What Kind Of Digestive System Does A Horse Have? (Solution)

People often wonder how many stomachs does a horse have, but the horse is a non-ruminant herbivore. Non-ruminant means that horses do not have multi-compartmented stomachs as cattle do. Instead, the horse has a simple stomach that works much like a human’s. Herbivore means that horses live on a diet of plant material.

What type of digestive system do horses have?

  • The mature horse’s large intestine makes up more than half of the total volume of the digestive tract, is important for microbial digestion of food and is a major reservoir for water. The foal and growing horse have undeveloped cecal and colonic digestion as compared to the adult horse.

What is the digestive system of a horse?

The horse’s gastrointestinal tract consists of the mouth, esophagus, stomach, small intestine and the highly developed large intestine composed of the caecum, large colon, small colon and rectum (figure 1). Anatomical features of the mouth include the teeth, tongue and salivary glands.

Is a horse monogastric or ruminant?

The horse is a non-ruminant herbivore. These animals do not have a multi-compartmented stomach as cattle do, but are able to consume and digest forage. The cecum and colon, parts of the large intestine, serve the somewhat same purpose for the horse that the rumen does for the cow.

Is horse a monogastric animal?

Horses and rabbits are modified monogastric herbivores. Horses are able to utilize large amounts of roughage due to their relatively large cecum. The cecum is a section of the colon where digestive bacteria break down roughage.

What type of digestive system do pigs and horses have?

Digestion is the process by which large, complex nutrient molecules are broken down into simpler molecules capable of being used by the organism for food. Humans, swine, rabbits, chickens and horses all have a simple stomach, which is also known as a monogastric digestive system.

How many stomachs do horse have?

You may think all herbivore animals including horses have a similar digestive system, but that’s not true! A horse has only one compartment in its stomach, that is it has only one stomach. They have a non-ruminant digestive process, which is much complex when compared to other non-ruminants.

How does a horse’s circulatory system work?

The Complete Circulatory System in the Horse It has four chambers, two atria that sit above two ventricles separated by four valves. Blood returning from the body enters the right side of the heart and the deoxygenated red blood cells (RBCs) fill the right atrium. Veins travel from the tissues back to the heart.

How do horses digest cellulose?

Cellulose and related molecules pass through the small gut intact, although such plant material may be softened and swollen prior to entry into the cecum. The large intestine of horses and other hindgut fermenters is a fermentation system analagous to the rumen.

What is the anatomy of a horse?

The horse’s body (like every mammal’s body e.g. human) consists mostly of the head, neck, legs, and torso. The two basic parts of the head are the top one (cerebral), and the bottom one (viscerocranium). Unlike humans, horses have a long muzzle, wide nostrils, flexible ears, and much bigger eyes.

Why can’t horses vomit?

Horses don’t throw up either. The reasons they can’t are related to their physiology and anatomy as well. Horses also have a weak gag reflex. And finally, their anatomy, with the stomach and esophagus joined at a lower angle than in many animals, would make it difficult for vomit to travel up and out of a horse.

What does the cecum do in horses?

The equine cecum serves as a storage site for water and electrolytes. Fiber consumption can increase water consumption, and the extra water is held in the cecum until absorption. The additional water adds some weight to your horse, but it helps replace crucial electrolytes lost from heavy sweating.

What animal has 7 stomachs?

Why do cows have 7 stomachs? The four compartments of a cow’s stomach are the rumen, reticulum, omasum, and abomasum. Grasses and other roughage that cows eat are hard to break down and digest, which is why cows have specialized compartments.

What animal has the same digestive system as a horse?

The rabbit digestive tract greatly resembles that of a horse. Both are “hind-gut fermenters,” meaning that they have an organ called the “cecum” that functions much like the rumen of a cow, but instead of being at the beginning of the digestive tract it is at the end.

What animals have an avian digestive system?

The avian digestive system is found in poultry. This system differs greatly from any other type. Since poultry do not have teeth, there is no chewing. Poultry break their feed into pieces small enough to swallow by pecking with their beaks or scratching with their feet.

What animals have a ruminant digestive system?

ruminant, (suborder Ruminantia), any mammal of the suborder Ruminantia (order Artiodactyla), which includes the pronghorns, giraffes, okapis, deer, chevrotains, cattle, antelopes, sheep, and goats. Most ruminants have a four-chambered stomach and two-toed feet.

Understanding the Horse Digestive System – SmartPak

Dr. Lydia Gray contributed to this article.

  • Basic Anatomy
  • The Equine Digestive Process
  • Equine Digestive Problems
  • Equine Digestive Disorders

Basic Anatomy

Foregut and hindgut are the two main portions of the horse gastrointestinal system, which can be split into two sub-sections. Both the stomach and small intestine make up the foregut; the hindgut or big intestine is made up of the cecum and colon, which are located in the hindgut. Equines’ stomachs are only capable of holding 2-3 gallons at a time, making them the smallest of all our domestic animals in terms of stomach capacity in comparison to body size. Food can remain in the stomach for as short as 15-30 minutes or as long as 12 hours, depending on how large the meal is and what it includes (for example, hay vs.

