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Spring is here and so are ulcers!

Gastric ulcers are common in horses. Their prevalence has been estimated to be from 50% to 90%, depending on populations surveyed and type of athletic activity horses are engaged in.

If a common case of acid reflux can bring intense discomfort to a person, imagine your horse trying to perform with a stomach ulcer. The clinical signs of ulcers in horses are very subtle and often reflected in a slight attitude change, grumpiness, or a reluctance to train?

Gastric ulcers can affect any horse at any age. Foals are particularly susceptible because they secrete gastric acid as early as 2 days of age and the acidity of the gastric fluid is high. In adult horses, gastric ulcers occur more frequently in horses that perform athletic activities, with the highest frequency found in Thoroughbred racehorses (80-90%), followed by endurance horses (70%), and show horses (60%). Researchers have found that exercise increases gastric acid production and decreases blood flow to the gastrointestinal (GI) tract.

Horses cannot handle large amounts of food; rather, they are built to graze and eat small portions frequently. In a natural grazing situation, a horse's stomach produces acid 24 hours a day, 7 days a week--up to 9 gallons of acidic fluid per day. In a pasture situation, the horse bites off small pieces allowing for buffering by both forage and saliva. During winter in the mid-Atlantic states, there is little pasture and so horses are fed long-stemmed hay. This hay tends to stay in the stomach longer to be digested. The presence of this long-stemmed hay generates more acid and contributes to the problem.

With the addition of feed two times per day, the stomach is subjected to prolonged periods without feed and this generates more acid. Furthermore, high-grain diets produce volatile fatty acids that contribute to the development of ulcers. Many feed labels recommend 10 lbs or more per day and this throws off the natural digestive process.

Other risk factors for developing gastric ulcers include chronic administration of drugs, physical and environmental stress such as transport stress stall confinement and change.

Are all ulcers serious?

There are grades of ulcers that occur in the foregut and the hindgut. Certainly, one should follow their veterinarian’s recommendations. If you are tuned into your horse and can catch it early, it is more manageable and less costly. But at any rate, ulcers can lead to colic if not treated and shorten the life of your partner.

Stomach ulcers are treatable with omeprazole and or ranitidine. This drug shuts off the acid pump to the stomach and allows the tissue to heal. If stomach ulcers have been allowed to persist, the acid can splash into the hind gut and cause this tissue to ulcerate. In addition, there is indication that the acid can also damage the esophagus.

Things that you can do:

  • Reduce stress in their environment

  • Provide continuous access to forage

  • Allow your horse more pasture time

  • Feed some alfalfa and chopped hay

  • Feed textured, not pelleted feeds frequently in small portions

  • Consider whole non-GMO foods for your horse.

  • Remove sugars from the diet including those in hay

  • Add an edible clay, Desert Dynamin to the diet to manage the pH of the stomach and the hindgut.

  • Feed oat flour as a soothing supplement

One round of omeprazole will not fix a horse. One by one, adjustments should be made to correct any environmental and dietary issues and heal the gut. Over time, ulcers can return if the environmental or dietary factors are not addressed.

We have several products that can help heal your horse -- first there is GI Thrive(TM). This product is good for stomach and hind gut acidity and healing. It contains similar ingredients to Succeed, such as oat flour, a probiotic and oil with added ingredients of non-GMO and organic rice bran, aloe, papaya and Desert Dynamin (an edible clay). The idea is that stomach acid is neutralized while supplying soothing to the stomach and hind gut. In addition to the GI Thrive, there is an organic herbal supplement, Stomach Balance, which has also been effective in helping sour stomachs. Panacur and Safeguard have also been effective in turning off the acid pump to the stomach as a wormer. If given over a period of time, it can also assist with excess stomach acid. Papaya juice can assist gastric juices and digestive enzymes while George's aloe which is tasteless can help heal tissue in the digestive tract.

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