Recent research has found that horses may suffer from gluten intolerance, just like humans.
Chronic inflammatory small bowel disease is often found in competition horses – particularly dressage horses. Symptoms include intermittent colic, weight loss, poor performance and anaemia.
Until now, the causes of the disease has been unknown, but researchers at the Free University of Amsterdam and Utrecht University in the Netherlands believe it may be caused by a sensitivity to gluten.
Gluten is found in various cereals, including wheat, barley and rye, and it triggers an immune reaction in people with celiac disease. This means that eating gluten damages the lining of the small intestine. Some of the horses fed a gluten-rich diet showed similar antibody responses as seen in celiac patients, and symptoms for both horses and humans are also very similar.
To test the affect of gluten, one horse with chronic inflammatory bowel disease and antibodies associated with celiacs followed a gluten-free diet for six months. Both conditions improved.
Based on these findings a screening test, using blood samples, which could identifying gluten-sensitivity in horses is currently in progress.