What Causes Gastric Ulcers In Horses
- Typical feeding routines:
- Horses are designed to eat small meals very frequently, and to be grazing or foraging almost constantly. Many, if not most, horse owners prefer to feed horses two or three times a day, leaving their stomachs empty for hours at a time.
- This works against the very design of the horses stomach, which produces acid twenty-four hours a day. With nothing in the stomach to buffer that acid, gastric ulcers can easily occur.
- Stall confinement:
- It is imperative to a horses physical and emotional well-being that they are allowed frequent turnout, constant grazing and foraging, and access to other horses.
- Being confined to a stall for more than a few hours at a time means that these requirements are not being fulfilled and the risk of ulcers increases.
- Transport stress:
- It is obvious to any horse person that trailering is one of the most unnatural situations in which we put our horses. Being confined to a small space with limited ability to move is enough to cause stress even in humans.
- In horses, it has been found that gastric ulcers can occur in as little as a few hours when being transported.
- The use of anti-inflammatory drugs like Bute block the production of the chemical in the stomach that decreases acid production. This increases the likelihood of gastric ulcers.
Squamous Gastric Ulcers In Horses
Equine Squamous Gastric Ulcer Syndrome refers to ulcerative lesions specifically affecting the squamous portion of the equine stomach, or roughly, the upper third of the stomach. An ulcer in the squamous region is believed to occur when the mucosal lining becomes damaged, likely by bacteria, parasites or a constant barrage of stomach acid. The squamous region is particularly susceptible to damage as it lacks the protective mechanisms of the glandular region to defend its mucosal lining from gastric acid.
Skippy may very well be suffering from ESGUS, as his current lifestyle and diet fit the typical profile of a horse likely to develop squamous ulcers. These risk factors often include:
- Limited turnout
- Intermittent feeding
Hes also displaying all of the classic symptoms, including loss of appetite, difficulty maintaining weight/weight loss, changes in hair coat, poor behavior, underperformance and wood chewing. If he is suffering from ESGUS, continuing his high-concentrate, low-roughage diet and intensive training schedule could make matters even worse for him.
Recovery Of Ulcers In Horses
Once treatment is begun, ulcers tend to begin healing however, it may take time. Depending on the type of treatment and the severity of the ulcer, your horse may take anywhere from a week to over a month to heal. Since ulcers tend to recur, it is important to have your horse get checked by your veterinarian a few days after the treatment is complete.
If you choose to give supplements or probiotics to your horse, be sure to consult with your veterinarian and he may give you professional advice on what would benefit your horse. Your medical professional will also reiterate the importance of altering his eating habits and stall time.
Your veterinarian will give you specific instructions on the medication dosage and administration, and will communicate to you any side effects to watch for. It will be important to monitor your horses symptoms and behavior during treatment and after. If you have any questions or concerns about how your horse is recovering from a gastric ulcer, contact your veterinarian. He may want to see him again during his treatment period to check on his recovery.
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How Do We Treat Ulcers
As gastric ulcers cause abdominal discomfort, they all warrant treatment regardless of what signs the horse is exhibiting. Initial treatment will help ulcers heal and prevent the development of new ulcers. There are several treatment options available:
If your horse is diagnosed with gastric ulcers, your veterinarian will work with you to determine the most appropriate treatment plan. Horses usually require treatment with omeprazole for four weeks. At that point, the gastroscopy procedure is repeated to determine if the ulcers have healed. If the ulcers havent healed or new ones have developed, your horse should continue to be treated and monitored.
Types Of Ulcers In Horses
A horse with EGUS can develop ulcers in four main parts of the digestive system:
- Lower part of the esophagus
- Nonglandular region of the stomach
- Glandular region of the stomach
- Upper small intestine
The glandular region of the stomach produces acid but also produces natural defenses such as mucous and bicarbonate to buffer the acid and protect the cells in that region. In contrast, the nonglandular squamous region is not protected by these factors.
Ulcers are most commonly found in the nonglandular region of the stomach.
Ulcers also commonly occur in the lower part of the esophagus. This may be due to acid reflux associated with unnatural feeding practices, like high grain diets, that can lead to decreased pH in the stomach. Reflux of acidic fluids may also occur with gastric compression during intense exercise which might explain why so many racehorses develop ulcers.
Ulcers in the glandular region of the stomach are considered rare by many veterinarians, but some researchers suggest that they may be more common than believed. These types of ulcers have been associated with the overuse of non-steroidal anti-inflammatories such as bute and banamine .
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My Cob Is A Really Good Doer And So Is On Very Limited Hay And Basically No Grazing She Has Had Ulcers In The Past And I Know I Need To Feed As Much Fibre As Possible But Im Worried About Her Putting On Weight Im Also Concerned About Using Low Calorie Feeds As They Contain Straw And Ive Read I Shouldnt Feed It As It Can Cause Ulcers
The minimum amount of forage your horse should ideally be consuming is 1.5% of her bodyweight. To try to promote good gut health the total daily ration should be divided into as many small offerings as possible so the period of time she isnt eating is as short as possible. Research by Luthersson and colleagues showed that if the time between eating was more than 6 hours, the risk of ulcers increased.
