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Equine Gastric Ulcers

What Is It?

  • Eighty percent of horses in training have ulcers. Higher intensity levels of training are correlated with an increase in ulcer incidence.

  • The major cause of gastric ulcers in horses is prolonged exposure of the squamous mucosa to gastric acid. This tissue, unlike that of the glandular portion of the stomach, does not have a mucus layer and does not secrete bicarbonate that serves as a buffer to acid produced in the stomach.

  • Saliva production is the only protection this portion of the stomach has from acid and pepsin. When saliva production is inadequate to buffer gastric acid and coat the squamous epithelium, gastric irritation and lesions may occur.

  • Gastric ulcers may be the cause of chronic, recurrent colic, poor body condition and chronic diarrhea. 

Dietary and Management Recommendations

  • Horses suffering from gastric ulcers should immediately be treated to heal the ulcers. It is helpful if horses suffering from ulcers can be turned out, preferably twenty-four hours daily and allowed to graze. Grazing produces copious amounts of saliva that will buffer the stomach lining and prevent further damage.

  • If access to pasture is not possible, it is imperative that horses with ulcers have access to excellent quality legume, grass or mixed hay. Legume hay is quite useful in this situation as its high calcium content can serve as a buffer to some extent. Also, horses tend to prefer legume to grass hay and anything that can be done to keep the horse eating should be implemented.

  • Once the ulcers are healed, it may be helpful to feed a daily buffer/antacid.
  • Increasing the feeding frequency is also helpful in keeping saliva production constant and, therefore, protecting the mucosal lining.

  • Horses with ulcers should not consume high starch rations as they tend to exacerbate the problem due to increased acid production.

  • Highly soluble fiber feeds that can be fed in large quantities work best in this situation.

  • Always provide access to good quality forage, free choice salt and water.


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