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The Horse's Digestive System

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Jessica Theis

on 16 February 2013

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Transcript of The Horse's Digestive System

The Horse's Digestive System Horses are classified as having a monogastric digestive system. This means that after the food they have eaten travels down the esophagus, there is only one stomach that it passes through. This is referred to to as a "simple stomach." They are also considered herbivores, which means that their digestive system is designed to eat plants, which makes up all of their diet. Their entire digestive system contains twelve main parts all having a specific role in digestion. Mouth:
Their feed is normally fed as fresh pasture, long hay, or variations of stored feed. In order for the horse to even start the digestive process, their mouth needs to be in good working condition including all thirty six teeth. The function of the eighteen teeth on top and the eighteen teeth on the bottom is to grab and grind the food down into a size that is small enough to be swallowed. While chewing the food saliva is also released aiding in the chemical digestion and moistening of the food for easy passage down the esophagus. Esophagus:
The esophagus is a long, muscular tube that connects the mouth to the stomach. After the horse has swallowed the food in its mouth, it is forced down the esophagus by a movement known as peristalsis, or a continued wave action that takes place in the throat and pushes the food down. As said before, the saliva that was released in the mouth also aids this process making the food slide down easier. Stomach:
The stomach of the horse is quite small percentage wise compared to the rest of the digestive system. At the very top of the stomach is a very strong flap that does not allow any toxic fluids come up the esophagus. Because of this, the horse has no way to regurgitate its food, this could be a problem because the normal capacity of the stomach is only approximately 9 liters, if it fills to much it could burst and cause instant death. The horse's stomach is so delicate that even missing a feeding could cause a colic, or digestive upset.
The stomach of the horse has be researched over time and it has been found that it is to the benefit of the horse to be fed several small meals a day, rather than one large meal once a day.
The rate of passage of the ingested food through the stomach is a very short time. Even though the impact the stomach has on the food digesting is mostly acid hydrolysis, which turns proteins into amino acids, and enzymatic digestion of the proteins, there is a lot of lactic acid, which occurs when carbohydrates break down to be used for energy, that is produced as a result from the fermentation of the sugars from the plants and forage that were consumed. Small Intestine/Pancreas/Liver:
The small intestine is composed of three main parts; the duodenum, the jejunum, and the ileum. The small intestine is approximately 21 feet long and has a capacity of about 56 liters. This organ is always receiving a constant flow of pancreatic juices that aids in its constant state of digestion. The small intestine does most of the digestion compared to the rest of the digestive system. It breaks down the carbohydrates, proteins, and fats even though most of this starts already in the stomach. The rate at which the food ingested passes through the stomach and small intestine is very fast. If too much food is taken in all at once, the food starts to ferment in too large of amounts causing excessive gas or a build up of lactic acid.
The pancreas is located in the beginning of the small intestine, folded into the duodenum. This organ secretes digestive juices that act as buffers which neutralize the hydrochloric acid from the stomach. The liquid that was secreted also has important enzymes that help the small intestine break down proteins, carbohydrates, and fats, but not cellulose.
The liver secretes bile which has salts that helps prepare the fats for digestion in the small intestine. In most animals the bile that the liver creates is stored in the gall bladder, but the horse lacks a gall bladder so it goes directly into the duodenum. Cecum/Large Intestine:
The cecum is located right between the small intestine and the large intestine. In humans it is referred to as the appendix. In the horse it measures about one meter and has a volume of about 30 liters. It makes up 25% to 30% of the digestive tract. It contains billions of bacteria and protozoa that help the digestive process especially in the digestion of cellulose and other very fibrous material. If these microbes ever get off balance it can cause major gas build up in the horse which then creates tremendous pain, otherwise known as caecal tympany. If this gas build up then passes to the large bowel, it can cause it to float and flip. These microbes also make vitamins B and K which are required for the horse to reach its maximum potential.
After the material leaves the small intestine, it enters the cecum directly. Here the food ferments like in the forestomach of ruminants. After the digestion is completed here, it then enters the large colon. Large Colon/Small Colon:
While passing through the large colon the food moves rather slow because it turns back on itself many times. The three times it loops back on itself are called sternal flexure, pelvic flexure, and diaphragmatic flexure, all before it empties into the small colon. It is about 3 or 4 meters long and and about 25 centimeters in diameter. This organ has the ability to turn and flip back how ever it wants and if the grassy feed becomes dried out the colon can twist and end up cutting off its own blood supply. Because the horse's digestive system is mainly designed to digest grasses and hay this problem can be avoided if fed the correct diet. Here, the large colon also absorbs the water taken in through the food. If the horse were to ever get dehydrated, it could cause major problems and has a higher risk of blockage of forage.
The small colon is where the large colon narrows and where a blockage may occur causing a colic. It measures about 10 feet in length. The Rectum:
The rectum is a relatively straight tube that measures about a foot in length. It serves as a storage area for the fecal products the body did not find necessary to absorb for nutrients. After it gets so full, a nervous stimulation tells the body it needs to be released out the anus. The Anus:
The anus is the junction of the last part of the digestive tract and the skin and is where the fecal matter is released. Works Cited Extra Facts:
The horse is designed to eat small portions throughout the day.
They also consume about 2.5%-3% of their body weight daily with a minimum of 1%.
Forage should be a half of all food consumed, but depends on many factors such as weight, age, gender, mobility, and activity. Burk, Amy. “Teaching Basic Equine Nutrition Part II: Equine Digestive Anatomy and Physiology.” umd.edu. Maryland Cooperative Extension. Web. 7 Feb 2013. <http://extension.umd.edu/publications/pdfs/fs847b.pdf> “Equine Digestion.” merricks.com. Merrick’s, Inc. Web. 29 Jan 2013. <http://www.merricks.com/digestion.html> Jackson, Stephen G. “Digestive Tract of the Horse-Practical Considerations.” ker.com. Kentucky Equine Research, Inc. Web. 29 Jan 2013. <http://www.ker.com/library/advances/101.pdf> Tisch, David A. Animal Feeds, Feeding and Nutrition, and Ration Evaluation. Cengage Learning, 2006. Print. “Understanding Horse Nutrition.” understanding-horse-nutrition.com. 2008. Web. 1 Feb 2013. <http://www.understanding-horse-nutrition.com/horse-digestive-system.html> “What Causes Colic?” vetprofessionals.com. Web. 30 Jan 2013. <http://www.vetprofessionals.com/horseprofessional/downloads/colic_sample.pdf>
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