What are gastric ulcers in horses and how to treat them?

What are gastric ulcers in horses?

Equine gastric ulcers are a common condition affecting the digestive tract of horses. 

Horses can develop either glandular or non-glandular ulcers in their stomachs. The most frequent sort of ulcers, non-glandular ones, are brought on by prolonged exposure of the stomach lining to stomach acid. On the other hand, glandular ulcers are brought on by the disruption of the stomach’s protective mucus layer, which results in inflammation and ulceration.

What causes stomach ulcers in horses?

There are a number of factors that can contribute to the development of stomach ulcers within horses. Some of the common causes of equine gastric ulcers may include:

Prolonged periods of fasting: Horses are meant to graze for lengthy periods during the day and night, and their stomach generates acid continuously. The acidic environment of the stomach can harm the stomach lining and result in ulcers in horses kept on a restricted feeding plan or without access to grass.

Stress: Due to their sensitivity, horses can experience stress in a variety of circumstances, including travel, competition, or environmental changes. Increased stomach acid production brought on by stress might result in ulcers.

Intense exercise: Extreme exertion, such as racing, can cause the stomach contents to slosh about, increasing the risk of acid splashing up against the stomach lining and creating ulcers.

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs): NSAIDs are frequently used to treat pain and inflammation in horses, including phenylbutazone (Bute) and flunixin meglumine (Banamine). However, chronic usage of NSAIDs can raise the risk of ulcers.

Feeding practices: High-grain diets and serving infrequent large meals rather than often spaced-out small meals can interfere with the stomach’s natural ability to act as a buffer and raise the risk of ulcers.

Other underlying health conditions: By modifying the stomach’s acidity or protective factors, several diseases like colitis, renal illness, or liver disease might raise the risk of ulcers.

What are the symptoms of stomach ulcers in horses?

Symptoms of stomach ulcers in horses can vary depending on the location and severity of the ulcers. While other horses may display a variety of symptoms, some horses with ulcers may not show any overt signs of distress. Horse stomach ulcer symptoms frequently include the following: 

  1. Decrease in the appetite or picking eating
  2. Noticeable weight loss or struggling to maintain weight
  3. Changes to behaviour such as becoming irritable, aggressive or depressive.
  4. Decreased performance or a reluctance to train
  5. A reduction or alteration in manure production
  6. Colic or abdominal discomfort. This could include lying down frequently, stretching, pawing at the ground or curling up.
  7. Lack of growth in young horses
  8. A rough coat or poor body conditions
  9. Resistance to grooming or leg aids
  10. Discomfort when girth tightening

As with many illnesses or conditions, it is worth noting that these symptoms can also be associated with other problems. Therefore, it is important to have a professional veterinarian evaluate your horse in order to determine the underlying causes of the symptoms. Also, it can be the case that some horses with ulcers may not show any clinical signs and it may be best for an endoscopy to diagnose the ulcers.

Diagnosis of stomach ulcers in horses

Endoscopic stomach examination, clinical indicators, and the elimination of other probable causes of the horse’s symptoms are frequently used to diagnose stomach ulcers in horses.

An endoscopic examination of the stomach is the most accurate approach to identify stomach ulcers in horses. An endoscope, a lengthy, flexible tube containing a camera, is sent through the horse’s nose and into its stomach during this surgery in order to view the stomach lining. The veterinarian can then check the stomach lining for erosions or other abnormalities that might be ulcer-related.

Treatment of stomach ulcers in horses

The treatment of stomach ulcers in horses can typically involve a combination of medication, dietary modifications and changes in management practices. 

Medication: There are various prescription medications available for horses with stomach ulcers which your vet may choose to prescribe, one of them being Peptizole which is an oral paste. Peptizole is made to treat and prevent stomach ulcers in your horse and it can also be used to reduce the chances of ulcers returning. Secondly, another medication is Gastrogard, which is an effective solution that increases comfort and helps your horse get back to their usual selves. 

Dietary modifications: A high-quality diet focused on foraging can lower the risk of ulcers in horses. Also, feeding frequently spaced-apart short meals as opposed to infrequently spaced-apart large meals may aid to preserve a good stomach pH and lower the incidence of ulcers.

Changes in management practices:  It’s critical to address any underlying issues that might have contributed to the formation of ulcers in order to prevent their recurrence. This can entail lowering stress levels, ensuring constant access to fodder, and changing feeding procedures to lower the likelihood of ulcers.

General advice

As some general advice for horses suffering from stomach ulcers, it may help  by letting them rest for a couple days a week to encourage recovery, as well as minimising any management changes. Horses can get stressed easily, so always providing hay when travelling and stable mirrors can be effective when trying to minimise stress for the horse. If you need any more advice make sure to contact your veterinary practice or contact us today for more information about medicine related queries.