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  • Equine Gastric Ulcers

What are Equine Gastric Ulcers?

Equine Gastric Ulcer Syndrome describes the erosion of the lining of the horses stomach due to prolonged exposure acid produced by the stomach.  The ulcers vary in severity from mild inflammation of intact stomach lining to extensive bleeding erosions.  In extreme cases perforation of the stomach can occur.

How Do Gastric Ulcers Occur?

Horses have evolved to feed continually in order to neutralise the acid secreted continuously into the stomach.
Gastric ulcers occur when the acids and digestive enzymes in normal stomach fluid overpower the protective factors in the stomach lining.  This most commonly happens when the horse undergoes prolonged periods of time without food.

Is My Horse Prone To Gastric Ulcers?

Gastric ulceration can affect ANY horse – from children's ponies to racehorses.  It is a common and serious condition.

Studies have indicated that gastric ulcers occur in up to:

  • 37% of leisure horses
  • 63% of performance horses
  • 93% of racehorses

Foals are particularly at risk with around 50% developing ulcers, particularly within  the first few months of life.

Risk Factors

The following lists some of the most commonly encountered risk factors but is by no means exhaustive.  Horses may develop severe ulcers in the absence of these characteristic risk factors.

Prolonged periods without food can lead to ulceration.  This may be due to horses not being fed adequate quantities of forage or due to horses not eating  properly through dental abnormalities or disease.

There is a definite association between training and gastric ulceration.  Even non intensive training is associated with a high prevalence of stomach ulcers.

Gastric ulceration can occur in response to physiological stress.  Shock, respiratory disease and traumatic injury may play a role.  Transportation and stable confinement are proven risk factors in causing ulcers.

This is difficult to evaluate in horses but stressful conditions may adversely affect feed intake thus causing ulceration

Some long term medications can produce adverse gastric effects by inhibiting production of substances naturally produced in the stomach that provide a protective barrier against the acid.

How Can I Tell If My Horse Has Gastric Ulcers?

It can be extremely difficult to diagnose gastric ulceration through physical examination alone.  Signs that your horse may be suffering from gastric ulcers may include one or more of the following:

  • Poor appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Poor performance
  • Poor condition
  • Behavioural changes
  • Mild or recurrent colic

Foal may also show signs of teeth grinding, excessive salivation and excessive lying down as well as infrequent nursing and diarrhoea.

Gastric ulcers are a serious condition – please contact us if you have any concerns about your horse – even if you feel that something is just not quite right.

How Can I Diagnose Gastric Ulcers?

Gastric ulcers can only be definitively diagnosed using a very long (3 metre) endoscope.  Gastric endoscopy is a relatively simple and painless procedure in which a thin tube is passed into the horses stomach transmitting images onto a television screen in order that the stomach can be visualised to check for ulceration.

Can Gastric Ulcers Be Treated?

Gastric ulcers can be treated very effectively with certain medications along with changes in management.  Simply adjusting feeding and stabling practices alone are unlikely to remedy ulcers.

Can Gastric Ulcers Be Prevented?

You can reduce the potential for gastric ulcers developing in your horse by:

  • Allowing free access to fibre
  • Feeding more frequently
  • Reducing carbohydrate component of diet
  • Using preventative treatments at times of greatest risk