Equine Gastric Ulcer Syndrome (EGUS) refers to lesions that form in the tissue lining of a horse’s stomach. Recent years and the advances in endoscopy technology have seen a much greater awareness of the extent of this problem, its severity and its causes. Statistics show that almost half of leisure horses suffer from gastric ulcers, whilst two thirds of competition horses have them and a staggering 90% of racehorses have been found to be affected.
What causes gastric ulcers?
In a natural environment, the horse’s trickle grazing habit would ensure that a diet contains plenty of fiber. This constant fibrous lining would effectively prevent stomach acid from attacking the stomach lining and would naturally prevent ulcers. Continual chewing also helps to neutralize stomach acids. Any horse that is kept stabled for long periods of time without access to ad-lib forage could therefore be at risk of developing ulcers.
Horses that are worked at high intensity usually do so with an empty stomach. If exercise is prolonged or repeated on a regular basis, ulcers can occur. Horses that are stressed are also susceptible to ulcers, even if they are turned out.
Signs and Symptoms of Ulcers
Many horses show no signs of ulcers but keep a wary eye out for the following behaviors:
- grumpiness or reluctance to be girthed-up
- cribbing or wind-sucking
- loss of condition or failure to maintain condition
- colic attacks after eating
- not eating-up
Management and Treatment
If your horse is diagnosed with stomach ulcers, your vet might prescribe some sort of antacid medication. There’s much you can do to reduce your horse’s risk of ulcers recurring:
- Feed plenty of forage to promote chewing and regulate the amount of acid present in the stomach.
- Use low calorie forage for horses that are good doers to allow plenty of chewing time without the risk of weight gain.
- Cereals create more acidic conditions in the horse’s gut so if possible remove them from the diet altogether. You can substitute cereals with higher energy forage.
- Alfalfa has been found to be a natural buffer to excess acidity because of its calcium and protein content so include some in our horse’s ration.
- Reduce intense exercise while your horse recovers from ulcers.
- Allow your horse as much turn-out time as possible to allow him to naturally access fiber.
- Make his field as stress-free as possible and let him have plenty of chill-out time.
Stomach ulcers are an unpleasant, debilitating and hidden problem for many horses. Keep your horse safe by carefully managing their diet, routine and living conditions. If you think your horse might have stomach ulcers, don’t let him suffer in silence, ask your vet’s advice. For advice on what to feed your horse give any of the major feed companies a call. They all offer free advice to owners and will be pleased to help you.
Image source: smartpackequine.com
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