The body’s immune system is what protects it from pathogens, viruses, and bacteria. The stronger the immune system, the less likely the horse will fall ill. To recover well from physical exertion, a strong immunity is necessary, as heavy exertion can be taxing on the immune system. Although the immune system is invisible, it plays an important role in the horse’s well-being. The immune system is constantly working to quickly fight off threats to the body. In this article we talk you through this very important system! In the end we have 5 tips for you to boost the immunity of your horse!
The immune system consists of a network of white blood cells, antibodies, and other substances that fight off infections and reject foreign proteins. In addition, the immune system includes several organs; the thymus, gut, lymphatic system, white blood cells, bone marrow, antibodies, mucous membranes, skin, spleen, and liver. These elements interact to form the immune system, with everything managed by the thymus.
The primary role of the immune system is to defend the body against pathogens that invade or attack it. The white blood cells are the first line of defence, the foot soldiers of the immune system and they will attack any recognised invading microorganisms (such as viruses), chemical agents, or other foreign substances. Should they fail the second line of defence begins to work; antibodies. These work on specific intruders, with different antibodies defending the body against different attacks. The healthy the immune system the more antibodies can recognise and attack foreign invaders.
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A horse’s physical natural defences are not the only influences on its resistance to pathogens: its mental health also plays an important role. Consider stress, which can have a huge impact on a horse’s immune system. Always keep an eye on your horse’s mental condition. Ensure adequate turnout and social contact and avoid conditions that lead to boredom and frustration. Your horse’s natural defences depend on its physical and psychological health.
How can we help?
How do we as horse owners support the equine immune system? The answer is simple: with good nutrition.
The horse’s antibodies need to stay healthy with a regular supply of:
- Macro and Micronutrients (vitamins, minerals and trace elements that influence the system)
- Antioxidants (like vitamin C, Vit E, bètacarotene)
- Omega 3 Fatty Acids
- Extracts & essential oils from plants that support immunity (like tea tree, dandelion, nettle leaf, …)
It is also important to understand the gastrointestinal tract is where most components of the immune system are based. The horse’s good bacteria within the microbiome stimulate the production of immune cells and boosts immunity in many tissues. So digestive health is important and that comes from feeding quality fibre. A healthy gut means your horse will have a healthy immune system.
The development of a healthy digestive system begins shortly after birth. When the foal drinks the mare’s colostrum, the first antibodies enter the blood and the first bacteria enter the large intestine, including the bacteria that settle there, called bacterial flora or microflora. These enter the intestine through the mother’s milk or when the foal ingests horse faeces. The gut’s immune system must first recognise this microflora so that it can later distinguish clearly between pathogenic and non-pathogenic bacteria in the gut.
Five Top Tips to Strengthen the Immunity
- Give your horse ample amounts of high-quality roughage. Roughage contains fibre, an essential nutrient for gut flora.
- Give your horse vitamins and minerals. Vitamins and minerals provide important protective substances. They keep systems running and deliver enzymes which in turn “destroy” harmful Pathogens. It is important that they be taken in through feed since the horse’s body cannot produce them itself.
- Be sure to provide adequate energy and proteins. Every horse needs energy and proteins, and both are important for a well-functioning immune system.
- Supplement feed rations with pre- and probiotics. These support good health and strengthen the body’s immune system through their positive effects on gut flora. Prebiotics are fuel for healthy bacteria in the large intestine. Probiotics are bacteria that help to correct gut flora imbalances. They support good bacteria which in turn fight bad bacteria.
- Make sure your horse gets enough rest after intense workouts. Give your horse enough opportunities to move around freely and have contact with other horses. This will have positive effects on the animal’s mental health.
Want to know more about immunity? You can read more detailed articles here. Need personal advice about your horse’s nutrition? Call 0032 92202525 CET or visit mycavalor.com.