  • liquid).
  • The top third or so of the stomach, referred known as the “non-glandular zone,” is where 80 percent of stomach ulcers originate because it does not have the same level of acid protection as the lower, glandular section of the stomach.
  • It is approximately 70 feet in length and is divided into three sections: the duodenum, the jejunum, and finally the ileum.
  • The cecum is the first stop on the way to the large intestine from the small intestine.
  • It is around 4 feet long and carries 8 gallons of fermenting liquid.
  • The time required to transit through the whole hindgut might range from less than 1 day to as much as 3 days.

The Equine Digestive Process

The tasks performed at the front of the gastrointestinal system vs the duties performed in the rear of the GI tract are vastly different, and hence it makes sense to devote specific attention to each portion of the GI tract.

Foregut digestion

As soon as the meal has been collected, chewed, and swallowed, the stomach goes into action. The stomach’s primary functions are to add gastric acid to aid in the breakdown of food, to secrete the enzyme pepsinogen to begin protein digestion, and to regulate the passage of food into the small intestine. The stomach is comprised of three chambers: the upper chamber, the lower chamber, and the lower chamber. To put it another way, the stomach functions as a holding and mixing tank, similar to a cement truck that is continually churning and combining materials.

The small intestine is also the primary location of nutrition absorption once the nutrients have been broken down to a small enough size.

While traveling through the small intestine, amino acids, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, and fats are absorbed into the body. As a result, progress should neither be excessively quick or excessively sluggish.

Hindgut digestion

More than breaking down food into smaller, absorbable particles with the help of enzymes, the activities that take place in the cecum and colon are about digesting complex carbohydrates (fiber) into helpful end products with the help of “good bugs.” Along with fatty acids, which provide energy or calories, these beneficial microbes also generate B vitamins, Vitamin K, and a number of other amino acids.

The colon is then responsible for not only absorbing these nutrients, but also for absorbing a part of the water that travels with the food as it goes down the digestive system.

Horse Digestive Problems

It’s no surprise that things don’t always function smoothly when there are so many moving components. However, the fact that the horse’s digestive tract is long and intricate should not deter owners from doing their bit to ensure that the horse’s digestive system remains healthy. It is necessary to understand the most prevalent disorders of the foregut (gastric ulcers) and the hindgut (bile duct obstruction) in order to choose where these efforts should be concentrated (colic). Gastrointestinal ulcers, also known as erosions in the stomach lining, develop as a result of continuous contact with irritating acids on sensitive tissue.

  1. In the long term, however, a combined strategy of pharmaceuticals, natural agents, dietary and managerial modifications may be required to maintain healthy stomach conditions.
  2. The phrase “colic” is merely a broad term that refers to stomach pain.
  3. Colic has been connected to a variety of factors, including sudden changes in hay or grain, high quantities of grain, abrupt changes in activity, long periods of stall time, inadequate parasite treatment, and lack of access to water.
  4. Horses will be horses, and no amount of food or care will completely prevent the accidents and injuries, as well as the diseases and ailments to which they are prone, that they are prone to.
  5. SmartPak strongly advises you to speak with your veterinarian if you have any particular queries about your horse’s health or welfare.

Equine Digestive Tract Structure and Function

  1. Introduction
  2. Colic
  3. Laminitis
  4. Feed Intake
  5. References
  6. Conclusion


A horse’s nutritional requirements are the same as those of other animals in terms of calories, protein, vitamins, and minerals, but it has a digestive system that is somewhere between a ruminant and a non-ruminant in terms of type and function. Non-ruminants (including humans, pigs, and dogs) digest carbs, protein, and fat through the activity of enzymes. Ruminants (cows, sheep, and deer) employ bacteria in their fore stomachs to digest fiber by fermentation, and they use enzymes in their small intestines to breakdown fiber through digestion.

  1. This accounts for 52-58 percent of crude protein digestion and practically all of soluble carbohydrate digestion, according to the data (fiber excluded).
  2. As a result of this dual system, the horse is able to digest simple carbohydrate sources, such as starch from grain, in the foregut.
  3. In order for enzymatic and microbial activity to digest feed properly, the horse need healthy teeth to ground the feed and allow enzymes and bacteria to attack the cell walls of the plants.
  4. Given that the horse’s stomach only has a capacity of 8-15 litres (eight quarts or two gallons), understanding how a horse can consume significant amounts of food or water might be difficult to comprehend.
  5. As a result, food may be transported from the mouth to the cecum in approximately 112 hours.
  6. Pelletized or wafered hay passes through the system at a quicker pace than forloose hay.
  7. This section of the horse’s digestive system, which accounts for more than half of its entire volume, is critical for microbial digestion and serves as a primary store of water for the horse in its mature state.
  8. Before three months of age, there is virtually little microbial digestion taking place.

Therefore, the foal requires a diet that is low in fiber and quickly digested in the foregut, as described above. Foals that have been observed consuming their mothers’ excrement are assumed to be acquiring a bacterial culture that will be required for subsequent microbial digestion in the future.


