Monday, May 20, 2024

How To Check A Horse For Ulcers

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Sensitivity In The Girth Area

Equine Ulcer Diagnosis by Mark DePaolo, DVM

If your horse is fussy when the girth is tightened, dont assume hes just being difficult or doesnt want to be ridden. Girthiness is also a sign of ulcers in horses. Though some might think that the stomach is located in the girth area, it is actually the hindgut that extends up the length of the underside of the belly, all the way into the girth area.

In one study, 92% of horses with girthiness were found to have gastric ulcers.

Acupressure For Horses How Does It Work

Acupressure uses finger pressure on specific points on the horse’s body. It is a form of traditional Chinese medicine which has been used for thousands of years on humans and animals.

Many Western scientists believe that acupressure stimulates the bodys ability to produce endorphins, which are natural painkillers.

The Placement Of The Ulcer Indicates The Seriousness Of The Issue

To examine a horse for ulcers, a vet will use an endoscope. The endoscope, 3 meters in length, is inserted into the nostril and passes through the epiglottis and stomach. The camera on the end of the instrument allows the vet to see the digestive tract and locate any ulcers clearly.

Of course, finding the ulcers is just the first step to determining the cause. This is where the big picture has relevance. For example, if ulcers are discovered primarily in just the upper portion of the stomach, this would indicate that the issue is likely a feed management-related issue.

In other words, an adjustment to the diet or the feed schedule and exercise may need to be altered. We will discuss this in greater detail later.

If ulcers are discovered in the lower portion of the stomach, this indicates a more serious condition because the bottom portion of the stomach has a lining designed to protect the stomach wall from the acidic digestive enzymes .

When ulcers are found in the lower stomach, this points to the possible over-use of NSAIDs or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. The treatment for this condition may vary slightly regarding oral dosing amounts and the duration of treatment.

Because horses cannot speak to us about their health, we must be fully engaged to ensure optimal health.

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What Is A Stomach Ulcer

Stomach ulcer or gastric ulcer is a painful open sore that develops on the lining of your stomach due to the damage to the inner stomach lining.

This is a type of peptic ulcer disease. Stomach ulcers often can be easily cured however, it can be fatal if not treated properly. It occurs mostly in men are than women

How Common Are Stomach Ulcers

How Do You Check A Horse For Ulcers?

Its not known exactly how common stomach ulcers are. They have become much less common since the 1980s because of much more effective treatments. So people with stomach ulcers now usually get better much more quickly.

The term peptic ulcer is used to describe ulcers that are caused by too much acid in the stomach. This includes stomach ulcers and also ulcers in the first part of the gut known as the duodenum. Stomach ulcers are less common than duodenal ulcers.

Read Also: How Do I Know If I Have A Peptic Ulcer

Treatment Of Ulcers In Horses

Treatment of gastric ulcers in horses may vary depending on the severity of the ulcer. Treatment methods may include:

Acid Inhibitors

Specific acid inhibitors may be prescribed to your horse to treat his ulcer. Called Proton pump inhibitors, these prescription medications may be given by your veterinarian to decrease the amount of acid that the stomach is producing.

H2 Blockers

H2 Blockers are medications that may be chosen by your veterinarian to prescribe to your horse to block any histamine in your horse. Histamine encourages the stomach to produce more acid. Common histamine blockers are ranitidine and cimetidine.


Antacids are effective at blocking or buffering any stomach acid from affecting your horse. Antacids, though, are only effective for a limited amount of time. Your horses stomach is always producing acid, so large amounts are needed of this type of medication. If your horse is a performance horse, antacids may be beneficial to give sporadically, such as on the day of a performance.

Changes in Lifestyle

Effective treatments for ulcers also include making changes to your horses lifestyle. This may include increasing feeding times throughout the day, putting your horse to pasture, lessening his intake of grain, adding supplements, increasing roughage in his diet, and administering probiotics to help his digestion.

The Difficulty With Diagnosing Ulcers In Horses

One reason diagnosing ulcers can be a challenge is because the symptoms of ulcers can also signal numerous other health issues. You know you have a problem when you see:

  • weight loss and/or general decline in body condition
  • stall vices such as cribbing and wood-chewing
  • resistance under saddle
  • girthiness and sensitivity in the flank area
  • loose or watery manure

The problem very well may be ulcers. But it also could be hindgut acidosis, parasites, problems with the teeth, lameness, stress or another internal problem you get the picture. And on top of that, horses react to pain and show symptoms differently. A horse with severe ulcers may show no sign, while a horse with a very low grade ulcer may act like its the end of the world.

On the other hand, some issues we consider training or behavioral may be physical or mental reactions to gut problems. Yet, how many of us think of ulcers or of health issues at all when our horse is acting up?

In addition, laminitis is associated with hindgut acidosis, which may also be associated with colonic ulcers. Even lameness could result from favoring one side as a result of gut pain there.

When you consider the wide-reaching affects of ulcers, you understand why its so important to be aware and address them, both gastric and colonic. Only a complete exam and history can really put those symptoms into context.

