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DIGESTIVE PHYSIOLOGY Anatomy: 1) MOUTH = Buccal Cavity = lips, teeth, tongue Lips – obtain food, extremely tactile and

sensitive Teeth – incisors cut forage; molars grind feed Circular motion  sharp points  floating Tongue – distributes feed within mouth, forms bolus Digestive Processes: 1. MASTICATION = chewing = reduction of food particle size; increase surface area; expose inner portions of grain and/or forage 2. SALIVATION = addition of saliva from salivary glands to food; ONLY occurs during mastication (no base salivary flow); contains ENZYMES (probably amylase) and high concentration of buffer 2) ESOPHAGUS – one-way tube composed primarily of smooth muscle; approximately 4-5 feet long. Digestive Process: transport food bolus from mouth to stomach ***Under normal conditions, the horse CANNOT vomit, belch, etc.** 3. STOMACH – muscular mixing vat; composes about 8% of total GIT; contains 2-3 gallons Structures/regions – CARDIAC SPHINCTER - one-way valve the controls the entry of bolus from esophagus; prevent ingesta and gas from entering the esophagus. SACCUS CECUS – the non-glandular portion of the stomach; located in the anterior 1/3; contains microbes GLANDULAR REGION – contains Chief cells and Parietal cells which produce pepsin and HCl; very low pH PYLORIC VALVE – semi-one-way valve which controls the exit of ingesta from the stomach **Under grazing conditions, the stomach is NEVER empty, and the production of gastric juices is CONTINUOUS.

addition of buffer to reduce acidity. Ileum – final segment. Jejunum – middle segment. protease. contains ~ 24 gallons 3 Segments – 1. addition of succous entericus (gastric juice). pliable mesentery). Microbes – the small intestine does house a limited number of specialized microbes. location of fibrous bands (mixing of ingesta and enzymes). probable final site of major protein digestion and absorption SECRETIONS: 1. weakens cell walls 4) SMALL INTESTINE – primary site of enzymatic digestion and absorption of soluble nutrients. constant flow which is NOT influenced by feed (or fat) intake 3. glands also secrete large concentrations of buffer and mucous. cleavage of disaccharides to monosaccharide or cleavage of a specific amino acid . fixed part. flow is CONTINUOUS (decrease after 48 hours of starvation) 2. Digestive Processes: 1. and moisture content of ingesta 4. 30% of GIT. Succous Entericus – produced by glands within the jejunum and ileum. Duodenum – 1st segment. high number of well developed microvilli  increased surface area. flow is high volume with low concentrations of amylase. protease. Slight microbial digestion begins to breakdown fibrous cell walls 2. addition of pancreatic enzymes and bile 2. microbe population that is proteolytic in activity. and lipase enzymes. HCl increases acidity. particle size. enables lipase enzymes to penetrate and degrade large fat molecules. high number of well developed microvilli. mesenteric part (not fixed. flow tends to be continuous. and lipase enzymes. restricted at cecal end.e. contains amylase. i. Proteolysis (protein  peptides) begins 3. attached via thin. ~ 70 feet long. but does respond to volume. Pancreatic enzymes – produced in the pancreas and flow through a duct system to the duodenum. Bile – produced by the liver and flows directly to the duodenum (Horse has no gall bladder).After 48-60 hours of fasting. production of gastric juices will decline. probable main site of starch and fat digestions and absorption 3. mesenteric part.

Small Colon – final portion of digestive system. and ?AA? 2. can create a “jam” of undigestible fiber = impaction colic . Cl. very liquid Digestive Processes: 1. C-chains. absorption of NH3+ 2. Large dorsal colon – conservation of electrolytes (Na. slows passage of ingesta. 3-way valve – allows ingesta to enter cecum from ileum. 4 ft. CAN contract and allow ingesta to by-pass the cecum Environment – Ph neutral. CH4. R-groups. allows heavy particles (sand) to settle out. vast. Dietary fat is ~100% digested and absorbed in limited quantities 3. zinc. absorption of P 3. B vitamins. 5) CECUM – large. primary function is to CONSERVE WATER. muscular mixing vat. Initiation of fermentation Insol CHO  VFA. 40-50 gallons 3 PARTS: 1. magnesium. 40-50% of GIT. Begin synthesis of B Vitamins. 12-15% of GIT. varied population of microbes.Digestive Processes: 1. possible synthesis of amino acids 6) LARGE INTESTINE – digestion. 7-9 gallons ILEOCECAL VALVE – separates the foregut and hindgut. long. K). ~80% of water is removed from ingesta at this point **PELVIC FLEXURE – narrowing of the intestine between the ventral and dorsal colon (8” diameter3-4” diameter). Almost ALL vitamins and many minerals (calcium. H2O. manganese) are absorbed **LIMITATIONS are primarily related to volume of feed and rate of passage. absorption and excretion of nutrients. copper. Large ventral colon – makes up about 50% of large intestine. absorption of VFA. allow ingesta to leave cecum and enter large intestine. absorption of VFA Begin protein  NH3+. continuation and completion of microbial digestion. Available protein (not bound to fiber) is ~50-70% digested and absorbed 4. Soluble CHO are ~ 90% digested and absorbed in limited quantities 2.

