Diarrhea-associated pathogens, lactobacilli and cellulolytic bacteria in equine feces: Responses to antibiotic challenge

Brittany E. Harlow, Laurie M. Lawrence, Michael D. Flythe

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

60 Scopus citations


Antibiotics are important to equine medicine, but antibiotic-associated diarrhea (AAD) can lead to poor performance and even mortality. AAD is attributed to disruption of the hindgut microbiota, which permits proliferation of pathogenic microbes. The goal of this study was to evaluate the effects of common antibiotics on cellulolytic bacteria, lactobacilli, and AAD-associated pathogens in the feces of healthy horses. Fifteen horses were assigned to three treatment groups (blocked by age and sex): control (no antibiotics), trimethoprim-sulfadiazine (PO), or ceftiofur (IM). Fecal samples (n=8 per horse) were taken during dietary adaptation (3 weeks), antibiotic challenge (1 week), and withdrawal (1 week). Bacteria were enumerated by serial dilution and viable count. Cellulolytic bacteria decreased by >99% during administration of either antibiotic (P<0.0001) and were still less than controls at the end of the withdrawal period (P<0.0001). Fecal samples from horses challenged with ceftiofur had 75% fewer lactobacilli than those from control horses at the end of the antibiotic challenge period (P<0.05). Antibiotic challenged horses also shed more salmonella than control horses (P<0.05). Antibiotics had no effect on the number of Clostridium perfringens isolates. There was no detectable Clostridium difficile during adaptation or in any control horse. C. difficile increased (P<0.0001) to approximately 104cfu/g when horses were challenged with antibiotics, and were still detectable 1 week after withdrawal. These results indicate that antibiotics can disrupt the normal gastrointestinal microbiota and allow proliferation of Salmonella spp. and C. difficile.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)225-232
Number of pages8
JournalVeterinary Microbiology
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - Sep 27 2013

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The information reported in this paper (#12-07-126) is part of a project of the Kentucky Agricultural Experiment Station and is published with the approval of the Director. The work was funded by the Kentucky Racing Commission – Equine Drug Research Council , and the Kentucky Agricultural Experiment Station . MF was supported by the United States Department of Agriculture – Agricultural Research Service. We would like to thank Mieke Brümmer, Ashley Fowler, Gloria Gellin, Susan Hayes, Christine Wilson and Laura Strasinger for technical assistance. We would also like to thank Dr. Eric Vanzant for advice on statistical analysis, and Dr. Véronique Julliand for advice on reproducing her cellulolytic media.


  • Cephalosporin
  • Clostridia
  • Gastrointestinal
  • Lactobacillus
  • Shedding
  • Sulphadiazine

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • General Veterinary


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