horse with stomach ulcers

Horse With Stomach Ulcers

Horse With stomach Ulcers

Stomach ulcers are one of the first things I learned about when it came to horses.  I was told how to help a horse with stomach ulcers.  I wasn’t really sure where ulcers came from and more importantly how to treat them.  I also wanted to make sure I was aware of natural remedies, treatments and recommendations from our vet.

Let’s check the natural remedies!

Natural remedies and treatments include but are not limited to aloe vera juice, slippery elm, marshmallow, licorice, peppermint tea and proper diet scheduling.  

So what is an ulcer?

I’m going to try and make this as simple as possible.  It is, however, important to know some of the science and biology behind the issues of digestion in our horses and for this article specifically information about ulcers.

Simply put an ulcer is a hole in the mucus (snot) layer that protects the actual stomach from the acid inside.  The stomach is like a bag…and its full of acid.  The acid is there for the purpose of digestion, and in horses is constantly being produced…somewhere in the neighbourhood of 16 gallons a day. Horse with stomach ulcers.

Here are a couple more facts!!

Equine Gastric Ulcer Syndrome is the collective term used to describe the various issues and the subsequent symptoms related to what’s commonly called an ulcer. Simply put ulcers, or gastric ulcers, are erosions, or other compromises to the lining in the stomach wall. Ulcers are primarily caused by diet and stress, both of which can be mitigated by proper care and maintenance.  

What Causes Ulcers

There are a number of different factors that are at the root of ulcers in horses.  There is a consensus though among most that the cause is unknown and rather there are a number of risk factors and potential causes.  The actual scientific medical reason for the ulcer is known, and that’s acid in places it shouldn’t be, but why is a different story.  Here are the main ones…

  • Stress.  Stress seems to be one of the leading causes of ulcers in horses.  This really shouldn’t surprise anyone seeing as stress is a huge health factor in humans as well.  The simple fact is stress hormones at high levels are dangerous for the overall health of your horse, including ulcers.
  • Diet.  Horses produce a large quantity of stomach acid and its production is continuous.  Because horses are a grazing animal their guts are designed to handle constant digestion and grazing.  This happens because horses produce stomach acid constantly. If they aren’t constantly grazing these acids aren’t buffered by the mix of continuous hay/grass and saliva.  Many performance horses get higher density feedings in the form of alfalfa cubes or grains and it doesn’t take them very long to eat it.  Then they go long stretches without eating anything.  They also compete at a high level which helps push the stomach acids further up the stomach lining to places that are less protected.
  • Bacteria.  There are a number of new studies that are showing certain types of bacteria that can live in the harsh acidic environments in the stomach, and some of these might be contributing to the environment needed for an ulcer to occur.

The Types of Ulcers

So what type of ulcer does my horse have?

There are two main areas that horses can get ulcers.  One is the colon and these are known as colonic ulcers located in the hindgut.  These are similar to colitis and are essentially the same as gastric ulcers in that the protective lining of the colon has been compromised.  Ulcers in your horse’s stomach can also lead to the development of hindgut or colonic ulcers. More than 50 percent of performance horses, for example, have both gastric and colonic ulcers. Hindgut ulcers are harder to diagnose, which is why veterinarians may suggest treatment for them as a precaution.

This can happen at any time during the life cycle and growth pattern of the horse.

Equine Gastric Ulcer Syndrome is the main medical name given to ulcers in the stomach area of horses.  There are two types of gastric ulcers one is Equine Glandular Gastric Ulcer Syndrome (EGGUS) and the other is Equine Squamous Gastric Ulcer Syndrome (ESGUS).  

Glandular Ulcer (EGGUS)

A Glandular Ulcer is located in the lower part of your horse’s stomach. EGGUS is a rare form of Equine Gastric Ulcer Syndrome because the glandular lining can withstand harsh acids and is less susceptible to developing a sore or lesion. EGGUS occurs more often in racehorses than endurance horses.

Squamous Ulcer (ESGUS)

Squamous Ulcers are located in the upper part of your horse’s stomach. It’s thought of as a continuation of the lining in the esophagus.  Research has shown that ESGUS is significantly higher in number than EGGUS.  In fact, 60 to 80 percent of the horses that show symptoms of Equine Gastric Ulcer Syndrome, are diagnosed with squamous ulcers.

This picture is from the ready supp page here if you want to check them out.

Recognizing Ulcers In Your Horse

recognizing an ulcer in horses can be difficult. The signs that your horse is experiencing a stomach or colon issue like ulcers can also be the result of other issues as well.  Sometimes we also attribute behavioural and training issues as medical issues and vice-versa, which can make it difficult.  Some times we even blame our tack.