and small intestine and digestion involves both physical and chemical processes. protease. and can not store bile. complex molecules. ENZYMES – break susceptible feed particles into nutrients that can be absorbed and utilized by the body. Chemical processing involves exposure of the masticated feed to chemicals – enzymes and acids. ACIDS – weaken/destroy cell walls and the bonds creating large. stomach. protease. stomach. Enzymes are produced by the: Salivary Glands – amylase Chief Cells (stomach) – protease Pancreas – amylase. protozoa. portions of the feed to the chemical digestion to come. is NOT influenced by dietary intake or dietary fat level. This exposes the inner. It breaks up large fat globules into smaller units that can be attacked by lipase. but it is necessary for proper digestion of dietary fat. lipase Intestinal Glands – amylase. MICROBIAL DIGESTION does occur in the foregut! Microbes (bacteria. It also increases the amount of surface area that will be directly exposed to this chemical activity. Any impairment in mastication will result in an overall decrease in digestive efficiency. Acids act primarily on structural proteins. and small intestine. Acids are produced by the Parietal Cells (stomach) – primarily HCl. BILE is neither an enzyme or and acid. lipase. **Contrary to popular belief. under normal circumstances. The horse has no GALL BLADDER. microflora) are found in the mouth. . esophagus. high nutrient. The production and flow of bile is continuous and.DIGESTIVE PROCESSES In general the digestive system of the horse can be separated into two parts – the FOREGUT and the HINDGUT. Bile is an emulsifier. Bile is produced by the LIVER and flows directly into the duodenum of the small intestine. The FOREGUT is composed of the mouth. Physical processing = MASTICATION Mastication physically reduces the feed particle size by crushing/ shredding/tearing the kernel/stem/leaf. exposing other substrates to enzymatic digestion.

VFA are used in and/or absorbed from both the cecum and ventral colon. This type of protein largely escaped digestion in the foregut. Fiber  VFA + CH4 + CO2 + H2O Begins in the cecum and is completed in the ventral colon.MOUTH – primarily bacteria. primarily fermentation. fiber-bound protein. but highly efficient. Proteolysis and microbial synthesis also occur. Protein  NH3 + Carbon chains + CO2 + H2O + R-groups MICROBIAL SYNTHESIS is the microbial production of compounds. expose inner feed particles. Carbon chains + R-groups    vitamins NH3 + carbon chains + R-groups    amino acids . FERMENTATION is the microbial breakdown of insoluble CHO (digestible fiber). attack structural protein. those in the ileum attack specific peptides  amino acids. very slight impact on digestion. also produce VFA and lactic acid VFA provide energy for stomach cells Lactic acid – see acid effects above SMALL INTESTINE – specific microbes are found in the jejunum and ileum. PROTEOLYSIS is the microbial breakdown of structural. attack structural proteins. those in the jejunum attack specific disaccharides  monosaccharide. large intestine. Occurs primarily in the ventral colon. rectum and anus and digestion involves MICROBIAL ACTION. STOMACH – a variety of microbes are found in the Saccus Cecus (non-glandular portion). CH4 and CO2 remain in suspension. Very time consuming. including most of the B-vitamins and some amino acids. The HINDGUT is composed of the cecum.