How Do Ulcers Develop

The horse’s stomach is divided into two distinct areas by a structure called the . The upper portion of the stomach is non-glandular and lined with squamous cells while the lower portion is glandular. The latter produces mucus that coats the stomach lining to help prevent ulcers from the action of the gastric secretions, but the upper portion doesnt. Lesions and ulcers can develop in both portions of the stomach, but the mechanism of development and the predisposing factors are quite different.

The development of ulcers in the squamous portion of the stomach is directly related to intensity of training: the more intense the training of the horse, the more likely the horse is to develop ulcers. These ulcers are extremely common: up to 90 per cent of horses in some disciplines such as racing have ulcers, and even broodmares and pleasure horses can be affected by this condition. Researchers have proposed a new term to describe this problem: ESGUS .

Researchers havent identified the exact mechanism of ulcer development in the upper portion, but the link to training is well established. While training, gastric acid normally contained in the glandular portion of the stomach may splash up to the non-glandular squamous cell portion that does not have the same protective mechanisms as the lower portion to prevent acid injury.

Cure : Supplements & Home Remedies For Stomach Ulcer


Home remedies and supplements, in this case, go hand in hand. Home remedies could provide instant relief from the pain and the symptoms. However, using the supplements on a long term basis could not only cure your stomach ulcer, but it could also promote digestive health, thereby preventing the occurrence of an ulcer.

Gastric Ulcers: Read The Latest News And Research

Gastric ulcers in horses are a common problem, particular among racehorses and elite competition horses, although they can be suffered by horse of all ages and types, particularly if they have limited access to forage. Foals are also susceptible. Ulcers occur in the horses stomach when the digestive acids come in contact with the upper part of the stomach lining.

In a natural environment the horse will graze for up to 16hr a day, so the acidity is reduced by the forage passing through the stomach as well as by bicarbonate in the saliva that is produced as the horse chews. If stabled horses have access to ad-lib hay, haylage or grass, this natural preventative process continues. But if they are fed high-concentrate diets with only limited access to forage, the acidity in the stomach increases.

Any period without forage intake, whether due to management practices or illness, leads to increased gastric acidity and a risk of ulcers. Training which includes fast work increases the risk of the acid splashing around, resulting in damage the upper part of the stomach. Stress can also be a factor.

Does Your Horse Have Ulcers

If your horse is showing signs of discomfort or reluctance to work it may have stomach ulcers. Here are some signs to watch out for.

Equine Gastric Ulcer Syndrome is painful and may affect your horses behaviour and performance. While stomach ulcers are often considered to be only a problem for racehorses, many horse owners do not realize that non-racing competitive horses are also at high risk.

Why Do Performance Horses Get Ulcers

Horses of all ages and disciplines can get ulcers. The nature of equine digestive systems make them prone to getting ulcers if they eat infrequent meals.

However, performance horses are well-known for having ulcers. Why? Gastric ulcers occur in performance horses for several reasons.


One reason is that exercise has a tendency to increase gastric acid production while decreasing blood flow to the GI tract. A horse’s body will concentrate blood flow to the heart and muscles during exercise, reducing the flow to the stomach.

As the horse moves during exercise the stomach compresses. This can cause the acid that normally rests in the lower portion of the stomach to splash up into the upper portion.


Aside from the direct effects of exercise that contribute to ulcer formations, the diet of a performance horse can also lead to ulcers. When horses are fed twice a day the stomach is exposed to long periods without feed or saliva to buffer the gastric acid. Horses that spend a significant amount of time training, competing, or stalled are often unable to eat frequent meals.

The frequency of feeding affects ulcers and so does the type of feed. Horses fed a diet high in carbohydrates or grain have an increased chance of developing ulcers.



Intense exercise and high-stress environments can lead to ulcers in performance horses.

How To Prevent Ulcers

3 Ways to Spot Ulcer Symptoms in Horses

The same management techniques used to treat ulcers can be used to prevent them.

  • Reduce the time between meals
  • Provide more roughage and alfalfa when possible
  • Try using a slow feed hay net to slow down feed intake
  • Use supplements to replace the vitamins and minerals in grain
  • Try adding vegetable oils to the diet for calories instead of grain
  • Allow your horse to graze if possible
  • Limit stressful events
  • Reduce the amount of time your horse is stalled
  • Cut back on training or exercise when necessary
  • Watch for symptoms


There are a variety of supplements available to help manage and prevent ulcers. Some of these supplements, such as Soothing Pink Xtra Strength, are designed to improve total digestive tract health. Be sure to do your research. You might want to try different supplements at different times to find out which one works best for your horse.

Allowing performance horses to graze naturally can reduce the risk of ulcers.

Can An Ulcer Heal On Its Own

In the vast majority of cases, an ulcer wont heal on its own and your horse will need some sort of intervention, either medicinal or natural. That said a very small percentage of horses will recovery completely on their own without any sort of treatment. While a small number of horses will recover on their own its better to presume they wont rather than presume they will.

