Gastric ulcers have been reported to affect 90% of racehorses and 60% of show horses. Even foals have them!
Why the extremely high incidence? Horses’ lives are anything but natural. Kept in stalls as much as 23 hours a day or more, fed twice a day instead of eating continually, and subjected to frequent trailer travel and the stress of heavy work schedules and competition, it’s a wonder that they don’t all have ulcers!
A horse in a grazing situation requires a steady flow of acid for digestion, so produces it 24/7. This acid is buffered by the grass, and saliva. When horses are fed grain, it also acts as a buffer. But when a horse only gets food twice a day, the stomach undergoes long periods without feed to neutralize the acid.
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as bute and banamine contribute to the problem as well. These substances decrease production of the stomach’s protective mucus layer, making horses more susceptible to ulcers.
In addition, Bullying will create ulcers. Be sure your horse is turned out with compatible horses so that turnout does not become a source of stress to him.
What are the symptoms of ulcers? Disinterest in food is one of the first. If your horse is seriously picky, and shows little interest in grain, he could very well be suffering from an ulcer. Speaking as a human who has had ulcers, when you eat, it hurts! So you stop eating.
Horses also don’t look their best when they have ulcers. They might lose weight, have a poor coat, or poor condition. Maybe they don’t look bad, but they just don’t look as well as they could.
Poor performance is also an indicator. If you don’t feel well, you can’t perform well. Your horse might grind his teeth, wring his tail, not want to go forward or even kick out a little at your leg. More serious cases of ulcers can lead to colic.
Ulcers are more frequently seen in athletic horses, because exercise increases gastric acid production, and decreases blood flow to the GI tract.
To know for sure that your horse has ulcers, you need to have it scoped. Ask your veterinarian if you can take a look as your horse is being scoped. The sight of those nasty ulcers in your horse’s stomach will help you understand why he’s off his feed, being cranky or not performing well!
What can we do to help this situation? Prevention of course would be the first option. Some of the possibilities include making sure your horse has free choice hay in front of him non-stop (preferably alfalfa because of its superior capacity for buffering compared to other forages) to simulate natural feeding. Feeding grain more frequently will help buffer stomach acid. Feeding foods higher in fat is beneficial, while more sugary sweet foods can make ulcers more likely.
If your horse’s scoping results in a diagnosis of ulcers, your vet will likely recommend treatment with Gastroguard® (omeprazole). But after you treat him, you’ll want to prevent recurrence. In addition to following the preventative guidelines listed above, Purina is proud to announce two additions to its line: Ultium Gastric Care®, and Outlast®. Gastric Care, while maintaining all the premiere elements of Ultium, includes highly digestible fiber sources, including beet pulp, alfalfa meal, and soy hulls to support optimal hindgut environment as well as a full serving of Purina Outlast® to support proper gastric ph.
Outlast®, fed on its own as a supplement, supports gastric health and proper ph.
These meticulously researched and tested products, which have received rave reviews in field testing, will be available at the beginning of June. Eastern Hay is excited to announce these important additions to its line of products.
By Ann Jamieson
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