Initial breakdown is very small and may function primarily to provide a source of energy for the microbes and cells of the stomach. and enzyme specific for the breakdown of cellulose. BACTERIA present in the cecum and large colon produce cellulose. is absorbed into the body. In the small colon. ABSORPTION: The equine digestive system is designed for 100% absorption of sugars in the small intestine. >the complex sugars usually contain fructose or lactose. CELLULOSE and hemicellulose are the main digestible insol-CHO found in fiber. complex chain of sugars. 80+% of the water ingested. Cellulose is a very long. Starch  sugars (primarily glucose) DIGESTION: 1) Begins in the mouth with the addition of saliva. The bonds connecting these sugars are NOT susceptible to amylase. amylase enzymes are added from the pancreas (duodenum) and from the intestinal glands (jejunum). STARCH is the primary form of sol-CHO found in common feedstuffs. Starch is a long. Breaking these bonds requires enzymes produced by specific microbes found in the crypts of the jejunum. (LIGNIN is the main indigestible insol-CHO). 2) In the small intestine. simple chain of sugar molecules held together with simple bonds. Insoluble CHO = Digestible fiber are those structural CHO which are NOT susceptible to digestion from the animal’s enzymes. or created.NUTRIENT DIGESTION AND ABSORPTION WATER: Very little water is removed from the GIT until it reaches the small colon. starch is broken down into compound and complex sugars: >the compound sugars are further broken down into simple sugars (glucose) and absorbed from the jejunum and ileum. The chain is branched and may even contain cross . These bonds are easily broken by amylase enzymes. CARBOHYDRATES: Soluble CHO are those CHO which are susceptible to digestion by enzymes produced by the digestive glands of the horse.

producing large amount of GAS and LACTIC ACID. the most common are acetic (2-C). This type of protein is very susceptible to protease enzyme activity. inner portion of the stem. the soft. Structural protein = fiber protein = cell wall protein: Fiber protein is that protein contained in the fibrous cells forming the outer covering of the . DIGESTION: FERMENTATION = the bacterial digestion of fiber: Fiber    VFA + CH4 + CO2 + H2O. PROTEIN: Protein digestion in the horse is a fairly long. The process is very slow (~24-36 hours) and consistent. The waste product produced is lactic acid. ABSORPTION: VFA = volatile fatty acids. STARCH DIGESTION IN THE CECUM AND VENTRAL COLON: The cecum and ventral colon contain a very small population of starch digesting bacteria. These bacteria are specifically designed to convert starch to ATP via anaerobic phosphorylation. **If the fermentative bacteria get a hold of starch. if fiber is available. absorbed from the ventral colon. the process is greatly ACCELERATED. and require the stronger cellulose enzymes in order to be separated. and are expelled with the feces. Digestion is very dependent on the QUALITY and AVAILABILITY of the protein in the feed. Gaseous products (CH4 and CO2) typically remain in suspension as small bubbles. Non-structural protein = available protein = non-fiber protein: Available protein is that protein found inside of the grain kernel. proprionic (3-C). Fermentation begins in the cecum and continues in the large ventral colon. and butyric (4-C). The bonds connecting the sugars are also complex.branches between chains. or the inner portion of the leaf that is exposed during MASTICATION. This creates accumulation of gas in pockets and lowers pH which results in the death of bacteria. the relative percentages of each depends on the make-up of the fiber. drawn out process when compared to the ruminant. very short chain fatty acids which are easily transported across membrane walls.

complex proteins begins the enzymatic digestive process. Jejunum – addition of protease enzymes from succous entericus. Presence of specific microbes attach specific bonds holding specific AA together (structural protein). thorough mixing of enzymes with ingesta via fibrous band action. Complete degradation of protein occurs: AA  NH3 + C-chains + R-group + CO2 + CH4 +H2O. MUCH of the AA created pass out via the feces. Absorption of these “created AA” is fair in the young. FOREGUT DIGESTION – Stomach: Saccus Cecus – microbes present in this region attach the cellulose portion of the feed exposing more of the proteins Glandular Region – ingesta is now exposed to HCl which weakens the bonds between cells and weakens the cell membranes. this exposes more protein and makes the bonds between the amino acids more susceptible to enzymatic activity.kernel. Ileum – continued exposure to protease enzymes releases more individual AA which are absorbed. peptides broken down into smaller chains. These enzymes break the chains between specific amino acids resulting in shorter chains termed PEPTIDES. which allows for absorption of these specific AA. Small Intestine: Duodenum – addition of protease enzymes from the pancreas. including EAA. growing horse. etc. This protein is often bound to cellulose. and probably quite poor in the mature horse. HOWEVER. HINDGUT DIGESTION – Cecum: Structural proteins enter the cecum and are exposed to bacteria degradation. stem. Absorption of NH3. and some to individual AA. Addition of pepsin and pepsinogen to the long chain. and leaf. . These bacteria are capable of creating AA. C-chains. the ventral colon contains synthesizing bacteria. Therefore. Ventral Colon: Degradation of protein is complete. it is only susceptible to BACTERIAL BREAKDOWN. occurs.

