Equine Ulcers

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By Melyni Worth, PhD

Stomach ulcers in horses have emerged as one of the most under-rated problems in equine health. Recent surveys have shown that between 80-90% of stabled horses have stomach ulcers. In this percentile, it is commonly the horses that lead stressful lives, such as racehorses, show horses and even some pleasure horses. The symptoms are so varied and manifold, that misdiagnosis has been the norm. Back pain, reluctance to go forward under saddle, crabbiness while being groomed or tacked, general bad temper, restlessness, stall weaving, cribbing, poor appetite, difficulty maintaining weight, unspecific hind end lameness, and chronic colic are all possible symptoms. While these expressions are a sign of discomfort, often these horses are disciplined for bad behavior.

Horses tend to be very prone to ulcers because of the design of their stomachs. Glandular mucosa is the lining of the stomach which protects the stomach wall from the effects of acid secretions and pepsin, a digestive enzyme. While the human stomach is lined entirely by the glandular mucosa, only the bottom third of the equine stomach has this protective lining.

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When the horse grazes naturally, the stomach always has a small amount of high fiber feed in it, keeping acid levels at bay. However, it is our habit to feed large grain-based meals without adequate forage or grazing periods in between. This allows acid and pepsin access to the upper unprotected portion of the equine stomach. Therefore, ulcers appear to be something the equine is predisposed to, a tendency exacerbated by the feeding of grain meals with insufficient forage. In addition, administering NASIDs (non-steroid anti-inflammatory drugs, such as bute) also tend to cause ulceration.

Ulcers are usually diagnosed by a veterinarian viewing the stomach via endoscope. Once diagnosed, the vet can prescribe one of several drugs – Omeprazole, Lansoprazole, Ranitidine and Cimetidine, which are all potent inhibitors of gastric secretions, and thus, reduce the pain of ulcers. While these drugs are highly effective, they are also very expensive.

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To prevent ulcers from forming, or to relieve the discomfort if they already exist, a feed additive, such as TractGard®, which contains calcium carbonate and other antacids, can be helpful to add to the horse’s diet. In addition to a GI tract buffer such as TractGard®, feeding high fiber meals frequently and allowing for adequate hay intake and/or extended periods of grazing, are highly beneficial for the health of the equine GI tract.

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Tags: Horse Healthhorse careFoxden EquineNutrition