Here are some of the commonly recognized signs that your horse could be suffering from a gastric and/or colonic ulcer:

  • changes in attitude
  • poor appetite
  • decreased performance and energy
  • a decline in body condition

Often overlooked additional ways your horse may signal it has a digestive issue:

  • girthy and sensitive in the flank area
  • stall vices like cribbing and weaving
  • unwillingness to work

If you notice any of these symptoms in your horse, it’s important to have your vet check for ulcers so that you can either begin treatment or rule it out as a cause before moving on to other possibilities.

Remedies for ulcers

There are a number of remedies for ulcers and there are also a number of preventative things we can do.  The biggest thing is you want to start slow and try some things to see if you get any difference in the behaviour of your horse.  You can try a few things on your own, but it is always best to consult your vet.  If you do get your vet involved you are best to get a definitive diagnosis so you know for sure.  This is the most expensive option.  Owning a horse will not be cheap.  It just simply isn’t.

Natural Remedies and Treatments

This is by no means an exhaustive list and I will add to it as I find more.  But here are the main ones.

  1. Slippery Elm.  This coats the intestinal tract and gives it a chance to heal.
  2. Aloe Vera gel or Juice. Researchers from the University of Adelaide in South Australia concluded that “The inner leaf gel of the aloe vera plant has been reported to be effective in the prevention and treatment of gastric ulcers in man and in animals in experimental models. Its anti-ulcer properties have been attributed to a variety of possible mechanisms.  These include antioxidant activity, anti-inflammatory properties, cytoprotective and mucus-stimulatory effects, and its ability to regulate gastric acid production,” It was tested against the main drug remedy called omeprazole.
  3. Marshmallow Root.  Shown to sooth the entire digestive tract.
  4. Licorice.  Not a long term solution.  Has been shown to help reduce stomach acid by producing mucus that acts as an anti-inflammatory.  This can only be used as a temporary solution.
  5. Magnesium.  Although you may not look at this as a natural remedy, electrolytes and minerals are certainly naturally occurring in the body of your horse.  The thing with magnesium is that when horses are low in magnesium they show the same behavioural signs.  So it would be worth consulting your vet to see if this could help, of being part of the issue.  I have an article on magnesium as a supplement and you can check that out.

Tips for Natural Ulcer Prevention

The best ulcer prevention tip is to simply allow your horse to be a horse. Try to implement as many of the following prevention tips as possible. Your horse will thank you.

  • Allow playtime, including maximum turn out time with other horses
  • Limit the use of drugs, especially Bute and Banamine, unless absolutely necessary
  • Use natural remedies or herbs for pain control when possible
  • Avoid allopathic ulcer drugs as much as possible. They change the natural pH of the horse’s digestive tract
  • Feed a more natural diet, including having hay in front of your horse 24/7. Use of slow feeders allows the horse to eat small amounts often, which prevents digestive acids from burning their stomachs
  • Minimize stress, drugs, vaccinations, and toxins (especially chemical wormers and fly sprays)
  • If possible, also filter the horse’s water
  • Always make sure your horse has just eaten before you train or show

Preventative Care for Horse Stomach Ulcers

So what should we do?

One of the biggest things about ulcers is that there are a number of preventative things we can do.  Preventative care should become a core part of your horse’s daily life after recovering from ulcers and before they get one.  Many of the changes you’ll put in place are tied to how and when you feed your horse. Veterinarians also recommend supportive care, such as digestive supplements, to reduce your horse’s ulcer risk factors as well.

Risk factors for ulcers include:

  • Limited turnout
  • Adjustments in diet or routine
  • high levels of travel or intense competition schedule
  • grain-based or unprocessed grain feeds
  • Too much exercise and training
  • Weight gain and loss regiments
  • Significant use of NSAIDs

Horses are grazers and as such should have food on a constant basis.  The ideal situation is to not have long gaps between feedings.  Hay nets will help to elongate the time it takes for your horse to eat its meal.  Multiple smaller feedings will be better than single large feedings.

There are also a number of supplements that you can add to your horse’s diet to help it with its digestion and daily health.

One such supplement is Kauffman’s Equine Gold for digestive health.

For more information about ulcers and what to do visit our main ulcer page and check out these other articles.

Final Note

Over the years and through some research I have learned a lot about this subject.  This article is an all-encompassing post on this subject.  I hope to shed some light on the issue and answer some questions.  Most notably I am going to highlight natural treatments and remedies that are available for the treatment of ulcers.  I am certainly not a vet or trying to play one on the internet, so please consult your vet.

The information provided here is for informational purposes only.  The information is not a substitute for advice from a veterinarian or other health care professional.  It should not be used for diagnosis or treatment of any health problem or for prescription of any medication or other treatment. A health care professional needs to be consulted before starting any diet or supplementation program.  Also before administering any medication, alternative, herbal blends et al or if your horse has a health problem. Do not discontinue any other medical treatments without first consulting your health care professional.