MINERALS: Mineral digestion and absorption occurs throughout the GIT. DIGESTION: Small Intestine: Addition of bile from the liver and lipase from the pancreas occurs in the duodenum. K. K) are acquired via fat digestion/absorption. FOREGUT: Most macro minerals and the majority of the microminerals are absorbed in the foregut – Ca. Common feedstuffs are low (<3. Vitamin C is absorbed directly from the small intestine. D. Se. More lipase is added from the intestinal glands in the jejunum. and absorbed in the large dorsal colon.5%) in crude fat and 100% of fat digestion and absorption occurs in the small intestine. Bile breaks down (emulsifies) the large fat globules into small portions. Mn. The B vitamins are synthesized by microbes in the cecum and large ventral colon. HINDGUT: The hindgut absorbs specific minerals – electrolytes: Na. Fat soluble vitamins (A. and P. VITAMINS: The majority of dietary vitamins are digested and absorbed in the foregut. Digestion includes the separation of minerals from the feedstuffs. Cu. Zn. and then individual minerals are absorbed. etc. Mg. and CONSERVES others as the need arises. Cl. . E. This allows the lipase enzymes to attack the very long chain fat molecules. Fat  (bile)  (lipase)  Free Fatty Acids ABSORPTION: Free Fatty Acids (FFA) are absorbed from the jejunum and ileum.FAT: Fat digestion in the horse is very efficient under normal feeding conditions.

separate the small intestine into SEGMENTS. Torsion of the intestine and/or complete blockage may result in the rupture and/or death of a segment. 4. These heavy particles (sand. torsion. Fibrous Bands in the small intestine Fibrous bands. Thus. this buildup can create an impaction ceasing the movement of ingesta through this part of the intestine. IN addition. or from a backup of ingesta. it is possible for BOTH valves to open at the same time. and absorption of nutrients. etc. due to gas buildup. . 3. pain. RUPTURE of the equine stomach is achievable. the cecum is very loosely attached. 2. Therefore.Anatomical Peculiarities that Predispose a Horse to Colic 1. The horse cannot belch or vomit under normal conditions. dirt. Ileo-cecal valve and the cecum Movement of ingesta into and out of the cecum is controlled by the ileocecal valve. through overeating. and movement out is controlled by pressure within the CECUM. torsion and/or displacement of the cecum can occur. This restriction allows HEAVY PARTICLES to settle out of the ingesta and collect in the area. etc. Passage of ingesta through these segments is slowed to allow for the mixing of enzymes and the absorption of nutrients. the narrowing of the intestinal lumen may allow the buildup of indigestible fiber. In addition. Overfeeding can cause distension of the segments resulting in pain. the equine stomach can fairly easily become distended from a buildup of gas. If the ileo-cecal valves are closed. Esophagus and Cardiac Sphincter The combination of the esophagus and cardiac sphincter create a ONE-WAY passage to the stomach. This can allow ingesta and/or gas to move back into the small intestine creating distension. If unabated.) may place enough weight on the lining to restrict blood flow resulting in the death of the tissue. The strong muscular contractions of the cecum can result in a lot of movement. Pelvic Flexure The pelvic flexure is a physical narrowing of the large intestine between the ventral and dorsal large colon designed to slow the passage of ingesta to allow for time to complete microbial digestion and synthesis. located primarily in the jejunum. Movement into the cecum is determined by pressure in the SMALL INTESTINE.

and the most important absorption is the conservation of water. o 3# grain + 3# absorbed + 6# saliva + 1 gallon in stomach = 3+ gallons of volume in stomach. feed intake (volume) and rate of passage (time) are RESTRICTIVE FACTORS. The horse is just the opposite. when we consider the EFFICIENCY of digestion in the horse. where microbial and chemical digestion takes place. or ~ 3-4 gallons. the stomach accounts for ~ 8% of the GIT. The foregut has the LEAST volume (~35-40%) and the most RAPID passage of ingesta. Fiber > 20% Efficient digestion of this diet takes TIME.  Under normal conditions. the stomach will contain ~ 1 gallon of liquid at all times. amount of saliva added to move it to the stomach. Little of the liquid is absorbed into the roughage. to consume small frequent meals composed of relatively low quality roughage-based feed. IN the ruminant. The hindgut has the GREATEST volume (>60%) and the SLOWEST movement of ingesta. Volume of the hindgut is relatively small and passage is relatively fast.  Grain-based supplements require up to TWICE as much saliva as roughage (on a weight basis). In addition. anatomically. Therefore. . Processed grain (mastication or mechanical) will ABSORB significant amounts of liquid from saliva. or greater. there is still a required amount of saliva needed to smooth the passage of the ingesta from the mouth to the stomach.  Roughage will require an equal. Chemical digestion is restricted to the foregut.RATE OF PASSAGE The horse is designed. STOMACH: Volume: In the mature 1100# horse. the greatest volume and the slowest passage of ingesta occurs in the FOREGUT. Little digestion occurs in the hindgut. but it is needed to smooth the passage of the ingesta. o 6# hay + 6+# saliva (1 gallon) + 1 gallon already in the stomach = 3+ gallons of volume. Fat ~ 3%. Significant microbial digestion and absorption of nutrients occurs in the hindgut. Sol-CHO < 10%. CP ~ 8-15%.