The cecum (blindgut with a capacity of roughly 28-36 litres or approximately 7-9 gallons) has an outlet and an entry that are just about 2 inches apart in a mature horse. Because of the two-way passage of feed in this location, there is a certain level of difficulties. As a result, when a horse is switched from a poor quality feed to one that is quickly digested, the cecum may become a location of colic, which may develop. It is planned to replace the bacteria that are best adapted for digesting high-fiber meals with a population of bacteria that is more suitable for converting high-quality and readily digested fiber into soluble compounds.

  • Because of the coarse roughage, there will be a relative obstruction at the exit of the cecum, resulting in gas collection and the pain associated with colic.
  • Impaction of the cecum and colon is a frequent occurrence that occurs as a result of the consumption of indigestible materials.
  • To avoid negative consequences, a period of one to two weeks should be provided for the transition from a high-quality, easily digestible food to a ration with limited digestibility.
  • Because they predispose to impactions, very low-quality roughages should not be provided to animals.
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Young, lush, fast-growing plants are low in fiber and rich in protein, with 22-25 percent of their weight in protein and a similar proportion of easily digestible carbs. Switching abruptly between different feed grades causes a quick shift in the bacterial ecology as well as the sudden death of the bacteria that are less preferred by the system. It is expected that the death of vast numbers of bacteria will be followed by the release of enormous quantities of endotoxin from the bacteria. It is possible that horses placed immediately on pasture after being fed hay during the winter would develop laminitis as a result of the abrupt transition to a highly digestible diet.

Conditions such as significant rainfall and hot temperatures can cause plants such as white clover to grow rapidly, resulting in a high concentration of digestible protein and energy while reducing the amount of fibre in the plant.

Feed Intake

Normally, horses ingest between 2 and 2.5 percent of their body weight in dry matter on a daily basis. Nevertheless, it has been calculated that horses kept on pasture 24 hours a day might ingest as much as 3.3 percent of their body weight in drymatter every day. Increasing the dry matter and nutritional content of grain will result in horses consuming less total dry matter as a result of this increase. Furthermore, the rapid introduction of grain into a horse’s diet will result in an increase in lactate concentration as well as a decrease in cecal and colonic pH from 6.7 to 6.3.

(2) Horses can accumulate considerable amounts of feed-related lactic acid if their feeding regimen is abruptly changed, for as by being fed an additional proportion of grain prior to an event.


  • Forage (hay, pasture) should account for at least 50% of a horse’s dry matter diet, which should be of high quality
  • Horses are herbivores. Changes in diet should be made gradually over a period of 7-14 days, and caution should be exercised when “top-uping” the horses with grain before to an event. It is unrealistic to expect foals and developing horses to acquire all of the nutrients they require from hay. Always make sure that there is clean, fresh water available. At your horse’s yearly health checkup, ask your veterinarian to inspect his or her teeth.


  1. The Digestive System of the Horse, as well as Feeding Instructions Horse Industry Handbook, American Youth Horse Council, 1993
  2. De Fombelle et al., Effect of the Hay: Grain Ratio on Digestive Physiology and Microbial Ecosystems in Ponies, Equine Nutrition and Physiology Symposium, 1999
  3. De Fombelle e

Understanding a Horse’s Digestive System

Lucy Ray is from Morgan County. Extension at the University of Georgia When it comes to grazing livestock species, the horse has one of the most intricate, and probably, the most annoying, digestive systems of any that owners/producers have to deal with. Horse feeding may conjure up images of terrifying circumstances like as colic and founder, which can be scary to witness. While certain aspects of the horse’s digestive system can make them more difficult to feed than cattle, other aspects of the horse’s digestive system can make them more difficult to maintain than ruminants.

  • In other words, they have the ability to break down the cellulose and hemicellulose components found in forages without the need for a four-chambered stomach as cattle do.
  • The cecum is a part of the digestive system that is found beneath the stomach.
  • Cattle, sheep, and other ruminants have food placed into the rumen first, where it undergoes a microbial digestion process before going on to other compartments, such as the real stomach, before passing through the stomach.
  • The numerous components that make up the horse gastrointestinal system are seen in this illustration.
  • Equine Colic is a medical condition that affects horses.
  • UGA Extension is the source.
  • Rather from digging too deeply into the distinctions between ruminant and non-ruminant herbivores, it could be useful to provide a brief outline of how a horse grazes and what happens to the forage after it reaches the digestive tract.

Horses are spot grazers, which means that they have specialized lips that allow them to choose and eat the tops of the plants that they like to consume.

In part because of this selective behavior, horses have earned a reputation for being harsh and damaging to pastures and forage plants.

Horse chewing is characterized by both lateral and vertical action.

It is because of this one-way peristaltic movement that horses cannot regurgitate their meal and so cannot “chew their cud”.

Forage goes from the esophagus to the stomach through the digestive tract.

The stomach secretes hydrochloric acid (HCL) as well as enzymes that are particular to each individual.

Keep in mind that horses are supposed to graze for 12-18 hours each day!

