What are they?
Gastric Ulcers are generally caused by the stomach lining being exposed to gastric juices for lengthy periods of time, resulting in an erosion of the stomach lining in the form of ulceration and sometimes bleeding. Any horse can get gastric ulcers; from high performing racehorses, event horses to happy hackers.
Common Signs of Gastric Ulcers
The signs of a gastric ulcer can be difficult to recognise, symptoms can include some or all of the following; slow eating, poor physical condition, poor appetite, dullness, sourness or irritability, colic, poor performance and reluctance to work.
However, at times it is difficult to attribute these signs specifically to gastric ulceration. To add to the complication, the correlation between clinical signs and the severity of ulceration is not always consistent. On examination, some horses that have shown relatively few clinical signs are found to have severe ulceration, whereas others have been found to be the reverse.
Feeding Horses with Suspected Gastric issues
1. Feed fibre and lots of it! Little and often, particularly before work as this reduces any chance of acid splash. Constant chewing naturally aids the regulation of acidity in the stomach.
2. Stick to low starch feeds – avoiding cereals means less chance of acidic conditions in the gut.
3. Be wary of supplementary magnesium levels – magnesium oxide is often used in feeds targeted specifically towards uclers, this is because it makes quite a nice antacid for the stomach. The downside is that too much added magnesium in the diet can also cause poor behaviour, due to its ability to impair horse’s brain function. Horses who feel less able to cope with their surroundings, can in some cases become more spooky and unsettled. This unsettled behaviour can then cause further digestive upset, resulting in a vicious circle whereby the very feed being used to help the digestive system, is actually aggravating the issue further.
4. Spend your money wisely – if you’re feeding simple fibre sources and a basic calorie source (eg. Something that’s high in oil), the main other additional support you may want to consider is a good digestive support supplement. Often simply comprising of ingredients to balance out the natural flora of the gut and reduce any acidity that may still be present.
5. Seek veterinary help - if you’re feeding a suitable diet and not seeing any results from a digestive supplement, next best step is to speak to your vet.
Diagnosis and Treatment
A gastroscopy performed by a vet with confirm if a horse has gastric ulcers, where they are and how severe they may be, this will then determine the treatment plan.
Currently the most effective treatment is to inhibit the gastric secretion in order to allow the stomach lining to heal, this is done via the oral paste omeprazole, popularly known as GastroGard. Treatment time and recovery will often depend on the severity of the uclers, but treatment is usually prescribed for 28 days.
Prevention and Re-occurrence
Unless changes are made to a horse’s general management routine, re-occurrence of gastric ulcers after successful treatment is quite likely.
Ways to reduce the likelihood of a re-occurrence include the following; free/constant access to fibre, daily turnout, quality digestive supplement and keeping the horse stress free.