GI Ulcers in Horses

AQHA Elite Equine1


There are two types of ulcers that horses may have; gastric (stomach) ulcers or colonic ulcers.  When most people think of ulcers in horses, they think of gastric ulcers.  This post will go over both types of ulcers.

 Colonic ulcers are present in the colon, typically the right dorsal colon.  Ulcers in the right dorsal colon can be caused by the usage of NSAIDS such as bute.

Gastric ulcers are said to be present in up to 90% of race horses and up to 60% of show horses.    Stall confinement alone can lead to the development of ulcers. A horse’s feeding schedule also can be a factor. When horses are fed just twice a day, the stomach is subjected to a prolonged period without feed to neutralize its naturally produced acid.  In addition, high-grain diets produce volatile fatty acids that can also contribute to the development of ulcers.

Causes of gastric ulcer may include: stress, both environmental and physical, can increase the likelihood of ulcers, as can hauling, training and mixing groups of horses. Strenuous exercise can decrease the emptying of the stomach and the blood flow to the stomach, thus contributing to the problem.  Horses have two portions of their stomach, the bottom portion is glandular and the top portion is aglandular.  The line between these two portions is called the Margo Plicatus and is the most common area for ulcers to be present.

The clinical signs of gastric ulcers will vary from horse to horse, but can include: change in behavior, sensitivity to the cinch being tightened, aversion to being saddled, poor appetite, poor body condition, poor performance, lying down frequently and mild colic.

To diagnose gastric ulcers an endoscope is used to visualize the stomach.  This is the only way to be 100% sure as to the presence of gastric ulcers.  Your veterinarian may also use medical history, clinical signs and other diagnostics.

Treatment of gastric ulcers is Gastrogard which is omeprazole, a proton pump inhibitor.  This is currently the only FDA approved omeprazole treatment for ulcers, it only works in the stomach and is a prescription product. Other medications that can be used include H2 blockers such as cimitedine and ranitidine and buffers such as antacids.  The gold standard for treatment for gastric ulcers is Gastrogard.

Prevention of gastric ulcers include:

1. Allow free-choice access to grass or hay. Horses are designed to be grazers with a regular intake of roughage.

2. If the horse must be stalled, arrange for the horse to see the horses he socializes with. Consider offering a ball or other object that the horse can enjoy in his stall.

3. Feed the horse more frequently to help buffer the acid in the stomach.

4. Decrease grains that form volatile fatty acids.

5.  Medications such as Ulcergard to prevent gastric ulcers in horses that are being shown.

6.  Some products such as Aernus Assure, Platinum Gastric Support and THE GastroPlus may be of use in keeping horses GI tracts healthy.

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