What Are The Symptoms Of Ulcers In Horses
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What Are The Symptoms Of Ulcers In Horses

Have you noticed a change in your horse’s behaviour or appearance? Ulcers in horses are more common than most horse owners know. According to this research, Ulcers can be found in approximately 30% of adult horses, but the percentage is much higher (up to 90%) in racehorses and 60% of show horses, event horses, western performance horses, and endurance horses. In What Are The Symptoms Of Ulcers In Horses, we explore equine ulcers, the symptoms and the proactive measures you can take to address ulcers to ensure the well-being and comfort of your equine companions.

Definition of gastric ulcers in horses

Gastric ulcers in horses are erosions or sores that form in the stomach lining. These ulcers can occur in the upper portion of the horse’s stomach, the squamous mucosa, or the lower portion, the glandular mucosa. These ulcers can be caused by various factors, including stress, a diet high in concentrates and low in forage, intense exercise, and certain medications.

Common signs of horse ulcers include behavioural changes such as irritability or decreased performance, poor appetite, abdominal pain, weight loss, and recurrent colic. Diagnosis of ulcers may be confirmed through endoscopic examination of the stomach by your vet.

Types of ulcers in horses

Gastric ulcers occur in the horse’s stomach and are a common issue, particularly in performance horses. These ulcers are often caused by stress, diet, and management factors and can result in symptoms such as poor appetite, poor body condition, and changes in behaviour. Horses can develop two types of ulcers: glandular mucosal ulceration and squamous mucosal ulceration.

Squamous ulcers affect the white top third of the stomach and reflect increased acid exposure of the tissue. Glandular ulcers affect the pink bottom 2/3 of the stomach, particularly the final 1/3 called the antrum.
The main difference between gastric ulcers (EGUS) and hindgut ulcers is their location in the horse’s digestive tract. Gastric ulcers occur in the equine stomach, while hindgut ulcers occur in the large colon.

Clinical signs of gastric ulcers in horses

Clinical signs of gastric ulcers in horses may include loss of appetite, weight loss, poor coat condition, decreased performance, poor body condition, and teeth grinding. Horses with ulcers may also display signs of discomfort, such as laying down more than usual, excessive pawing, and stretching the front legs. Other noticeable symptoms of gastric ulceration may include a dull coat, poor performance, intermittent colic symptoms, and sensitivity to grooming or saddling. The majority of horses will display one or more of the above signs in adult horses.

In horses with severity of ulcers, may exhibit signs of hindgut ulcers such as diarrhea or may show signs of chronic pain such as chronic lameness, behavioral changes and instances of colic. It is important to note that not all horses with gastric ulcers will display all these signs, and some horses may show no outward clinical signs. If you suspect your horse may have equine ulcers, it is essential to consult your vet for a proper diagnosis and treatment plan.

Risk factors for ulcers in horses

A variety of factors can cause gastric ulcers in horses. Some of the common risk factors for gastric ulcers in horses include:

  1. Diet: Horses fed infrequently, have limited access to forage, or are on high-grain diets are at a higher risk of developing gastric ulcers. Forage ration for extended periods is not good for gut health. Feeding smaller meals 3-5 times per day is preferable.
  2. Stress: Competition horses exposed to stressful situations such as training, showing, travelling, or being in a busy, stable environment are more prone to developing ulcers.
  3. Medications: Certain medications, such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or corticosteroids, can increase the risk of ulcers in horses.
  4. Exercise: Intense exercise, mainly if the horse’s stomach is empty, can create excessive acid production, with ‘acid splash’ contributing to the development of ulcers. This can affect individual horses differently, but feeding a scoop of chaff thirty minutes before exercise can help soak up any excess stomach acid from splashing, thus causing ulcers.
  5. Management factors: Horses at risk include limited turnout, being stabled for prolonged periods, social isolation, and inadequate access to fresh water.

Ulcer Treatment Options

Treatment for ulcers in horses typically involves a course of medication. Omeprazole is a popular choice for gastric ulcers in adult horses and is usually administered into the horse’s mouth with a syringe. Sucralfate is often considered to be beneficial for the treatment of glandular (pyloric) ulcers in horses.

Feeding aloe vera supports digestive health. Soothing the gastrointestinal tract’s lining can offer relief from specific digestive issues like acid reflux, irritable bowel syndrome, or ulcers. Aloeride is a natural, organic, Soil Association certified, human-grade Aloe Vera horse supplement which can be fed alone or in association with equine ulcer treatment with no adverse effects. One Sachet per day for a Horse of 500kg = 2000mg, the equivalent of 400ml of aloe vera juice in one easy-to-feed, taste-free sachet.

Ulcer treatment is done alongside recommended management changes such as increasing turnout time, providing a diet high in forage, and reducing stressful conditions to help buffer stomach acid. Prevention measures may include:
• Feeding smaller, more frequent meals.
• Providing access to pasture.
• Reducing stress through consistent routines and environments helps promote ulcer healing.

In conclusion, gastric ulcer syndrome in horses is a common condition that can affect a horse’s overall health and performance. Proper management and treatment are essential for the well-being of the horse.

Horse owners need to be aware of these risk factors and take preventative measures to reduce the likelihood of their horses in training from developing gastric ulcers. This may include ensuring the horse has a consistent feeding schedule, feeding Aloeride, giving extended access to pasture to encourage forage intake to help buffer excess acid, and managing stress levels.

Regular veterinary check-ups and proper management are also vital in helping to prevent and manage ulcers in horses.

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