Do You Know the Signs of Equine Gastric Ulcers?

Equine gastric ulcers are a significant concern for horse owners, as they can cause discomfort and affect a horse’s overall health and performance. The equine stomach continually secretes gastric acid, which aids in the digestion of food. However, when the acid production overwhelms the stomach’s protective mechanisms — usually a layer of mucus — ulcers can form.

Causes of Equine Gastric Ulcers:

1. High-Starch Diets: High-starch diets can stimulate excessive gastric acid production, leading to ulcer formation.

2. Intermittent Feeding Regimens: Inconsistent feeding schedules can contribute to imbalances in stomach acid.

3. Extended Fasting: Horses are naturally designed for continuous grazing, so extended periods without food can increase acid contact with the stomach lining.

4. Delayed Gastric Emptying: Some horses have slower rates of stomach emptying, prolonging the exposure of the stomach lining to acid.

5. Stressors: Intensive training, competition, and performance-related stress can elevate the risk of ulcers, as can the use of NSAIDs such as bute and banamine.

Symptoms of Equine Gastric Ulcers:

1. Changes in Appetite: Horses may eat less or pick at their food.

2. Weight Loss or Poor Body Condition: Ulcers can affect nutrient absorption, leading to weight loss or poor body condition.

3. Changes in Attitude or Performance: Behavioral changes or decreased performance may indicate discomfort.

4. Colic Signs: Mild to moderate colic signs, particularly under saddle, can be present.

5. Poor Coat Condition: Ulcers can affect overall health, including coat condition.

A visual examination by a veterinarian can point to ulcers, but endoscopy is the gold standard. During an endoscopy, a veterinarian feeds a tiny camera through a horse’s nose to examine the stomach lining.

Preventing and Managing Equine Gastric Ulcers:

1. Consistent and Appropriate Diet: Provide a consistent diet with frequent access to forage or slow feeders to help reduce the risk of ulcers.

2. Proton-Pump Inhibitors (PPIs): Medications like GastroGard or UlcerGard can reduce stomach acidity and promote ulcer healing.

3. Other Medications: Additional medications, dietary changes, and management strategies may be employed to support healing and prevent recurrence.

4. Multifaceted Management: Management of EGUS often involves a combination of medical intervention, dietary adjustments, and changes in exercise to support long-term health and recovery.

By being proactive in recognizing the signs of equine gastric ulcers and implementing appropriate management strategies, horse owners can help ensure their horses’ well-being and comfort. Contact your veterinarian if you suspect your horse has ulcers.

This column is sponsored by Polk Equine, and the opinions expressed herein may not reflect those of CFAN or of its advertisers.

BIO: Dr. Katie Hennessy graduated from the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine in 2008 with a degree in large animal health and equine medicine. She completed an advanced internship at The Equine Medical Center of Ocala and is currently the owner and practicing veterinarian at Polk Equine.  She specializes in equine medicine.

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