Because of the constant generation of HCL and the manner in which bile is produced into the small intestine, horses must ingest little meals multiple times a day to keep their energy levels up.

A population of active bacteria exists in the cecum, which is identical to the germs found in the rumen.

VFAs are a source of energy that is comparable to glucose and other sugars in that they provide energy.

When used together, these characteristics increase the likelihood that horses may suffer from stomach disturbances.

This can result in gas colic, also known as impaction colic, because the substance has a LONG distance to go before it exits the animal’s digestive tract.

Due to the fact that the horse digestive system does not have many muscle contractions, enough water intake is necessary to keep things flowing through the tract as smoothly as possible.

However, because of the rapidity with which food travels through the digestive tract, non-ruminant herbivores are more likely than most ruminants to be “easy keepers.” The ability to pass a bigger amount of feed through their systems and extract the nutrients more quickly is advantageous to them.

It is important to note that the horse digestive system has both limitations and advantages.

While considering the anatomy of the horse and the way in which they were meant to eat, it is possible to avoid many of the difficulties that have long been connected with feeding horses. More information about this subject may be found by visiting the following publications’ websites:

  • Equine Colic (Georgia Extension)
  • Digestive System of the Horse and Feeding Management (Arkansas Extension)
  • Equine Digestive System and Feeding Management (Arkansas Extension)

Equine Digestion and the Healthy Horse Digestive System

In order to truly appreciate how critical excellent digestive health is to your horse’s overall welfare and performance, you must first grasp the fundamentals of how the horse’s digestive system functions. As a fast overview of the equine gastrointestinal process, along with some observations on where it frequently fails as a result of modern horse care, please see the following:

Equine Digestion Step 1: Biting and Chewing

Chewing is the first and most critical stage in horse digestion, and it is also the most time-consuming. If you read more scientific papers, you may come across the term “mastication,” which means “chewing.” It has been shown that horses are better able to digest their diet if the food has been mashed into little bits. Additionally, well-chewed food is less likely to become trapped in places it shouldn’t, causing esophageal choke and impaction colic in the digestive tract and colon, among other problems.

Equine Digestion Step 2: Stomach Acids Further Liquefy Food

In the case of horses, chewing is the first and most critical stage in the digesting process. The term “mastication” refers to a fancy phrase for eating that you may see in more scholarly writings. It has been shown that horses are better able to digest their diet if the food has been crushed into little chunks. Furthermore, well-chewed food is less likely to become trapped in places it shouldn’t, producing esophageal choke and impaction colic in the digestive tract and colon. Apart from that, chewing creates a large amount of saliva that helps to further breakdown food while also buffering stomach acids to maintain a healthy digestive tract.

  • To prepare for digestion, stomach acids break down the food consumed. In feed, acids stimulate the activity of enzymes that break down the proteins in the feed. A large number of bacteria in feed are killed by stomach acids, which minimizes the likelihood of illness.

To prepare for digestion, stomach acids break down the meal. In feed, acids stimulate the activity of enzymes that degrade the proteins in the feed. Many bacteria in feed are killed by stomach acids, reducing the likelihood of illness.

Equine Digestion Step 3: Absorption In the Small Intestine

The small intestine of a horse is around 60-70 feet in length, and it is here that the majority of the digestion and absorption of feed takes place. The partially digested food from the stomach travels to the small intestine, where enzymes work on it to form substances that may be taken into the circulation by the body’s immune system. Most of what horses consume, including proteins, simple carbs, lipids, and important vitamins, is absorbed into their bloodstream through their tiny intestines and into their bloodstream After being consumed, food moves quickly through the horse’s short intestinal tract, passing through within 1-3 hours of ingestion.

In part because horses eat processed feeds at a rapid pace, the quantity of starch available for digestion in the small intestine decreases as a result of this faster transit time.

As a result, undigested starch makes its way to the hindgut, where it causes issues throughout the horse’s digestive tract.

Equine Digestion Step 4: Fiber FermentationEnergy Production in the Hindgut

The cecum, colon, and rectum are the three organs that make up the hindgut. The cecum and colon may retain up to 32 litres of fibrous material, which slowly ferments over a period of two to three days in the colon. Microbial fermentation in the hindgut, carried out by billions of microorganisms (bacteria and protozoa), breaks down fiber, which is one of the structural components of the plants that horses consume. When bacteria ferment in the hindgut, they produce volatile fatty acids that are taken into the circulation and serve as a significant source of energy for the animal.

Problems in the Hindgut

One of the key causes of digestive imbalance in the hindgut is an overabundance of starch that reaches the cecum and colon. Hindgut acidosis is caused by the production of lactic acid by starch-digesting bacteria, which raises the pH of the hindgut and causes it to become more acidic. This rise in acidity results in the death of the helpful bacteria that digest fiber. Toxins generated during this procedure might cause colic and founder in the affected area. Aside from that, hindgut acidity is known to be a precursor to colonic ulcers in certain people.

These include lethargy, irritation, girthiness, trouble bending or collecting, and overall discomfort.