an additional 4 gallons (plus the 2 gallons of liquid) is moved into the small intestine. and the intestinal juice added in each segment. Time: Food remains in the stomach for only 10-15 minutes.  Duodenum – movement through the duodenum is very quick. until this has had a chance to move out of the stomach. SMALL INTESTINE: Volume: The small intestine makes up about 30% of the GIT.  Assuming a continuous intake of feed. is ~ 70 feet long.½ gallon in at one time. and holds ~ 24 gallons. the small intestine will fill to capacity in ~ 60 minutes.  Jejunum – contains the digestive segments separated by the fibrous bands. Addition of bile and pancreatic enzymes to the ingesta is the only process occurring. the addition of bile.  In addition to the 4 gallons of ingesta from the stomach. pancreatic enzymes. may result in overloading the stomach and reducing digestive efficiency. the ingesta MUST be exposed to microbial action in the saccus cecus and to HCl and pepsin in the glandular region. Therefore. resulting in a decrease in protein digestion. The digestive segments restrict the movement of ingesta. Adding additional feed. o Peristaltic muscle contractions mix the feed stuffs with bile. pancreatic enzymes and intestinal enzymes will add another 2+ gallons of liquid. . Time: Under normal conditions. every 15 minutes. During this time. ingesta moves through the small intestine in 60-90 minutes. o Absorption from each segment is also specific. o Allow ~ ¼ . feeding as little as 3# of grain. or 6# of hay may fill the stomach to capacity. o Each segment attacks specific nutrients with certain enzymes.  As the stomach empties.  Overloading the stomach will result in limited digestive activity.

At 15 minutes. Prior to feeding.  Processing roughage takes more time in the stomach than grain. the stomach contains ~ 1 gallon of fluid. Thirty minutes after the beginning of the meal. and the ingesta.  Additional feed forces the contents of the stomach to move into the small intestine in less than the 10-15 minute time needed for proper digestion. the roughage begins to push the grain ingesta through the digestive segments. ALL of the grain is in the small intestine. .  The last 1-2# of grain probably does NOT have an opportunity for complete digestion in the stomach. o Movement through the ileum is fairly constant.  As the hay moves into the stomach. As the horse begins eating ~ ½ # bolus of grain is swallowed every 1-2 minutes. under normal conditions spends 2-5 minutes in each segment.  Within 6-12 minutes the stomach is full. o Time (rate of passage) is influenced by the intake of feed pushing the current contents out of the small intestine. it forces the grain out. roughage begins to enter the small intestine.5% BW hay. Hay is passed as ¼# bolus every 12 minutes. Most horses will consume the grain first in ~ 15-20 minutes. the 1st bolus enters the 1st digestive segment. Ten to fifteen minutes after the horse has begun his meal.5# hay/feeding.  Within 5 minutes.  Within 30-45 minutes ALL segments contain grain ingesta. the grain ingesta begins to enter the small intestine. the 1st 1-2# of hay will probably NOT spend an adequate amount of time in the stomach.o There are 10-12 segments.  Ileum – contains a tremendous surface area created by extensive CRYPTS lining the intestine. o Absorption of many (most) nutrients occurs. PRACTICALITY Given a 1000# horse fed two meals per day at 1% BW grain and 1.  Therefore.  Within 5 minutes. Hay consumption will take ~ 30-45 minutes. 5# grain/feeding and 7. the horse begins to consume hay. Ten minutes later.

1# roughage will displace > 2# grain. Roughage moves SLOWER. .  THEREFORE. but has MORE BULK. the final 1-2# of grain may NOT have adequate time for digestion and absorption to occur.