symptoms of horse ulcers

Symptoms of Horse Ulcers

Symptoms of Horse Ulcers

Are you concerned that your horse has ulcers? With the frequency of ulcers in horses, it is something that every horse owner deals with and looks for.

The main symptoms of horses with ulcers are typically to do with signs of pain, appetite and overall grumpiness. Your horse is in pain, and eating can be painful and riding can be painful. On top of that relief from the pain can be hard to come by at times, and even made worse by trying to fix it. If you suspect any of these symptoms it’s time to contact your vet.

How to Identify if Your Horse Has Ulcers

Horse owners don’t like them, horses especially don’t like them, but ulcers are an often-unavoidable situation in every horse’s life. To be exact, somewhere between fifty and ninety percent of all horses will suffer from an ulcer – with even more horses exhibiting the telltale symptoms. Horses that race or perform under stress are more likely to develop this terrible condition.

As a horse owner, it is absolutely imperative that you understand what symptoms to look out for. If gone untreated for too long, ulcers can worsen and cause serious intestinal disturbance for the horse. Without treatment, it is almost impossible for the ulcers to heal on their own. If you can recognize the early warning signs, you can mean the difference between a miserable horse and a happy horse.

Before we go any further, it is important to understand the different types of horse ulcers. Only then can we properly identify and treat this horrible condition.

Stomach Ulcers

The ulcers horses develop and the ulcers humans develop are quite similar. And while most ulcers grow inside the horse’s stomach, they have also been known to form in the colon. The correct term for ulcers in horses is “Equine Gastric Ulcer Syndrome.” However, there are two branches of this, which are dependant on where exactly inside the stomach the ulcers have formed.

Equine Glandular Gastric Ulcer Syndrome relates to the lower part of the horse’s stomach and is the rarer of the two types. Because the lower region of the stomach lining is much more suited to handling the corrosive stomach acids, it is less prone to being afflicted by sores or lesions. This is something more common with horses that participate in racing.

Equine Squamous Gastric Ulcer Syndrome is when the upper section of the horse’s stomach lining forms the nasty ulcer lesions. Because this area is less protected from acid, this is the most suffered type of ulcer – roughly between 60 and 80 percent.

Hindgut Ulcers

It is important to recognize the difference between stomach ulcers and ulcers in the hindgut, specifically in the colon. These are known commonly as colonic ulcers. Because of their tricky location inside the horse’s body, these types of ulcers are difficult to asses and to detect and are often confused for ulcers in the foregut. But these are extremely dangerous. The large intestines are responsible for the horse’s digestive system. If this system is compromised it can be disastrous for the horse.

Luckily, the symptoms of hindgut ulcers are more server and more easily noticeable. If you suspect your horse is showing any of the following signs, contact your veterinarian immediately. You may need to schedule an ultrasound.

  • Recurring lack of appetite
  • Lethargy
  • Sporadic fever
  • Bouts of colic
  • Edema on the belly because of protein loss in the blood
  • Weight loss
  • Thin body

If any of these signs are in addition to loose manure, large fecal balls, or rampant diarrhea (liquid on the horse’s inner thighs and legs), seek the professional opinion of your veterinarian as soon as possible. If you are in doubt whether your horse suffers from foregut or hindgut ulcers it is important to check to know for sure. This will involve an ultrasound to check the outer layer of the colon for any abnormalities. Once the condition is identified, treatment can start.

Signs of Stomach Ulcers

The worst possible thing you can do is to ignore the early warning signs of equine gastric stomach ulcers. If left untreated, hindgut ulcers may also form, and this is incredibly problematic for the horse. Keep a lookout for these signs. If you see any – or even suspect something is wrong, seek medical advice from a professional asap.

All forms of ulcers have similar symptoms. These include but are not limited to:

  • Diarrhea
  • Drained energy and lack of stamina
  • Lying down more frequently
  • Reduced appetite
  • Cribbing and/or weaving
  • Colic
  • Shifts in attitude
  • Poor performance
  • Loss of weight and/or muscle
  • Hair becoming dull
  • Grinding of the teeth
  • Anemia
  • Discomfort
  • Reluctant to bend legs too much
  • Occasional lameness in the hind end

Some of these symptoms are vague and may not necessarily mean your horse has ulcers. However, if they persist for days or weeks it can very well be ulcers. Keep your eyes open and be attentive to your horses at all times. If one of these symptoms rears its head, you must act fast. It is always better to have a small veterinarian bill for a false alarm than a seriously sick horse.

Preventative Measures

To prevent the menace of ulcers from ever affecting your horse (and for after your horse has healed from previous ulcers), it is wise to implement a preventative care regiment to keep your horse healthy. This can be done by using digestive supplements and supportive means. Most causes of ulcers have to do with changing their dietary routine, heavy loads of stress, and poor diet.

To keep your horse happy and feeling good, try to provide a stable diet for your horse. Take care to turnout daily and to offer the highest quality of grass and hay. Add alfalfa into the horse’s diet. Make sure your horse eats four or more small-sized meals every day. Encourage horses that eat slowly or little by adding slow feeders. Also, add digestive supplements into the daily feed.

Because horses have very small stomachs, and because the stomach constantly produces acid throughout the day, it is important they are always eating – and that they always have food inside their bellies to negate the harmful affects of acid. By ensuring your horse is always fed, you can rest easy knowing there is very little chance it will develop an ulcer. Just like you keep yourself healthy, watch your horse and provide the same kind of care that you would for yourself.

How Are Ulcers Diagnosed in Horses?

The only way to know for sure is to get your vet to use a gastroscopy to diagnose the ulcer. This involves placing an endoscope inside the stomach and looking at the surface of the stomach. For the gastroscopy to work the stomach must be empty, which means not feeding your horse for 12-24 hours. Usually, it also means no water for 2-3 hours before the appointment.

Can Horse Ulcers Heal on their Own?

Yes, some ulcers that are on the milder side can heal on their own with proper care and attention. Ulcers are lesions on the mucosal lining of the digestive tract, either in the stomach or in the hindgut. There are different symptoms, causes and treatments. There is also a range of severity for ulcers. If the lesion is mild, with the proper care it can heal on its own. Larger more serious ulcers can cause permanent damage and even death.

Horse Ulcer treatment Omeprazole

Merial UlcerGard (omeprazole) Oral Paste Syringe (6.15 gm)
  • UlcerGard New non-prescription preventive for Equine Gastric Ulcer Syndrome
  • Contains omeprazole, which suppresses acid production in a horse's stomach
  • Effectively prevents the onset of ulcers
  • Cinnamon flavored

GastroGard and UlcerGard have approved ulcer treatments that can be effective in healing gastric ulcers and preventing them from happening again. The main ingredient involved is omeprazole and is generally given at a dose of 1 mg/kg for UlcerGard and 4 mg/kg for GastroGard.

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.