They include poor performance, attitude changes, weight loss, poor appetite, poor hair coat, and low-grade colic (abdominal pain/discomfort), among others.
While indicators of EGGD are similar, “We don’t really know the difference in clinical signs between ESGD and EGGD,” says Michael Hewetson, BVSc, Ph.D., Dipl. ECEIM, and senior lecturer in equine internal medicine at the Royal Veterinary College, in Hertfordshire, U.K. He says this is compounded by the fact that signs are often perceived subjectively by the owner. And to date, there have been no attempts to differentiate between EGGD and ESGD when it comes to reporting clinical signs.
So, last year Hewetson and colleagues conducted a study to determine the association between EGGD and owners’ perceived clinical signs. They based their findings on a questionnaire sent to equestrians ranging from everyday owners to professional trainers, along with results from 70 horses seen at a referral hospital in Finland for gastroscopy. This procedure involves passing an endoscope through the horse’s nostril, down the esophagus, and into the stomach to see inside it. Hewetson says they narrowed their list of clinical signs to five consistent complaints.
Temperament changes, primarily nervousness and aggression, which Hewetson says might be a manifestation of stress. Researchers have recently found a link between EGGD and horses’ stress levels (more on this in the next section).
Acute or chronic colic due to painful gastric acid. He says this resolves quickly—often within 24 hours—after treatment with omeprazole.
Reduced appetite, altered eating patterns, or unexplained weight loss, which Hewetson hypothesizes are due to gastric pain when eating. Horses might appear fussy at feeding time or slow to finish their meals. They might also lose condition.
Poor performance and rideability changes, such as a reluctance to go forward, reduced willingness to work, and reduced stride length—all also likely related to gastric pain, says Hewetson.
Skin sensitivity, which he says is “perhaps the most intriguing clinical sign recognized almost exclusively in horses with EGGD.” Owners report that their horses resent girthing, grooming, leg aids, and blanketing. “The most likely explanation is that of referred pain (perceived at a location other than the site of the painful stimulus),” he says.
Hewetson cautions, however, that researchers don’t yet understand the cause-and-effect relationship of these signs and EGGD.
“Until we understand more, treatment of horses with suspected EGGD should be based on gastroscopy findings and not clinical signs alone,” he says.
Hewetson continues to collect data on more horses to try to illuminate the association between perceived clinical signs of EGGD and the presence or absence of a specific type of lesion on gastroscopy.
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