The Cecum: Key to Your Horse’s Digestive Health

Last Updated on March 18, 2022 by Allison Price

The cecum is an important part of a horse’s digestive system. However, horse owners don’t understand its functions and ignore it.

What is the Cecum?

The large, muscular sac known as the equine cecum can be found at the junction of small and large intestinal intestines. This large organ can store up to 8 gallons. The cecum occupies a large portion of the right-hand half of the abdomen. It extends from the pelvic inlet all the way to the top of the rib cage.

The horse cecum is a storage place for water and electrolytes. The cecum holds water until it is absorbed. Fiber intake can increase water consumption. While the horse will gain some weight from the extra water, it also helps to replace electrolytes that are lost through heavy sweating.

What Food Digests Are

To prevent food from backflowing, the ileum expels food into the cecum using contractions and vascular ditension. Colic can be caused by the backflow of cecal contents into the ileum. The cecal sac is where material enters and is not able to flow. Instead, it is churned and worked until it is ready for movement. Food can be cooked in the cecum for up to seven hours. It is then pushed back up into the sac, and through a second hole into the large colon.

The Cecum

Horses need extra help to digest fiber and forage, just like cows and other herbivores. When it comes to digesting different types of forage, pancreatic enzymes are not enough. Numerous microbial assistants are able to help with the breakdown of cellulose. Although bacteria is the most important member of this hardworking group there are protozoa, fungi and other organisms involved.

Cecal pH and Bacteria

The cecum is basically a large fermentation vessel, so it is crucial to have the right pH or measure of acidity. The cecum’s pH is 6.6 which is slightly acidic. The pH of other parts of the stomach, however, is 2.6. This is extremely acidic. The cecum’s microbial population is sensitive to pH changes. A drastic change in pH can cause many of its normal bacterial florae to die and others to thrive.

The microbial population needs to adjust to changes in diet for three weeks. This affects pH. Your horse can overeat and cause a sharp drop in pH. This causes the death of normal bacterial flora. This can cause an increase in harmful bacteria that is better at handling the pH change. Either excess gas can be produced, or worsening effects may occur. Endotoxins are released by bacteria that die and can cause serious problems for horses.

A change in diet from a mostly or all-forage diet to one that contains a lot of grain can cause changes in pH and cecal bacteria. You should give your horse multiple small meals per day if your horse requires more grain. Also, ensure that your horse has plenty of forage. You should gradually change your horse’s diet.

Another situation that can influence the cecal bacterial population is the use of antibiotics, especially oral antibiotics. If your horse requires antibiotics, your veterinarian may suggest a digestive supplement, which helps to restore and maintain normal microflorae.

Cecal microbes are responsible for many other functions, including aiding digestion. Cecum is a major source of B and K vitamins for horses. The cecum also provides your horse with protein through the breakdown of bacteria. This will help him to get the amino acids he needs. The cecum also produces energy in the form volatile fatty acids.

Disruption in Cecal Health

Cecal distresses are usually caused by disruption of the microbial community. They tend to develop gradually over several days and can be easily diagnosed using palpation. Cecal disturbances are not usually apparent until they become severe. To catch digestive upsets in their early stages, it is crucial to keep an eye on your horse’s feed intake and manure output. Veterinarians might prescribe fluids and laxatives to help the horse stay hydrated and break down the blockage. The prognosis for horses requiring surgery will decrease.

Cecal Health in General

You can help your horse’s digestive health by promoting a healthy cecal microflorae.

  • Make sure your horse has plenty of high-quality feed and plenty of clean water
  • If your horse requires antibiotics, talk to your veterinarian about digestive health supplementation
  • Slowly make diet changes
  • Skew his diet towards forage over concentrates
Allison Price
Allison Price

I’m Allison, born and raised in San Diego California, the earliest memory I have with horses was at my grandfather’s farm. I used to sit at the stable as a kid and hang out with my Papa while he was training the horses. When I was invited to watch a horse riding competition, I got so fascinated with riding!