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Vet Microbiol. 2002 Jun 5;87(1):81-8.

A comparative study of the intestinal microbiota of healthy horses and those suffering from equine grass sickness.

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Department of Medical Microbiology, University of Edinburgh Medical School, Teviot Place, EH9 8AG, Edinburgh, UK.


This study compares quantitatively the microbiota of the gastrointestinal tract of healthy horses with that of horses with equine grass sickness (EGS). Faecal and ileal samples were cultured quantitatively on selective and non-selective media. Confirmed anaerobes were identified to species level. Overall faecal counts gave a ratio of aerobes:anaerobes of approximately 1:1. However, the mean counts in healthy horses of 4.4x10(8) aerobes:3.7x10(8) anaerobes per gram wet weight were different from counts in EGS (means were 10-100-fold higher), with statistically significant differences for the anaerobes (p=0.04). There were 10-100-fold more anaerobic cocci in EGS samples compared to healthy controls. Most of the seven species of anaerobic cocci were found in both healthy horses and EGS. Differences in clostridia isolated between health and disease were notable: fourteen species were isolated from EGS cases, compared to only one (C. bifermentans) in controls. The mean faecal clostridial counts in chronic disease were higher than in controls (10-fold) and in acute EGS (100-fold). In contrast, mean counts for ileal samples from acute cases, showed a 10-fold increase for clostridia compared to 1000-fold reduction in chronic cases (compared to faecal counts). Results indicate an increase in the bacterial numbers in the GI tract of animals with EGS compared to the controls and clostridia are prominent in EGS. Whether the increase in clostridia is the cause of GI stasis or a consequence remains uncertain.

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