Straight from the Horse's Stomach

A colicky horse
A colicky horse Carien Schippers

Newsdate: Thursday 24 October 2019 – 11:00 am
Location: GUELPH, Ontario

Horses are highly adapted performance animals, but one unexplained adaptation – a delicate gastrointestinal tract – is their Achilles heel.

Horse rolling on the ground in throes of colicHorse rolling on the ground in throes of colic.

Horse rolling on the ground in throes of colic

In fact, gastrointestinal diseases are the leading cause of death in horses.
© 2016 by Zoom Team

As in humans, horses’ stomachs contain acid to digest and break down their food and mucus to protect the stomach wall against the acid. But for a vaguely inexplicable reason, horses lack mucus in the upper half of their stomach. This causes all sorts of issues, including gastric ulcers.

In fact, gastrointestinal diseases are the leading cause of death in horses.

“If acid splashes up, or their stomach is empty, it can really damage a horse’s stomach,” explains Jennifer MacNicol, a PhD candidate in the Department of Animal Biosciences. “But what if we can keep food in there longer and potentially buffer that splashing, or use nutraceuticals to reduce acid production or increase mucus production?”

Her research seeks to “determine what makes a horse’s gastrointestinal tract tick,” and to investigate the effectiveness of nutraceuticals proposed by industry.

Jennifer, who was awarded a prestigious Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship through the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, is also working to create an in vitro protocol to test nutraceuticals before animal trials.

An in vitro protocol simulates digestion in different compartments of a stomach. She hopes this will be a less invasive way to conduct equine research.

“I think as scientists we have an obligation that if we use live animals, we need to make sure they are the most directed and valuable studies,” Jennifer says. “I want to develop strong and robust in vitro methods so that we can do a lot of things before taking it into the live animal.”

More information on Jennifer’s research is available at

If you enjoyed this article you may also be interested in Equine Guelph's next offering of Gut Health and Colic Prevention  Nov 11 - 29.

Learn more about gut health, assess your management plan and develop preventative strategies to reduce the stresses on your horse's digestive system.

Equine Guelph is the horse owners' and care givers' Centre at the University of Guelph in Canada. It is a unique partnership dedicated to the health and well-being of horses, supported and overseen by equine industry groups. Equine Guelph is the epicentre for academia, industry and government - for the good of the equine industry as a whole. For further information,

Story by: Stephanie Craig - Press release by Jackie Bellamy-Zions, Communications & Administration, Equine Guelph

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