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.
Preventing Gastric Ulcers In Your Horse
Nearly ninety percent of all horses will develop ulcers in their lifetime. That should sound an alarm for all horse lovers of the importance of awareness. It is critical to take the time to observe and analyze your horses feeding habits and overall body condition daily. This is key to helping your horse avoid the pain and discomfort of developing ulcers.
Probably one of the first steps to preventing ulcers is to form the habit of feeding a small portion of roughage to your horse at least thirty minutes before riding. Alfalfa has proven highly beneficial when used as a small pre-ride portion. This roughage consists of absorbent stems and leaves, making alfalfa superior to grass hay for absorbing stomach acids. This is not a recommendation of a straight alfalfa diet. But alfalfa used in this capacity can settle stomach acids and avoid their splashing and causing irritation to the upper stomach lining. It is a valuable step in the prevention of gastric ulcers. Here is the rundown on preventative measures to help your horse avoid developing gastric ulcers.
Factors That Contribute To Horse Ulcers
Several factors contribute to a horse getting ulcers. One of the biggest factors is going a long time in between feedings. This causes stomach acid to build up and increases the likelihood of ulcers. A diet heavy in grains will also contribute to a likelihood of ulcers. Heavy use of NSAIDS also contributes heavily to ulcers. Too much time between meals We discussed how the horses stomach produces acid around the clock and is small. Therefore a horse really should eat several small meals throughout the day .
Diets heavy with grains Roughage should make up most of the horses diet. If grain or pelletized supplements are fed, they should be accompanied by hay.
Frequent use of anti-inflammatories .
Although a couple of these factors may seem daunting to overcome, we will discuss ways of working with the horses stomach that will not encourage the development of gastric ulcers.
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How Digestive Disease Impacts The Horse
Colic, which is ultimately a symptom of underlying disease, hindgut inflammation, parasitism and other conditions are actually more common in horses than you may think.
- Weight loss
- Intermittent colic
- Lethargy and dullness
- Unwillingness to bend, extend or collect
- Stereotypes such as cribbing or weaving
- Lack of focus
- Intermittent hind end lameness
Individually any of these signs are cause for concern, together they more clearly signal the external impact of digestive distress in the horse. Horses that are less than healthy in their guts suffer in their overall well-being and in their ability to train and perform to their full potential.
Colonic Ulceration In Horses
Ulceration of the large colon of horses is a syndrome that is not yet completely understood by veterinary researchers. Right Dorsal Colitis secondary to NSAID administration is the most recognized form of colonic ulceration. RDC, in its most clinically obvious form, manifests as a syndrome of weight loss, diarrhea, colic, peripheral edema and profound hypoproteinemia. Researchers believe that colonic ulceration may also occur in the absence of NSAID administration, and that the ulcers may form in any of the four quadrants of the large intestine. Available research on colonic ulceration is scarce, largely due to the difficulty of visualizing the colonic mucosa in a live horse. Some conclusions may be drawn based on what we do know about RDC and related research on equine gastrointestinal health and management.
Performance horses that are fed diets low in roughage and high in grain are thought to be at risk of colonic ulceration. New research is currently underway at the University of Glasgow to gain a better understanding of this disease.
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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.
Prevention And Treatment Of Hindgut Ulcers
Veterinarians recommend that horses with hindgut ulcers be managed medically or surgically.
Surgery is often used as a last resort if medical management has failed, and it often involves a resection of the right dorsal colon with bypass. Though some horses can recover from this type of surgery, the prognosis for survival is often described as poor.
Medical management of hindgut ulcers is usually more successful. In one study evaluating treatment of horses with Right Dorsal Colitis, three out of five horses fully recovered.
As with many equine health conditions, early diagnosis leads to a better prognosis. Therefore, its important to have your horse evaluated by a veterinarian as soon as symptoms of hindgut ulcers first appear.
Medical treatment of hindgut ulcers is often a four-pronged approach:
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Treatment For Colonic Ulceration
Current research indicates that diet plays a significant role in the health of the equine intestinal tract. Many performance horses are fed diets that are high in grain and low in roughage. This feeding practice may lead to abnormal patterns of fermentation in the large bowel and to alterations of the intestinal microbiota. Readjusting feeding regimes to better mimic more natural feeding habits may go a long way to preventing colonic ulcer formation, and may also help treat low-grade ulceration. This is an area in which more research is required.