Straw can be a really useful feed material for good doers as it provides chew-time without too many calories. In the study by Luthersson and colleagues, they also found that when straw was the sole source of forage it increased the incidence of ulcers. However, the important part of this finding was that straw was the only type of forage fed. There is no reason why straw cant be used alongside other forages such as alfalfa and grass hay to increase fibre intake for good doers. Feeds such as Hi-Fi Lite or Hi-Fi Molasses Free would therefore be suitable options for your horse.
Treatment And Prevention Of Egus
As with many conditions, prevention of equine ulcers is always better than the cure. If you have a performance horse, its wise to assume that he is at high risk for developing EGUS and therefore, take measures to reduce this risk.
Two good preventative strategies include reducing stress and feeding your horse appropriately.
As previously stated, providing small, frequent meals or free-choice forage can support your horses natural digestive function and reduce the risk of developing ulcers. The equine stomach is relatively small when compared with other large species. It cannot handle large amounts of food all at once. Instead, horses need small, frequent meals throughout the day.
Adding alfalfa hay or pellets into a horses diet has been shown to decrease the severity of ulcers and may also be an effective prevention strategy.
However, you can also go a step further and incorporate certain preventative ingredients or supplements in your horses diet such as probiotics or Mad Barns Visceral+ as these will help to protect your horses digestive system.
For performance horses or those in training, reducing exercise duration or frequency may help to decrease the development of the disease as well.
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Cribbing Or Other Stereotypic Behaviors
Stereotypic behaviors, such as cribbing, are repetitive and unnatural behaviors that become increasingly fixed. However, these behaviors only occur in a small percentage horses so this is one of the less common signs of ulcers.
Dietary factors such as a lack of available forage have been strongly associated with oral stereotypies like cribbing. However, foals with ulcers may crib-bite as well.
I Have Been Told To Give My Horse A Small Feed Before Exercise Is This Safe
Yes providing it is fibre based. The advice is to give a scoop of chopped fibre within 30 minutes prior to exercise. This recommendation is given to make sure that the fibrous mat within the horses stomach is maintained to reduce acid splashing about in the stomach. Acid splash in the squamous or non-glandular lining of the horses stomach is linked to gastric ulceration. Ideally this chopped fibre should include alfalfa as research has shown that alfalfa particularly is a superior buffer to acidity within the digestive tract.
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Should The Diet Of Every Horse Be Low In Starch And Sugar
A key concept to consider is that it isnt just the level of sugar and starch within a feed but also how much of the feed is fed and how quickly it is consumed that is important. Forages and pasture are consumed more slowly than the bucket feed so even though they contain relatively high levels of sugar, it is consumed throughout the day rather than in meals which the horses digestive system has evolved to cope with. Obesity, PPID, laminitis all change the ability of the horse to cope with sugar intake and in these situations 10-12% non-structural carbohydrate in forage is recommended. A typical value for grass hays is around 15-20% and a very high level would be 35%. As horses should be fed 1.5% minimum of forage per day to supply sufficient fibre to maintain normal gut function it makes a big contribution to the overall NSC intake.
What Are The Different Types Of Stomach Ulcers
Your horses stomach is divided into two distinct regions: the non-glandular region, or squamous mucosa region, which covers approximately one-third of the equine stomach and the glandular region, which covers the remaining two-thirds of the stomach and contains glands that secrete hydrochloric acid, pepsin, bicarbonate, and mucus to aid in digestion.
Equine stomach ulcers can develop in both regions of the stomach, but the disease process, risk factors, and treatment response for glandular ulcers is different from those for squamous ulcers. The only way to determine the location of a stomach ulcer is by stomach scoping. To confirm diagnosis, it is therefore critical to perform gastroscopy to identify the location of the stomach ulcer and treat it accordingly.
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Diagnosis Of Gastric Ulcers
Gastric ulcers can be difficult to diagnose in horses because of subtle, inconsistent signs. Indirect, non-invasive tests such as measuring sucrose permeability have been proposed but are currently unreliable.
Gastroscopy which visually inspects all areas of the stomach and proximal intestine is the only reliable method to definitively identify ulcers.
Gastroscopy also provides information about the severity and number of lesions to further inform treatment.
However, severity and clinical signs dont always match. In some cases, horses with minor lesions may show more clinical signs than horses with severe lesions or vise versa.
Gastroscopy is also not accessible to all horse owners due to the high cost. Given the very high prevalence of ulcers in performance horses and even pleasure horses, it may be prudent to assume that your horse is at risk of ulcers and to take steps to mitigate the risk in the future.