16 Fascinating Facts About Horse Digestion

Horses are one of a kind, which should come as no surprise to anybody who knows anything about them. This is especially true when it comes to the manner in which they digest their meals. Horses’ digestive systems are classified as non-ruminant herbivores, which means they are a cross between a monogastric mammal (such as a dog or a person) and a ruminant animal (like a cow or goat). The difficulty is that many horse owners treat their horses in the same way they would treat a dog or themselves, providing two or three meals throughout the day.

  • If more individuals had a better understanding of how the horse’s digestive system worked, they could be more likely to feed their horse in the manner in which a horse would be fed.
  • And, because digestion begins in the mouth, we’ll start there and work our way down and out from there!
  • Unlike us, they do not move their mouths in an up-and-down action, but rather in an outside-to-inside motion on an incline, which is dictated by the inclination of the corresponding surfaces of the upper and lower cheek teeth.
  • During chewing, the horse’s salivary glands create saliva, which helps to moisten the meal and facilitate its transit down the esophagus and stomach.
  • The author has provided permission to use this image.
  • The stomach receives food from the esophagus.
  • As a result, it is correct that horses are unable to vomit.
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When compared to the other portions of the digestive system, it is relatively modest in size and shape.

It then makes its way into the small intestine from there.

As a result, ulcers are frequently seen, which is why small, frequent meals, access to a slow-feed hay net, free-choice hay, or access to pasture are all highly recommended.

Similar principles apply to the digestion and absorption of sugars, carbohydrates, proteins, and lipids.

Fat digestion is assisted by a part of the small intestine called the duodenum, which is located near the stomach.

If a horse’s water intake is inadequate, this might be a common place for impaction colic to occur.

These bacteria and microorganisms aid in the breakdown of food through a process known as fermentation.

A new meal is introduced unexpectedly, and the bacteria/microbes are unable to ferment it properly, resulting in colic.

Fermentation is incapable of breaking down lignin, which is a form of dietary fiber found in large quantities in overripe hay.

The author has provided permission to use this image.

The absence of gastrointestinal noises may indicate the presence of a blockage.

Ten pounds of roughage would be enough for a 1000-pound horse to eat in a day.

That’s the entire process, from mouth to feces.

The majority of this is made up of intestines.

She has a bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Georgia.

Formerly an ardent barrel racer, Casie now appreciates nothing more than just giving back to the horses who have given her so much in return. Casie’s blog may be found at www.casiebazay.com.

Digestive Function of Horses

Pathophysiology in the Vivo

Digestive Anatomy and Function of Horses

Horses and their relatives consume cellulose and other fermentable substrates in a manner similar to that of ruminants; however, because they lack forestomachs, fermentation takes place in the large intestine of these animals. The “caudal fermentation” lifestyle has been adopted by a number of different herbivores, the most notable of which are rabbits and rodents.

Anatomy of the Equine Gastrointestinal Tract

Horses have a straightforward stomach, and for the purposes of this article, the stomach and small intestine are unremarkable and comparable to those of other monogastric animals. The horse large intestine, on the other hand, is huge and physically complicated in comparison to the large intestines of most other mammals. By way of the ileocecal opening, ingesta is passed from the small intestine into the cecum. The cecum also contains the cecocolic aperture, via which the contents of the cecum are expelled into the colon.

ascending colon(the “great colon” – by far the largest segment)
  • Left dorsal colon
  • Right dorsal colon
  • Right ventral colon
  • Left dorsal colon

The cecum and ascending colon both include bands of smooth muscle (teniae), which lead these organs to create pouches known as haustrae as a result of their formation. Upon entering the pelvic canal, the descending colon transforms into the rectum. Finally, some anatomists categorize the parts of the horse big intestine into the cecum, ventral colon, dorsal colon, and small colon, with the cecum being the smallest component.

Large Intestinal Motility

Mobility in the horse hindgut performs the same essential functions as motility in the large intestine of other species, including mixing of ingested material, retention, and propulsion of ingested material. Motility in the cecum is characterized by mixing contractions, in which the haustra alternately contract and expand in a circular motion. In addition, every few minutes, a powerful, mass movement-type contraction occurs, which drives part of the cecal contents through the cecocolic aperture and into the ascending colon, causing some of the cecal contents to pass into the ascending colon.

As a result, there are peristaltic contractions that “battle” with antiperistaltic contractions, which results in increased mixing and a slower total transit rate (it takes 2-3 days to traverse to the colon).

Fermentation and Physiology of the Equine Hindgut

The stomach and small intestine of horses perform digestive functions in a manner similar to those of any other monogastric mammal. Small intestinal bacteria digest and absorb dietary protein in the form of amino acids, whereas bacteria in the small intestinal bacteria digest and absorb dietary carbohydrate in the form of monosaccharides. Although plant material may be softened and swelled prior to entering the cecum, cellulose and associated molecules travel through the small intestine in their whole.

It is similar to the rumen in that the large intestine of horses and other hindgut fermenters functions as a fermentation system.

Most crucially, horses can survive as herbivores because they create huge amounts of volatile fatty acids, which are then absorbed by the cecal and intestinal epithelium and dispersed throughout the body for utilization in various metabolic processes.