Preventing Gastric Ulcers In Horses

As always with health and wellness, prevention is the best medicine. We stress horses digestive systems simply by owning them and removing them from their natural environment. Then we further compound the difficulties by riding, traveling, and competing. Thus its critical, especially for the performance horse, to take as many measures as possible to encourage better digestive health.

We stress horses digestive systems simply by owning them and removing them from their natural environment. Then we further compound the difficulties by riding, traveling, and competing

The most beneficial changes to your feed and management program may include:

  • Providing as much turnout as possible with other horses
  • Offering forage continuously around the clock
  • Feeding alfalfa, which is shown to help buffer stomach acids
  • Reducing grain-based feed intake
  • Providing fats as a source of energy/calories
  • Feeding multiple small meals throughout the day
  • Mixing chaff with grain meals to increase chewing and slow intake
  • Using hay nets or slow feeders to increase chewing and slow intake
  • Feeding beet pulp, a complex carbohydrate metabolized in the hindgut, for higher caloric needs

In addition to these, and especially when its not possible to implement them all, digestive supplements can also play a role in supporting your horses gut health. Certain digestive supplements can help:

Using Dr Depaolos Technique To Check For Gastric Ulcer Symptoms

Tether your horse in a quiet area, and ensure theyre relaxed. Once theyre standing square – identify the below areas and gently palpate these points.

The goal is to identify small points or areas that are painful for the horse, causing a flinch response.

Use your thumb and forefinger for gentle palpation.

Light pressure is preferable and is tolerated by most horses. Hard or deep pressure is not necessary to elicit a flinch response in a horse with ulcers. Stick with a moderate pressure.

No Shortcut For Diagnosing Equine Gastric Ulcers

How to check your horse for stomach aches/ulcers
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Gastric ulcers occur more frequently in certain groups of horses: race and endurance horses in training, foals at the time of weaning, or any horse during times of stress. How do you know if your horse has one or more ulcers? Usually, a clear diagnosis can only be achieved if the horse undergoes endoscopic examination, which involves having the veterinarian pass a long flexible tube with a camera in the tip into the stomach to directly visualize and assess the defects.

Despite being effective, endoscopy is expensive, invasive, and time-consuming, unfortunately, explained Kathleen Crandell, Ph.D., a Kentucky Equine Research nutritionist, adding The number of veterinarians that have the necessary equipment is limited.

As an alternative, some owners assume their horses have one or more ulcers if they display classic signs associated with the condition: colic, diarrhea, poor appetite, dull coat, decreased performance, and possibly behavior changes.

Recognizing the need for a quick, economical, and effective screening test to help identify horses with ulcers, a group of researchers recently evaluated whether sucrose, a simple sugar similar to glucose, could identify ulcers. The hypothesis was that sucrose passes through ulcerated stomach tissue and can be measured in blood, indicating the both the presence and severity of ulceration.

Clare Macleod’s Feeding Tips For Horses With Or Prone To Ulcers

  • When attempting to treat your horse for ulcers, remember that the foundation of a balanced diet should not change – for example, do not feed 1kg of alfalfa and 250ml of corn oil to an overweight pony.
  • Always offer forage ad lib – never leave your horse with nothing to eat, even while travelling. If your horse doesn’t have much of an appetite for the forage on offer, consider trying small, frequent meals of other high-fibre feeds such as nuts, unmolassed sugar beet or grass nuts.
  • Avoid starchy and sugary feeds – for example, straight grain, coarse mix, molassed compounds and molassed chaffs.
  • Alfalfa is thought to buffer stomach acid, so try feeding at least 1kg daily to an average 500kg horse, and offer 300-500g alfalfa to hard-working horses before fast work.
  • Turn out horses to grass for as long as possible.
  • Supplements containing antacids, pectin, lecithin, herbs and seaweed may help. Do not use salt pastes regularly. Instead, train the horse to drink an oral rehydration solution and give salt in the feed.
  • Do not use salt pastes regularly. Instead, train the horse to drink an oral rehydration solution and give salt in the feed.
  • What Should You Feed A Horse With An Ulcer

    If your horse has suffered from an ulcer then when it comes to his feed its time to go back to basics and keep it simple. If you keep these points in mind you cant go far wrong:

    • Plenty of forage Forage takes longer to chew than concentrates and as a result, produces a lot more saliva which will help to keep the levels of stomach acid under control.
    • Little and often Weve all heard it a million times before but feeding horses little and often is crucial for a healthy gut and digestive system, and therefore a happy horse.
    • Avoid too many cereals Cereal concentrates dont allow the horse to produce the amount of saliva they need which increases their risk of ulcers. Thats not to say you shouldnt feed concentrates but try to find one that has a higher proportion of digestible fiber
    • Include alfalfa Studies have shown that the protein levels in alfalfa make it one of the best sources of fiber when it comes to treating horses with ulcers.
    • Dont exercise on an empty stomach You dont need to feed your horse a lot before exercise, a scoopful of chopped fiber is enough. This will ensure his stomach isnt empty and therefore the acid wont be left to slosh around.
    • Turn out Turning your horse out as much as possible will not only give him a chance to graze but will also reduce his stress levels. This will help when treating ulcers because itll take away one of the triggers for them.

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