How To Diagnose Gastric Ulcers In Horses
The only way to know for sure that your horse is suffering from a gastric ulcer is to have a vet perform a gastroscopy. Scoping is the best way for your veterinarian to accurately diagnose the presence and severity of ulceration in the stomach and if conditions allow, proximal duodenum. However, keep in mind there could be additional conditions at play such as parasites or hindgut disease that gastroscopy cant rule out. Be aware that most vets will recommend a fasting period of at least 12 hours prior to gastroscopy, and may also recommend that you remove water four hours before the procedure as well.
Scoping is the best way for your veterinarian to accurately diagnose the presence of gastric ulcers, while keeping in mind there could be additional conditions at play such as parasites or hindgut disease that it doesnt rule out.
With a 3-meter gastroscope, your veterinarian can visually identify and confirm:
- whether or not gastric ulceration exists,
- if ulceration affects the upper squamous region or the lower glandular portion of the stomach,
- the severity of the ulcers.
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Increased Or Decreased Drinking
One cannot say that all horses with stomach ulcers will drink more water, or less of it.
This can vary greatly.
It may be that the horse consumes substantially more, but also substantially less water.
Because horses drink when they want, this problem is often overlooked or can be difficult to control.
A 600 kg horse will drink about 30-60 litres per day depending on work performance, weather and keeping.
Signs Your Horse May Have Stomach Ulcers
There are several symptoms of ulcers in horses, including colic, behavioral changes, and signs of unhealthy skin and hair. In case you have never experienced a horse suffering colic, some of the symptoms are the horse not eating or drinking, standing with front legs and hind legs unusually far apart as if stretching the stomach, laying down and getting up repeatedly as if uncomfortable and looking back at its side while standing. Now, here are the signs your horse may have stomach ulcers.
Recurring mild colic: Usually diagnosed by a vet.
If you see one or more of these signs appearing in your horse, it is time to call a professional and get a thorough diagnosis. Some of these signs would occur much faster than others. For example, your horse may stop eating long before they begin to look like they are in poor condition.
Likewise, a horse refusing to train or being very dull in its movement would occur before a dramatic drop in weight or change in body condition. These are early warning signs, and they are more subtle, requiring daily interaction and observation to notice.
Now that you know what to watch for, you can check daily for these more subtle signs of distress in your horse. Developing the ability to observe these subtle changes early on may prevent the more serious long-term effects and possibly save your horses life. When you are concerned about your horses health, be sure to seek a diagnosis by a veterinarian.
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Glandular Gastric Ulcers In Horses
Glandular gastric ulceration occurs less frequently than squamous gastric ulceration, but has been found to be more common than previously thought. The two regions function differently. Unlike the upper third of the stomach which is highly susceptible to damage from stomach acid, the glandular section of the stomach is relatively impervious to it. However, when factors occur which cause the integrity of the mucosal lining to deteriorate, its natural defensive mechanisms to gastric acid are also challenged leading to the development of inflammation and lesions.
Scientists arent entirely sure what causes this breakdown. They theorize that high dosages or long-term use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs , such as Bute, may reduce the blood supply to the lining and so contribute. It has also been suggested that, similar to human gastric ulceration, a bacterial infection may also be at play. Despite ongoing investigation, though, that theory has yet to be confirmed.
Again, the symptoms of EGGUS are consistent with Skippys symptoms and also with those of ESGUS. But because EGGUS doesnt respond to the same treatment methods as ESGUS, you cant simply dose a horse up with omeprazole and assume hell recover.
Once an endoscopy has determined whether your horse has ESGUS, EGGUS or both its time for your next test: checking to see if he has colonic ulcers.
Help My Horse Has A Corneal Ulcer
If you know and love horses, you probably quickly figured out that they are giantbut lovabledisaster magnets. They will likely find any creative way to injure themselves, at the least opportune time. I see you are packing the trailer so we can leave for a show. This would be the perfect time to run my eyeball into something and give myself a corneal ulcer, they seem to think. Yet we love them, and wouldnt trade them for anythingmost days at least. Whether your horse currently has a corneal ulcer, or hasnt checked that one off their injury to-do list yet, anyone whose heart belongs to a horse could benefit from a corneal ulcer review.
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S To Diagnose Equine Corneal Ulcers
If you have ever tried to pry your horses eyelids open when they wish to keep them closed, you understand how difficult that can be. To allow a full eye inspection, and reduce the amount of pressure applied to the eye during the exam, Dr. Pierce will inject a local anesthetic in several locations around your horses eye. This allows him to hold your horses eyelids open to check for foreign material, view the cornea with a handheld microscope, and apply fluorescein and/or rose bengal dye to the eye. The fluorescein dye will attach only to areas of disrupted cornea, and can be used to delineate the location, size, and shape of the ulcer, should one be present, and the rose bengal dye can help detect early fungal ulcers. Depending on the ulcers appearance, Dr. Pierce may also collect corneal cells for laboratory examination or culture, to diagnose and effectively treat bacterial or fungal infections.