This is a significant contrast from the technique used by ruminants, as previously stated. Send your comments to [email protected] if you have any.

The Equine Digestive System Explained

From the mouth to the muck heap, your horse’s food takes a long and winding path — we follow the twists and turns of the equine digestive system to illustrate how it all comes together. Simply put, the digestive system is in charge of converting food into the energy that the body need to function properly and efficiently. The gastrointestinal system, also known as the alimentary canal or the gastrointestinal tract, begins at the horse’s mouth, where he takes in his food by grazing and masticates (chews) it with his teeth before passing down the oesophagus and swallowing it into the stomach, where it continues.

  • The many processes involved in absorbing nutrients into the bloodstream are handled by specialized sections as food moves through the horse’s system.
  • It is divided into two parts: the foregut and the hindgut.
  • The foregut is responsible for digesting concentrate feeds and cellulose, which is the hard fibrous structure that gives plants their rigidity.
  • MOUTHThe digestive system begins with the opening of the mouth.
  • Using the back teeth (premolars and canines), they ground it up into a ball, which is then driven down the esophagus via the esophageal tube.
  • Horses generate around 10-12 litres of saliva every day, which is used to lubricate food and kick-start the digesting process in the stomach.
  • Peristalsis is the term used to describe the process by which food is forced down the oesophagus and into the stomach.

This is the entrance between the oesophagus and the stomach, and it serves as a one-way valve to prevent food from passing back into the stomach.

The horse’s stomach is shaped roughly like a ‘J,’ and it is extremely tiny when compared to the size of the animal and when compared to other animals of a comparable size to the horse.

The stomach includes gastric juices and hydrochloric acid, which aid in the digestion of food by breaking it down into chyme, which allows the remainder of the digestive system to complete its task.

The lower region of the stomach is coated by glandular mucosa that secretes acid to promote digestion, and this section also contains built-in protection to prevent stomach acid from damaging it.

It is along this line, known as the margo plicatus, that the two regions of the stomach are split, and it is here that the first indications of stomach ulcers are frequently noticed.

SMALL INTESTINEThe small intestine is divided into three sections: the DUODENUM, the JEJUNUM, and the ILEUM.

The DUODENUM is the beginning of the small intestine and measures approximately one metre in length.

Because the horse does not have a gall bladder to hold bile, it is also released directly from the liver.

The chemical breakdown of food is completed here, with nutrients being taken into the circulation and either utilised by the body or stored in the liver for later use or storage.

It regulates the absorption of nutrients and the flow of partly digested food, known as ‘ingesta,’ through the LARGE INTESTINE (which is now only composed of fibre and water) into the small intestine.

The CAECUM is an extremely important organ in the horse’s health.

The caecum is essentially a very big vat housing many millions of bacteria that have been specifically adapted to their environment, known as gut flora, and which break down cellulose, the stiff fibrous structure that provides the rigidity of plants.

A horse’s gut flora is essential to his survival and he cannot exist without it.

Food passes via the caecum and into the COLON, where the absorption of water is a critical role.

Because of the twists and turns required, this organ is susceptible to blockages and impactions – there are four sections with three sharp bends within the large colon, which are known as the sternal, pelvic, and diaphragmatic flexures – and there are four sections with three sharp bends within the small colon.

The SMALL COLON continues the absorption of water and electrolytes, and any ingested material that remains travels into the RECTUM, which is approximately 30cm long and retains feces until they are expelled from the body through the ANUS (stomach).

The ANUS is another another sphincter muscle that is responsible for regulating feces passage.

Are Horses Ruminants? No, But They Do Have Interesting Digestion

Have you ever questioned if a horse was considered a ruminant animal or not? The ruminant animal group includes a wide range of creatures that we are all acquainted with such as deer and cows, as well as sheep and goats. Is it correct to assume that horses are ruminants because many animals that subsist on grassy pasture are ruminants as well? Are horses considered ruminants? No! Horses are not classified as ruminant animals. Ruminant animals have four compartments in their stomachs, each of which digests its food in stages as it passes through them.

Horses are sometimes mistaken for ruminant animals such as cows, which is a frequent myth.

The fact that an animal consumes grass does not determine whether or not it is a ruminant, which is a disappointment.

This question, as well as others, will be addressed here!

What is does being a Ruminant Animal Mean?

Ruminants have stomachs that are separated into four compartments, each of which performs a particular purpose, as do other animals. The rumen is the most essential compartment, and it is responsible for the majority of the work. A large number of microorganisms reside within the rumen, and they work tirelessly to aid in the breakdown of the fodder that the animal consumes. When a ruminant animal consumes some grass or other fodder, the meal is not completely chewed up by the creature. Instead, they chew it for a few seconds before swallowing it.

Afterwards, the cud is pushed back up to the animal’s mouth, where it is rechewed and swallowed once more.

The rechewed food then travels through the remaining three compartments on its way to the exit.

Ruminant animals are able to ingest and digest leaves and vegetable components such as cellulose that other animals, including humans, are unable to adequately digest because of their distinct digestive processes.

