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Animal Connections Integrative Care Blog

Gastic Ulcers in the Horse

This week’s topic is ulcers in horses. Horses are designed to be grazers and eat small meals several times a day.  They have a small stomach capacity of roughly 2 gallons.  Their stomachs constantly produce acid and they also lack a gallbladder.  A constant flow of food into the stomach gives the acid something to break down.  When we limit feeding to twice a day the horse will have times where there is nothing in the stomach for the acid to work on and this can lead to the formation of ulcers.  Stress and certain drugs can also cause ulcers in our equine friends.

Ulcers can be hard to detect.  Some horses may show intermittent colic, others may go off of their grain or feed, while others may have decreased performance or behavior issues.  The best way to diagnose ulcers is to have your horse scoped.  This is done by your veterinarian with a piece of equipment that looks into their stomach.  There are also certain acupuncture points that are commonly reactive in horses with ulcers.  If 3 or more of these points are reactive and there are clinical signs of gastric ulcers then there is a increased probability that your horse may be suffering from ulcers.

If your horse is diagnosed with ulcers the “gold standard” for treatment is a drug called omeprazole.  This drug is a proton pump inhibitor and stops the production of stomach acid, which will give ulcers time to heal.  At this time omeprazole is the only drug that has been proven to heal ulcers.  However, the key is to prevent ulcers from occurring in the first place.   

Here are some options that can help prevent ulcers in horses:

 1.  Allow horses to have access to feed throughout the day.  One option is putting hay in hay bags with small holes so the horse has to eat slowly.  Hay can also be spread out along the fence-line or stall to mimic a grazing situation. There are even some feeders on the market that are designed to make getting the feed a game. The idea is to have feed available but not allow the horse to gorge on the feed and get fat……….….that, will be a topic for another blog. 

2.  Feed neutral or cooling feeds.  Beet pulp soaked in water is a great option. Alfalfa is a cooling food and is also in calcium (which is like Tums for horses).

3.  Supplements may be helpful.  There are many out there.  Some may work better than others, but know that not all horses respond the same.  If you plan to try these supplements give them a 1 month trial.  If you see no improvements then do not waste your money. 

4.  Limit Grains.  Grains tend to lower the pH of the stomach.  If a horse has ulcers you may notice that they do not eat their grain as well. 

5.  Decrease stress . . . this is easier said than done in many cases, but allow for turnout whenever possible.  Horses are social creatures and like to interact in a herd. 

2 Comments to Gastic Ulcers in the Horse:

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horse hoof supplement USA on Tuesday, February 24, 2015 3:48 AM
Anything and everything you take in your daily diet comprises to what your body will appear to be and just how your system reacts to illnesses. Just like individuals, "horses are what they eat". Balanced food consumption is perhaps more vital than a good proliferation, schooling or training.
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Bronson on Friday, January 15, 2016 3:52 AM
Hello! I'm at work browsing your blog from my new iphone! Just wanted to say I love reading your blog and look forward to all your posts! Carry on the outstanding work!
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