Horses with moderate-to-severe colonic ulceration may benefit from the following treatments :
- Discontinue NSAID medicationIf pain medication is required, consider alternatives such as opioids , lidocaine/lignocaine infusions or epidural anaesthesia.
- Minimize stress
- in order to give the colon time to heal.
- Feed frequent small meals at regular intervals .
- Use a pelleted complete feed that is alfalfa based and contains at least 30% dietary fiber.
- Allow short periods of grazing fresh grass this is also good for stress minimization.
In the rare, extreme cases, when abdominal pain from colonic ulceration is severe and uncontrollable, a bypass surgery has been reported that alleviates discomfort.
Hemoglobin As An Indicator Of Gi Injury In Horses
As a component of red blood cells, hemoglobin is always present any time there is an injury that produces whole blood. While hemoglobin may be somewhat degraded in the digestive process, it is at a much lower rate than albumin. When bleeding occurs in a horses gut, some of the blood is degraded, leaving the rest to move through the digestive tract until it is expelled in the horses feces. Therefore, hemoglobin in a horses feces could have originated from anywhere within the GI tract.
Hemoglobin is present only with the presence of whole blood. Therefore, a He positive indicates a lesion or condition where active vascular bleeding is occurring.
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Test Early And Often With The Fbt
For some horses, lack of focus in training or underperforming may be the only signs they show of digestive distress. For others, behavior and performance signals allow you to catch problems before they develop into more serious clinical issues.
Have your veterinarian test your horses with the FBT to help:
- Regularly monitor wellness
- Detect and diagnose issues earlier
- Monitor recovery after GI tract surgery or other treatments and procedures
Ask your veterinarian to have your entire string tested regularly with the SUCCEED Equine Fecal Blood Test. It takes about 15 minutes to test each horse, right in the barn.
Length Of Treatment And Prognosis
Generally it takes between 1 to 2 weeks to see improvement in clinical signs, once the diet has been changed. Weekly monitoring of blood work is important indicators of response to treatment and prognosis. Improvement in blood work might take several weeks. In addition to blood work, your veterinarian will recommend serial ultrasonographic examinations of the Right Dorsal Colon to help in monitoring response to treatment. Typically weekly to every two week ultrasonographic examinations can help your veterinarian gauge therapy. The swelling in the wall of the Right Dorsal Colon should decrease within 4 to 6 week after initiation of dietary changes and treatment , but may take longer in some horses.
The response to treatment is good, especially if the horses’ clinical signs, blood work, and ultrasound signs improve rapidly. Be sure you contact your veterinarian as soon as you recognize these signs as the longer it continues the more difficult it is to treat successfully.
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So Why Do Horses Get Colonic Ulcers
In evolutionary terms horses are nomadic trickle feeders a lifestyle often contrary to the performance horse, which is subjected to prolonged stabling and intermittent feeding. However, in order for the performance horse to meet the demands of competition this lifestyle is considered necessary. In the horse, gastric acid secretion is continuous, which not only leaves the stomach lining vulnerable to damage when little food is present but can also lead to bolting of feed, and in turn increased gastric emptying when feed is offered.
When combined with the typical diet of the performance horse, incorporating high volumes of soluble carbohydrate and limited fibrous carbohydrate further complications arise. This type of diet increases secretion of gastric acid, rate of gastric emptying and reduces the volume of saliva produced to naturally buffer gastric acid.
As a consequence, enzymatic digestion in the stomach and small intestine is limited, with undigested feed ultimately reaching the site of microbial digestion the cecum and colon. Micro-organisms in hindgut convert a portion of this type of carbohydrate into lactic acid, which can lead to a condition called Hindgut Acidosis. From this, detrimental changes to the gut microflora occur, withgrowth of pathogenic bacteria colonizing compromised areas and eroding the lining of the colon. Lysis of beneficial bacteria releases damaging endotoxins, which if absorbed can result in colic, diarrheoa and laminitis.
Keeping Ulcers At Bay In Barrel Horses
Low-starch, high-forage diets, excellent veterinary care, regular chiropractic care, massotherapy, and joint maintenance are common among serious barrel competitors focused on horse health.
Even with the best care, though, barrel horse owners still can find their equine partners plagued with digestive health strugglesmost commonly ulcers.
