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Liver Disease in Horses - A gut imbalance along the ‘’gut-liver axis’’?

Updated: Feb 29

Liver disease in horses refers to a range of conditions that affect the liver's normal function, impacting the horse's overall health. This blog article discusses how the gut-liver axis may have a role in equine liver disease, and what horse owners can do to help protect the horse’s liver.

What Causes Liver Disease in Horses?

Liver disease in horses is thought to be most often caused by exposure to toxic plants, toxins in or infection. Horses with liver disease may have low blood protein concentrations, especially albumin.

But could the gut-liver axis be an underlying and neglected primary cause?

The Role of the Equine Gut-Liver Axis

An overgrowth of pathogenic bacteria together with a decrease in the good gut bacteria forming the “resistome” increase the opportunities for the bad bacteria or bacteria toxins to translocate from the gut into the liver and on through the lymphatic/portal circulation system. 

Bacteria with translocating potential tend to live (colonise) within the deep layer of the mucus gel of the crypts. The term bacterial translocation was first used in 1979, describing the passage of viable bacteria from the gut through the epithelial mucosa into the lamina propria and then to the mesenteric lymph nodes (MLN) to the liver and other organs. Since then, knowledge of how pathogenic bacteria impact health through this axis has grown rapidly.

With 16S rRNA real time technology, ‘pools’ of pathogenic translocating bacteria such as bartonella, borrelia and leptospira have been detected in the guts of bats, squirrels, wild mammals and cattle, increasing the opportunity for cross contamination to the equine from ingesting urine/faeces polluted grass/ground. 

Clearly it isn’t possible to prevent re-contamination from environmental pollution, but it is possible to feed the bacteria that form the “resistome”. These bacteria (roseburia, eubacteria) are the guards along the gut wall, helping to prevent a potential “break out”. The best two herbs to help feed the “resistome” and protect the liver from pathogenic translocation are Wild  Peppermint (watermint) and Oregano.

Wild is Better Than Cultivated

Wild peppermint is a cross between watermint and spearmint. It has longer flower heads, and any wild mint will contain the volatile oils/compounds needed to feed the bacteria of the “resistome”.

Peppermint has 0.3–0.4% of volatile oil of which menthol makes up 7–48%, menthone 20–46%, menthyl acetate 3–10%, menthofuran 1–17% and 1,8-cineol 3–6%. Peppermint also contains limonene, pulegone, caryophyllene and pinene.

The best way to feed wild peppermint is to dry it and add 25g daily to the horse’s daily feed or cut some fresh and include it in a selection that you provide to your horse each day. Having a selection of other plants allows him the opportunity to self-select.

How the EquiBiome Test Can Help

The EquiBiome Test can help horse owners understand how diverse their horse’s microbiome is, as well as the levels of different types of bacteria (good and bad) that are present in the hind gut. The results and report can allow horse owners to be better informed regarding what and how to feed their horses, based on their individual needs. 

Our case studies section provides numerous examples of how we have helped horse owners uncover useful insights into their horses’ gut health. If you are ready to learn more about your horse’s microbiome, visit our online shop to order an EquiBiome Test Kit today. 

wild mint
Wild mint feeds the bacteria that form the 'resistome'

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