciences department at Guelph earlier this fall, plans to look at leaky gut in horses. Leaky gut is a topic of interest to researchers and the medical community in other species, but is only just starting to be investigated in horses. Shannon hopes to address this gap with her project looking at links between nutrition and leaky gut.

What is leaky gut in horses?

Healthy intestines act as a barrier to keep the ‘bad stuff’, like pathogens and toxins, from entering a horse’s body. When intestines become ‘leaky’, this barrier is no longer effective, and the pathogens and toxins can slip through. Shannon explains “The leaking of these toxins and pathogens, and the body’s reactions to them, is thought to cause decreased performance and the development of diseases in horses.” The causes of leaky gut in horses include changes to the bugs (microbiota) in the horse’s gut through diet or other causes, diseases, and obstructions and infections in the intestinal tract.

What will the leaky gut research project involve?

Shannon plans to focus her research on potential relationships between nutrition and leaky gut in horses. Her research project will investigate the effects that nutritional supplements have on Gastro Intestinal (GI) transit time in healthy horses. After looking at the results in healthy horses, the next steps may include looking at GI transit time in horses with leaky gut syndrome. Shannon states, “This research will give scientists and veterinarians insight into nutritional approaches that may help prevent and/or treat leaky gut in horses.”

Stay tuned with Equine Guelph to hear more about Shannon’s project, and learn more about equine gut health by taking Equine Guelph’s upcoming short course on Gut Health and Colic Prevention from November 12 – 30th, 2018.