Journal of animal physiology and animal nutrition2021; 106(2); 313-326; doi: 10.1111/jpn.13643

A Fibre- vs. cereal grain-based diet: Which is better for horse welfare? Effects on intestinal permeability, muscle characteristics and oxidative status in horses reared for meat production.

Abstract: Horses reared for meat production are fed high amounts of cereal grains in comparison with horses raised for other purposes. Such feeding practice may lead to risk of poor welfare consequences. The aim of this study was to investigate the effects of two feeding practices on selected metabolic parameters and production aspects. Nineteen Bardigiano horses, 14.3 ± 0.7 months of age, were randomly assigned to two groups-one fed with high amounts of cereal grains (HCG; n = 9; 43% hay plus 57% cereal grain-based pelleted feed) vs. one fed with high amounts of fibre (HFG; n = 10; 70% hay plus 30% pelleted fibrous feed)-for 129 days. At slaught on abattoir, biological and tissue samples were collected to evaluate the microbiological contamination of mesenteric lymph nodes and liver; selected meat quality traits (chemical composition and fatty acid profile of the Longissimus thoracis et lumborum muscle); and the oxidative status of the horse. A linear mixed model was used: dietary treatment and sex were fixed effects and their interaction analysed on production and metabolic parameters as dependent variables. Results showed an increased intestinal permeability in the horses fed HCG compared to HFG, according to the significant increased total mesophilic aerobic bacteria counts in mesenteric lymph nodes (p = 0.04) and liver samples (p = 0.05). Horses in HCG showed increased muscle pH (p = 0.02), lighter muscle colour (L) (p = 0.01), increased intramuscular fat concentrations (p = 0.03), increased muscle glutathione peroxidase and superoxide dismutase activities (p = 0.01 and p = 0.03, respectively). Moreover, horses in HCG had lower muscle water holding capacity at interaction with sex (p = 0.03, lower in female), lower muscle protein content (p = 0.01), lower concentration of muscle PUFAs (p = 0.05) and lower plasma catalase activities (p = 0.05). Our results showed that feeding a high cereal grains diet can have global effects on horse physiology, and thus represents a threat for their welfare.
Publication Date: 2021-09-22 PubMed ID: 34553422PubMed Central: PMC9292821DOI: 10.1111/jpn.13643Google Scholar: Lookup
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  • Journal Article
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Veterinary


This research summary has been generated with artificial intelligence and may contain errors and omissions. Refer to the original study to confirm details provided. Submit correction.

The study aims to compare the effects of two dietary practices in horses bred for meat production: high cereal grain ingestion and high fibre intake. The findings show that a high cereal grain diet has a negative effect on horse welfare, affecting intestinal permeability, muscle traits, and oxidative status.

Objective and Methodology of the Study

  • The research aimed to understand the effects of high fibre diet versus high cereal grain diet on horses bred for meat production.
  • The scientists used 19 Bardigiano horses around 14.3 ± 0.7 months old, dividing them randomly into two groups.
  • The first group was fed high amounts of cereal grains (HCG; n = 9; 43% hay plus 57% cereal grain-based pelleted feed), while the second was given a high-fibre diet (HFG; n = 10; 70% hay plus 30% pelleted fibrous feed).
  • The dietary regimen lasted for 129 days, after which the horses were slaughtered, and the researchers collected biological and tissue samples.
  • The samples were thoroughly examined to ascertain the microbiological contamination of mesenteric lymph nodes and liver and selected meat quality traits.

Major Findings

  • Findings revealed that intestinal permeability was significantly higher in HCG horses compared to the HFG group, as indicated by the increased total mesophilic aerobic bacteria counts in mesenteric lymph nodes (p = 0.04) and liver samples (p = 0.05).
  • The horses in the HCG group showed increased muscle pH, lighter muscle colour (L), increased intramuscular fat concentrations, increased muscle glutathione peroxidase and superoxide dismutase activities.
  • On the contrary, HCG horses exhibited lower muscle water holding capacity (particularly in females), lower muscle protein content, reduced muscle polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs) concentration, and diminished plasma catalase activities.


  • This research concludes that a high cereal grain diet can have broad negative effects on horse physiology, posing a significant risk to their welfare.
  • The study thus advocates for the benefits of a high fibre diet over high cereal grain intake in horses bred for meat production.

Cite This Article

Raspa F, Dinardo FR, Vervuert I, Bergero D, Bottero MT, Pattono D, Dalmasso A, Vinassa M, Valvassori E, Bruno E, De Palo P, Valle E. (2021). A Fibre- vs. cereal grain-based diet: Which is better for horse welfare? Effects on intestinal permeability, muscle characteristics and oxidative status in horses reared for meat production. J Anim Physiol Anim Nutr (Berl), 106(2), 313-326.


ISSN: 1439-0396
NlmUniqueID: 101126979
Country: Germany
Language: English
Volume: 106
Issue: 2
Pages: 313-326

Researcher Affiliations

Raspa, Federica
  • Department of Veterinary Sciences, University of Turin, Grugliasco, Italy.
Dinardo, Francesca Rita
  • Department of Veterinary Medicine, University of Bari, Valenzano, Italy.
Vervuert, Ingrid
  • Institute of Animal Nutrition, Nutrition Diseases and Dietetics, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Leipzig University, Leipzig, Germany.
Bergero, Domenico
  • Department of Veterinary Sciences, University of Turin, Grugliasco, Italy.
Bottero, Maria Teresa
  • Department of Veterinary Sciences, University of Turin, Grugliasco, Italy.
Pattono, Daniele
  • Department of Veterinary Sciences, University of Turin, Grugliasco, Italy.
Dalmasso, Alessandra
  • Department of Veterinary Sciences, University of Turin, Grugliasco, Italy.
Vinassa, Marica
  • Department of Veterinary Sciences, University of Turin, Grugliasco, Italy.
Valvassori, Ermenegildo
  • Public Veterinary Service, ASL TO5, Chieri, Italy.
Bruno, Elena
  • Public Veterinary Service, ASL CN2, Alba, Italy.
De Palo, Pasquale
  • Department of Veterinary Medicine, University of Bari, Valenzano, Italy.
Valle, Emanuela
  • Department of Veterinary Sciences, University of Turin, Grugliasco, Italy.

MeSH Terms

  • Animal Feed / analysis
  • Animals
  • Diet / veterinary
  • Edible Grain
  • Horses
  • Meat / analysis
  • Muscle, Skeletal / metabolism
  • Oxidative Stress
  • Permeability


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