Changes in the faecal microbiota of horses and ponies during a two-year body weight gain programme
Obesity is a major health concern in many domesticated equids animals since it is related to metabolic abnormalities such as insulin dysregulation, hyperlipidaemia or laminitis. Ponies especially are known as “easy keepers” and are often affected by obesity and its related metabolic disorders. Research in the last decade indicated that the intestinal microbiota may play an important role in the development of obesity, at least in humans. Therefore, the objective of our study was to characterize changes in the faecal microbiota during a two-year weight gain programme which compared ponies and warmblood horses. For this purpose, 10 Shetland ponies and ten warmblood horses were fed a ration which provided 200% of their maintenance energy requirement over two years. Feed intake, body weight, body condition and cresty neck score were recorded weekly. At three standardized time points faecal samples were collected to characterize the faecal microbiota and its fermentation products such as short chain fatty acids and lactate. Next generation sequencing was used for the analysis of the faecal microbiota. During body weight gain the richness of the faecal microbiota decreased in ponies. Besides changes in the phylum Firmicutes in ponies that were already described in human studies, we found a decrease of the phylum Fibrobacteres in horses and an increase of the phylum Actinobacteria. We were also able to show that the phylum Fibrobacteres is more common in the microbiota of horses than in the microbiota of ponies. Therefore, the fibrolytic phylum Fibrobacteres seems to be an interesting phylum in the equine microbiota that should receive more attention in future studies.