What You Need To Know About Equine Ulcers

Does my horse have an ulcer?

According to estimates, 90% of race horses and 60% of show horses as well as a large number of the general horse population suffer from ulcers*, also called “equine gastric ulcer disease” (EGUD). Your vet is able to diagnose whether your horse suffers from EGUD.  Here some general information on the topic:

The horse’s stomach

In comparison to our human stomach, the horse’s stomach is rather small and can only hold about 2-4 gallons**. Moreover, the human stomach only produces stomach acid when we start eating. In contrast, the horse’s stomach constantly produces stomach acid, because in nature, the horse constantly eats. This means: If a horse does not eat, the stomach acid accumulates in the stomach and can irritate the tissues of the stomach lining.

A horse’s stomach is much smaller than a human stomach and produces stomach acid constantly.

Causes of equine gastric ulcers

  • Infrequent meals – Horses are grazing animals designed to eat small meals frequently. If meals are infrequent, stomach acid builds up and this sets the stage for ulcers.
  • Feed types – Roughage is the most important element in a horse’s diet***. It requires more chewing, which stimulates the production of saliva. Saliva neutralizes stomach acid. Feeding concentrated feeds increases the production of stomach acid. Also look for a connection in changes of the amount of exercise/amount of feed.
  • Stress – Stress can decrease the amount of blood flow to the stomach by increasing Cortisol levels.**** This makes the lining of the stomach more vulnerable to injury from stomach acid. (Stress can be anything from an incompatible pasture mate to higher performance demands or travel.)
  • Medications – Ask your vet how frequent use of anti-inflammatory drugs like Bute or Banamine can contribute to the development of ulcers.
Horses need high-quality forage as their first and foremost nutrition and frequent feedings throughout the day.

Signs of possible ulcers in horses (adult horses)

  • “Girthiness” or not wanting to be groomed around girth area or stomach
  • Poor appetite, weight loss and poor body condition
  • Poor hair coat
  • Mild colic or lying down more than normal
  • Mental dullness or attitude changes
  • Poor performance

What can I do if I observe possible symptoms of Equine Gastric Ulcer Disease?

Contact your vet if you suspect that your horse may have gastric ulcers. Here some immediate risk-free steps to try:

  • Remove any suspected ‘stress factors’ from your horse’s life
  • Reduce grains in the diet (involve an equine nutritionist, for example with Buckeye Nutrition)
  • Increase the forage/roughage in your horse’s diet
  • Ensure frequent meals
  • Feed probiotics
  • After making above changes, feed a gastric support supplement after checking with your vet on recommendations.

Sources:

  1. Information on Gastric Ulcers in horses by AAEP
  2. The gastric anatomy of the horse by Iowa State University
  3. Fiber as the basis for horse feed by Kentucky Equine Research
  4. Information on Equine Gastric Ulcer Syndrome or EGUS by Total Equine Vets

Please note: I may make a small commission on any of the listed products. I am not licensed to diagnose or treat illness.

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