Did you know that ulcers can affect up to two-thirds of all performance horses? Gastric ulcers, technically known as Equine Gastric Ulcer Syndrome (EGUS), are very common in horses of any age. This is because horses have stomachs that are much smaller than other species’ stomachs and generally cannot handle large amounts of food. Horses are, by nature, continuous grazers who eat coarse grasses 16 to 18 hours a day in natural settings. They are meant to graze and eat small portions more frequently. But for many horses, especially performance horses, this is uncommon. Many performance horses have significantly restricted grazing access and often require additional caloric supplementation to meet their energy requirements. These types of eating habits can lead to ulcer development.
Unfortunately, the signs of ulcers in horses can be subtle: a slight attitude change, decrease in performance, or general reluctance to train may be the only signs you see. Teeth grinding, poor appetite and lying down more often are also symptoms of ulcers that some horses may show. The only way to know for sure if your horse is suffering from a gastric ulcer is to have a vet perform a gastroscopy.
When it comes to keeping your horse healthy, ulcer free, and at the top of his game, prevention is key. The most effective strategy that vets have found to prevent ulcers is a combination of feeding, time management, and water. In order to decrease ulcers, many veterinarians recommend allowing free access or long periods of grazing, constant hay access when they are confined for more than six hours, feeding frequent small grain concentrate meals, replacing calories from carbohydrates with fats and fiber-based diets, offering alfalfa hay/cubes/pellets, and providing constant access to fresh, clean water.
There are also other factors to consider when trying to prevent ulcers. These include minimizing stress relative to housing, common routines and transportation. Horses that are permanently housed on pasture with light exercise are six times less likely to get ulcers than stalled, moderately exercising horses. Horses with constant access to forage are four time less likely to get ulcers. Research has also shown that installing mirror in stalls and trailers can help reduce blood cortisol, a stress hormone, thus potentially lowering ulcers.
If you think your horse may have an ulcer, have the vet evaluate the symptoms and discuss next courses of action. Typically, the two medications that work well to treat ulcers are Gastrogard and Ulcergard. These treatments are not inexpensive but have been proven to have good results and treating ulcers in horses.
Use Stable Secretary to track your horse’s activities, behaviors, and health events. Having quick and easy access to a complete overview of health history can help you and your vet determine how best to treat any condition your horse might develop.
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