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).
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.