The microflora in the hindgut are responsible for fermentation. This microflora is sensitive to changes in diet. An overload of high-sugar type feeds or high levels of fructan can upset the normal population of bacteria, changing the environment within the hindgut that causes a cascade of problems. Typically, grain and concentrate rations are higher in sugar and starch than forages. When horses are on a ration or diet that has a high sugar and starch content, it can have dramatic effects on the digestive physiology such as:
There is less chewing, less saliva produced, more acidic contents in the stomach, and possibly more gas or development of gastric ulcers. The ingested feed moves faster through the small intestine; more sugar/starch substrate enters the hindgut upon which abnormal bacteria feed and proliferate. The bacteria that feed on sugar and starch grow rapidly, causing normal gut bacteria to die and bringing about inflammatory changes in the gut. The dying bacteria give off endotoxins that are absorbed into the bloodstream. This can potentially lead to laminitis. These changes can result in abdominal pain, inflammatory disease and digestive upset. Thus colic is another possible consequence. The sugar and starch is absorbed rapidly from the small intestine, resulting in an elevated blood glucose level and a subsequent increase in insulin in the blood.
On a roughage diet, the horse normally produces up to 10 gallons of saliva a day, which has a tremendous capacity to buffer stomach acids. If the stomach becomes more acidic than it should be (which happens on a high-grain diet or with infrequent feeding), gas is produced by bacterial fermentation. The horse is incapable of belching, so the result can be pain, colic or in severe situations stomach wall rupture.
Feed can take up to three days to travel through the hindgut. It is important for ingested feed to spend the majority of the time in the hindgut. If ingested (feed) moves through faster than normal as a result of too much sugar, proper digestion and fermentation does not happen and there are serious consequences, the most serious being laminitis and colic.
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