Examples ofRuminant Animals Examples ofNon-RuminantAnimals
Cows Horses
Deer Pigs
Sheep Chickens
Goats Dogs
Moose Cats
Elk Lions
Bison Chimpanzees

What Kind of Digestive system do Horses Have?

A horse has a stomach with only one compartment, which is called the rumen. It is true that they have a non-ruminant digestive system, but it is more complicated than the digestive systems of other non-ruminants. The digestive system of the horse is made up of three parts: the stomach, the small intestine, and the large intestine. The stomach and small intestine of a horse are similar in function to those of other monogastric animals such as dogs, cats, and pigs. The foregut is a term used to describe the combination of the stomach and small intestine.

  1. It has the ability to metabolize cellulose, a substrate present in grass and other plants that is indigestible by humans and must be processed by the organism.
  2. The caecum and the colon are both parts of the horse’s hindgut, which is also known as the big intestine.
  3. A fermentation container, to put it another way, is a container that helps horses digest their fodder by breaking down the cellulose in the forage.
  4. That meal then travels to their single-chambered stomach, where it is digested and eventually passes through to the small intestine.

The meal can remain in this location for up to seven hours, during which time it is fermented and broken down even further. It subsequently goes on to the colon, where it will finish the digestion process. (source)

How is Equine Digestion Like That of Ruminants?

Although horses do not have ruminant digestive systems, they are capable of processing some of the same substrates as ruminant mammals. It is possible for horses to do this job through their big intestines, notably their cecum, rather than through their rumen (which is a plant material that is indigestible for humans). As a result, in ruminant animals, the cecum serves a similar function to that of the rumen. This allows horses to consume items such as grass and hay that would otherwise be inaccessible to ruminant animals.

Do Horses Chew Food Similarly to Ruminant Animals?

Despite the fact that horses are not ruminants, they have a tendency to chew their food in the same manner as ruminant animals. Cows, who are well-known ruminants, chew their food in a methodical and rhythmic manner. According to the findings of a research undertaken by the University of Zurich and the ETH Zurich, horses chew their food in the same manner as ruminant animals, with the same rhythmic motions. Horses do not chew their cud in the same way as ruminant animals do, but they do chew their food thoroughly in order to prepare it for the fermentation that will occur in the top region of their large intestine.


What Animal has Four Stomachs?

There is a common misconception among the public that certain animals, such as cattle, have four different stomachs. That isn’t always the case, however. There are no animals that have numerous stomachs that are isolated from one another. Some animals, such as ruminants, have several compartments within a single stomach, which allows them to eat more efficiently. Each of these compartments is related to the others and all of them are contained within a single stomach. Still of the compartments operate together to execute a variety of tasks, yet they are all still considered to be a single digestive system.

What are Pseudo-ruminants?

There are three compartments in the stomach of false ruminant animals, as opposed to the four compartments in ruminant species’ stomachs. The C-1, C-2, and C-3 regions of their stomach are the three sections that make up their stomach. Compared to ruminant animals, the C-1 compartment of a human stomach is the most comparable to the rumen compartment in a human. The body of a pseudo-ruminant processes food in the same manner as the body of a ruminant animal does, with the foregut being used to break down cellulose.

The hippopotamus is one of the animals that belong within this group.

Were Prehistoric Horses Ruminants?

The Merychippus horse, which lived more than 10 million years ago, was one of the first prehistoric horses to resemble the modern-day horse in appearance. Merychippus is a Greek name that translates as “ruminant horse.” Many people mistakenly believe that this indicates that the Merychippus horse was a ruminant animal, which is incorrect. This isn’t the case at all. A ruminant animal today refers to an animal that has multiple stomach chambers and is required to chew the cud that it has regurgitated.

This horse was given the name Merychippus because it is the first known horse to be a true grazer, which means that it was able to survive primarily by grazing on grass and foraging for food. (source)

Final Thoughts

The fact that horses are not ruminant animals does not preclude them from processing the same things as ruminant animals can since they do it through a different section of their digestive tract. Equine stomachs have just one chamber, as opposed to the four compartments seen in other ruminant mammals, which are more than twice the size of horses. Despite the fact that horses are unable to regurgitate their meal the way cows can, they are nevertheless capable of digesting grass and leaves efficiently.

A Weighty Subject: The Horse’s Digestive Tract

Posted on December 7, 2012, updated on January 20, 2018. To grasp the size and weight of the horse digestive system, it is necessary to first understand how the digestive system might affect exercise performance. Horses have evolved a highly sophisticated digestive system that allows them to survive on high-fiber diets, according to the American Horse Society. In comparison to the rest of the digestive system, the horse’s small single-compartment stomach accounts for less than 7% of the empty weight.

