How many stomachs do horses have? Most horse enthusiasts want to know about the physiology and anatomy of the horse’s stomach. It is different than many other livestock animals. Horse stomach is a hot topic of discussion among equine experts owing to the complex, sensitive, and convoluted digestive system of the livestock.
The stomach of these grazers has evolved to have unique characteristics. Horses are herbivores and only rely on a plant-based diet.
So, their stomach is developed and evolved to digest plant-based diet only. Most people believe that since the horse is part of the livestock animals, their digestive system works the same.
It is not true horses are not created to be like other livestock animals, every animal has its own characteristics and functioning.
Therefore, most horse lovers want to know how many stomachs do horses have? Do horses have multiple compartment stomachs like cattle? Here’s what you need to know about horse stomach.
How Many Stomachs Does a Horse Have?
On contrary to most people’s belief, horses only have one Stomach. They are non-ruminant herbivores having a monogastric digestive system.
Horses do not have multi-compartmented stomachs like ruminants just a single stomach that works similar to humans.
They are not efficient at absorbing energy from the food as ruminants that chew the cud. Unlike cattle, horses do not have complex multichambered stomachs.
Horses are classified as monogastric meaning horses have only one simple stomach unlike cats, dogs, or other ruminants.
Horses thrive on a plant-based diet, so, their digestive system is evolved accordingly.
Anatomy of Horse’s Stomach
The size of the horse’s stomach is comparatively smaller than the rest of the gut. It is capable of holding 9 to 10 liters of fluid.
Horses follow a very healthy diet plan, eating roughages and forage in small portions more often. Domestication has changed the feeding habits of horses quite a bit.
They are expected to consume a large meal with lesser frequency subject to satiety.
This feeding behavior undermines the digestive and absorptive capabilities of equines.
They are often given artificial pepsin along with the regular feed to aid digestion and allow breakdown and absorption of food.
It takes about 24 hours to clean the digestive tract entirely whereas horses only take 15 minutes to consume a large meal.
The horse’s stomach has three vital parts that participate in the digestion process.
These three important parts are the saccus caecus region, the fundus region, and the pyloric regions.
Each part has a unique structure and a particular function to perform. These parts are discussed in detail below.
Saccus Caecus Region
This area is located at the entrance of the stomach and the esophagus. When the food enters this area, it comes in contact with the hydrochloric acid and pepsin protein-digesting enzyme.
Pepsin has a low pH (2-3) whereas hydrochloric acid has optimum pH.
Pepsins help in digesting and absorbing protein whereas hydrochloric acid breaks large, solid particles into simple monomers.
As the feed continues to move through the stomach, the next stop is the Fundus Region.
This region has an extensive surface area due to in-folding (rugae), here, the feed has an efficient contact with the enzymes responsible to digest them.
90% of the food digestion happens here. The pH level reduces to about 5.4 and fermentation starts to halt.
Pepsin and stomach acid begin the digestion and degradation of lipids and proteins. Besides digestion, it is home to fermenting bacteria involved in the fermentation of digested food particles into absorptive constituents. There should be a balance between digestion acid and fermentation.
The final and last segment of the horse’s stomach is Pyloric Region which is just as important as other areas. In this region, the pH further drops to 2.6.
The considerable pH drop is responsible for eliminating all fermentable lactose-bacteria and initiating proteolytic activity.
The proteolytic activity in this area is ten folds more potent than in the Fundus region.
Poor horse feeding patterns may cause the Pyloric region to ulcerate owing to the excess abnormal pepsin and HCl secretion.
Horses generally consume 6 main ingredients including carbohydrates, protein, fat, vitamins, minerals, and water.
When horses are given small meals frequently, it will reduce the risk of stomach ulcers dramatically.
Why Horses Have A Single Stomach?
Now that you know about the working of the horse’s stomach, the next big question would be why do horses have a single stomach, unlike ruminant herbivores.
A sturdy one-ton animal surviving on only one stomach seems unlikely, however, it is true. Ruminants have compartmentalized stomachs and store a large amount of feed to gradually break it down. It helps ruminants prepare for unforeseen circumstances.
Horses are not equipped to store food because of their tendency to catabolize rapidly providing enough energy to their physique to perform hard labor.
A single stomach means a shorter pathway to digestion and taking less time to absorb nutrients into the bloodstream.
This is why horses have a unique, single stomach than other herbivores because of faster digestion.
The horse gut is divided into two segments; foregut and hindgut.
The foregut area digests the food whereas the hindgut absorbs and ferments the digested food monomers.
The stomach has a vital role to play in breaking down large and complex food items.
Fun Facts About Horse’s Food Digestion
- Horses are only capable of chewing on one side of the mouth at a time with an outside-to-inside motion on a slant.
- When they are given plenty of feed hay or forage, horses can produce up to ten gallons of saliva per day.
- Horses can not vomit as their esophagus works in one direction only.
- The horse’s stomach is relatively small and can hold about 2 gallons.
- Food stays in the stomach of a horse for about 15 minutes before it moves to the small intestine.
Horses only have a single-chambered stomach which seems to be working perfectly for them and quite sufficient. Horses, being non-ruminant monogastric herbivores, have a simple digestion process. The only way to maintain stomach health and prevent gastric ulcers is to feed small quantities more often.
- Straight from the horse’s stomach
- Digestive Health