Gastric ulceration is the most common problem associated with the equine stomach. It is caused by a combination of many factors from the management of the horse to the horses use. It is reported that about 60% of show horses and up to 90% of racehorses suffer from gastirc ulcers. One research study concluded that trailering a horse to a new place, keeping it is a stall for five days with light work and then bringing it home with no other changes in diet, can cause gastric ulcers. Clinical signs of gastric ulcers can range from non-specific to severe. Signs to watch for include:
- Abdominal pain/discomfort
- Decreased performance
- Increase stress when taken off property
- Mild to moderate colic
- Poor body condition
- Poor appetite, especially for grains
- Loss of appetite when training
- Frequent laying down
Changes in attitude/behavior
- Decrease in performance
The horse’s stomach is divided into two portions, the non-glandular and the glandular portions. The non-glandular portion of the equine stomach is an area that is a reservoir for the food and does not secrete or absorb anything. The glandular portion is very similar to the lining of human stomachs and is responsible for secreting hydrochloric acid, electrolytes and water. The glandular area also has a thin lining of mucous that protects it from the acid it secretes but the non-glandular portion does not. At the division between the two areas is the margo plicatus. Most ulcers are found on the non-glandular portion of the stomach next to the margo plicatus or possibly at the cardiac spincter (where the esophagus enters the stomach).
How to tell if your horse has Ulcers?
The only way to confirm that your horse has ulcers is to do a Gastroscopy. The procedure is done at a clinic under light sedation. The night before the horse must be held off all feed. This is the most important step as it allows the stomach to completely empty and gives the veterinarian the best chance to visualize the entire stomach lining. Then, under light sedation, the veterinarian will pass a 3 meter endoscope into the nostril, down the esophagus and into the stomach. Once there, we can visualize the gastric mucosa and evaluate it for the presence of ulcers. Repeat gastroscopy may be necessary to insure the ulcers are healing post treatment.
What to do next?
If your horse is diagnosed with gastric ulcers, the best treatment is Gastroguard (Omeprazole). Many management factors can help lessen the chance of horses getting ulcers. One is turning your horses out on grass pastures. Others include, feeding hay more frequently (so there is less acid in the stomach), decreasing the amount of grain fed and increasing the roughage fed, and adding or increasing the amount of alfalfa hay in the diet (as this buffers the pH of the stomach).