Aged horses and gut microbiota

Published on 2024-06-24

The Impact of Age on the Equine Microbiome: Understanding Changes and Promoting Healthy Aging

Changes in the Equine Microbiome with Age

In horses aged 6 to 30 years, who have lived in the same environment and possess adequate dentition to consume their diet, it has been observed that the richness and diversity of gut bacterial communities decline with age. These changes involve not just a decrease in the quantity of bacteria but a complete reorganization of microbial communities. This means that some bacterial species disappear or become less abundant, while others take their place.

Fibrolytic activity, essential for fiber digestion, remains present in the feces of older horses. However, it also undergoes a reorganization with age. This adaptation can be seen as a compensatory mechanism to maintain effective digestion despite changes in the microbiome.

The Importance of Health and Aging

One of the main limitations of the study is the lack of data on the general health status of the horses studied. Without information on the horses' frailty or metabolic disorders, it is difficult to determine whether the observed changes in the microbiome are solely related to age or also influenced by pathological conditions.

Understanding the normal parameters of the microbiome in healthy older horses is crucial. This would allow identifying changes in the fecal microbiome that could predispose horses to health problems. By determining the characteristics of a healthy microbiome, researchers could better prevent pathological conditions by intervening early.

Finding the Critical Age for Studying the Microbiome

A major challenge of this research was determining if there is a critical age at which it becomes relevant to study the horse microbiome. According to available data, it appears that the dispersion of microbiome parameters increases significantly between 16 and 20 years. This suggests that from this age onwards, some horses start to show extremes in their microbiome composition, which could indicate increased vulnerabilities.

This new understanding could allow for interventions before this critical age. For example, a suitable diet or the administration of biotics, such as prebiotics, probiotics, and postbiotics, could positively influence the microbiome. These interventions could thus promote healthy aging and reduce the risk of pathological conditions reported by horse owners.

Strategies to Maintain a Healthy Microbiome

  • Balanced Diet: A diet rich in fiber and tailored to the specific needs of older horses can help maintain a balanced and functional microbiome. Foods containing prebiotics can encourage the growth of beneficial bacteria.

  • Administration of Probiotics: Probiotics are live microorganisms that, when administered in adequate amounts, provide health benefits. In horses, they can help enhance microbial diversity and prevent imbalances associated with aging.

  • Regular Health Monitoring: Regular monitoring of horses' health, including microbiome analysis, can allow early detection of changes that might indicate imminent health problems.

  • Stable Environment: A stable environment, with consistent feeding and care routines, can reduce stress in horses and help maintain a healthy microbiome.


Changes in the microbiome in older horses are a significant indicator of their overall health and their ability to age healthily. By better understanding how the microbiome evolves with age and identifying early signs of imbalances, horse owners can take proactive measures to ensure a better quality of life for their animals. An appropriate diet and the use of biotics are promising strategies to positively influence the microbiome and promote healthy aging in horses.

Continuing research in this field will make it possible to define targeted interventions that will not only prevent diseases but also extend life and improve the well-being of aging horses.


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