  • It is estimated that the cecum and colon account for around 64 percent of the total empty weight of the horse’s digestive system when empty.
  • When it comes to the digestive system of horses, the small intestine is both the longest and heaviest structure, accounting for 27.5 percent of their entire body weight (including the stomach).
  • When you consider that a fed (non-fasted) horse has a fluid capacity within the digestive system of roughly 50 gallons (190 liters), you can see that the digestive system accounts for a significantly bigger proportion of the horse’s body weight.
  • Food consumption results in an increase in the amount of material in the digestive system, which is an evident consequence.
  • For every kilogram of dry hay consumed, around ten kilograms (two hundred and twenty-two pounds) of water is eaten.
  • A significant amount of the fluid in these secretions derives from blood plasma, resulting in a decrease in the volume of blood plasma.
  • Fiber also has the ability to bond with water in the digestive tract, which is beneficial.

When fed a mixed diet (forage and concentrate), the amount of water consumed is approximately half that of when fed an all-forage diet.

For example, calculating the energy demand for a specific performance horse and then calculating the amount of feed required to meet that requirement might be used to demonstrate this.

To put this into perspective, a performance horse would require 22.2 kilograms (49 lb) of forage, 16.6 kg (37 lb) of mixed feed, or 12.9 kg (28 lb) of mixed feed + vegetable oil to maintain body weight.

Similar to this, a research conducted by Kentucky Equine Research (KER) found that performance horses exercising at moderate intensity ingested 10 percent more feed when on an all-forage diet as opposed to a diet that included both forage and grain ingredients.

To summarize the findings of these studies, it appears that the higher the fiber content of a horse’s food, the greater the fluid content of the digestive system and the bigger the amount of weight the horse can carry.

A horse’s ability to perform is directly proportional to how much it weighs after being fed, all other factors being equal.

If hay has been restricted for several hours before the race, for example, racehorses will likely perform better than endurance horses who are forced to ride more slowly for longer periods of time will benefit from the fluid reservoir contained in a gut full of hay.

Food for Thought: Details of the Equine Digestive Tract

Dates: December 14, 2010 – December 31, 2017 Grass, hay, and grain are fed to the horse through one end, and whatever is left comes out the other. What is there to know about the digestive tract that no one already knows? The answer is “enough!” for horse owners who wish to keep their animals in good health. Horses are herbivores, which means they consume plants. For the most part, horses are herbivores, as opposed to cattle and many other cud-chewing herbivores. The foregut (stomach and small intestine) and hindgut (large intestine) are the two parts of the horse’s digestive system (cecum and colon).

Understanding the anatomy and function of each region of the digestive system can assist horse owners in keeping their equine charges healthy and free of digestive problems.

Horses chew their meal, breaking it down into smaller bits and moistening it with saliva, which is the beginning of the digestion process.

Saliva also aids in the smooth passage of food via the horse’s esophagus, which is a four-foot-long tube that connects the mouth to the stomach.

Despite the fact that it is not the same as choking in humans, this is nevertheless a hazardous emergency that may necessitate veterinarian intervention.

This will ensure that the horse can eat properly.

All horses should have access to fresh, clean water on a consistent basis.

Food that has been swallowed travels down the esophagus to the stomach, which is a tiny organ with a capacity of only two to four liters of liquid.

Alternatively, a big grain meal may overfill the stomach, resulting in distention, pain and the appearance of colic.

Digestive fluids can induce ulceration of stomach tissues if they do not have the buffering effect of saliva, which is only generated while the horse is chewing.

The stomach is also responsible for regulating the rate at which food enters the small intestine.

Make small feedings of less than five pounds each, rather than one huge meal, to distribute daily grain supplies to the animals.

Protein, fat, and carbs are broken down by a variety of digestive enzymes, which allows nutrients to be absorbed by the bloodstream.

It is possible that sudden changes in the kind or volume of feed will result in less than optimal feed breakdown, preventing the horse from receiving the full benefit from the feed that has been consumed.

It is possible that the horse’s small intestine will be overwhelmed if he has had an extraordinarily big grain meal or a huge amount of new grass, which will result in a substantial amount of starch being transmitted to the large intestine.

What property owners can do: Feed little grain meals weighing no more than five pounds per person every day.

Introduce new feeds gradually by blending a handful of the new ingredient with the usual feed and gradually increasing the quantity provided at each subsequent meal until the full amount is offered.

This strategy allows the gut to gradually adjust to the adjusted diet over a period of 7 to 10 days, depending on the severity of the condition.

Bacteria, protozoa, and fungi found in the cecum assist in the fermentation of dietary fiber, resulting in the production of volatile fatty acids, which are a significant source of energy for the body and brain.

Cecal bacteria are responsible for the production of vitamin K and the B vitamin complex.

This results in an excessive generation of gas and lactic acid, which can result in severe stomach pain.

What property owners can do: Make every effort to avoid disrupting the delicate balance of microbes in the hindgut by consuming certain foods.

During stressful times, a course of probiotics, which are treatments designed to keep the bacteria population of the cecum healthy and active, may be prescribed.


The colon forms two tight folds or bends where its contents might be affected, resulting in a buildup of gas and, in some cases, twisting of the colon.

As a result, the indigestible bits of the diet are excreted by the animal as manure under normal circumstances.

Make sure there is a continual supply of water. Maintain a regular regimen for deworming, dental care, and physical activity. Conscious management will go a long way toward preventing stomach issues.

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