Heres what you need to know about recognizing and managing ulcers in barrel horses, or in any high-stress competition horse across disciplines.
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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.
The Importance Of The Horses Hindgut
Its important to understand what the horses hindgut is and how it functions. The hindgut includes the cecum and colon and is an essential part of the overall digestive system.
Horses are hindgut fermenters which means that the hindgut is necessary to process digestible energy from the food that a horse consumes. When this function is impaired, it can have wide-ranging impacts on the health and well-being of your horse.
When feed moves through the horses digestive system, the stomach and small intestine produce enzymes that start to break down the feed. Simple sugars and amino acids are mostly absorbed in the small intestine.
But fibre makes up a huge portion of the horses diet and it does not get digested in the small intestine. Horses cannot break down fibre without the help of microbes in the hindgut.
Bacteria, yeast and other microorganisms digest fibre through a process known as fibre fermentation. This process provides the horse with energy, volatile fatty acids, vitamins, minerals, and amino acids necessary for good health.
These nutrients are then assimilated through the intestinal wall for utilization in the horses body. A healthy intestinal wall provides a protective barrier that allows nutrients to be absorbed, but doesnt allow toxins and microbes to enter the body.
If this barrier becomes damaged by ulcers or compromised by leaky gut syndrome, harmful substances can cross into the bloodstream, which can lead to infection and disease.
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Equine Fecal Blood Test For Differentiating Gastric And Colonic Ulcers
In conjunction with other diagnostic methods, such as clinical history and presentation, CBC, blood chemistry and fecal egg counts, the SUCCEED Equine Fecal Blood Test proves to be a highly valuable tool in the differential diagnosis of GI tract disorders.
The FBT works by detecting equine hemoglobin and albumin within a fecal sample. These two blood markers provide two important pieces of information to support a differential diagnosis.
First, albumin and hemoglobin reflect two different levels of severity of injury. Hemoglobin is associated with injury where whole blood loss occurs, while albumin can leak from a compromised basement membrane without whole blood loss . Thus, the presence of hemoglobin reflects a more severe injury than the presence of albumin alone.
Second, albumin and hemoglobin in feces reflect different injury locations in the GI tract. Because albumin is broken down by digestive enzymes in the duodenum, albumin present in fecal matter must have originated in the hindgut. Hemoglobin, on the other hand, is a durable molecule, resistant to the enzymes and acids in the gut. Hemoglobin in feces may have originated anywhere in the GI tract. Thus, these two markers can help the veterinarian differentiate between foregut and hindgut problems.
The SUCCEED FBT can aid diagnosis of hindgut vs. foregut issues to enable a more targeted treatment strategy and, subsequently, a quicker recovery.
Succeed Ulcer Treatment Not Seeing Improvement
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A Good Horseman Doesn’t Have To Tell Anyone The Horse Already Knows.I CAN’T ride ’em n slide ’em. I HAVE to lead ’em n feed ’em
A Good Horseman Doesn’t Have To Tell Anyone The Horse Already Knows.I CAN’T ride ’em n slide ’em. I HAVE to lead ’em n feed ’em
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What Are Horse Ulcers
Horse gastric ulcers are sores that form in the lining of the stomach. Ninety percent of all horses will develop ulcers at some point in their life. Horses have four types of ulcers. Squamous ulcers occur in the upper part of the stomach, close to the esophagus, and are referred to as Equine Gastric Ulcer Syndrome. Glandular ulcers are found in the lower part of the stomach and are referred to as Equine Glandular Gastric Disease. Pyloric ulcers are found in the opening of the stomach to the small intestines.
But why are ulcers so prevalent in horses?
Compared to other large animals, the horses stomach is on the smaller side. In fact, because of the size of their stomach, experts recommend horses should eat smaller meals more often.
A horses stomach acts like two stomachs in one. The upper portion of the stomach is called the squamous. It does not produce any digestive acids and therefore does not have a protective lining. It is particularly vulnerable to ulcers. The lower portion of the stomach is known as the glandular. It produces digestive acid twenty-four seven and, as a result, has a protective lining.
Squamous ulcers occur during a horses movement when acid splashes up onto the upper portion of the stomach where there is no protective lining and causes irritation. In some cases, it produces an ulcer. Even though movement can result in ulcers developing, they are preventable.
Figure 2 The Equine Stomach with permission from Jean Abernethy