Gastric Ulcers – How to Help Your Horse Avoid Them

Owning a horse that is free of health issues is the ideal situation, but what may be a healthy horse now mcan become y become an unhealthy one if not fed and managed monitored correctly. Amongst the many risks of poor health, gastric ulcers are a particularly nasty one that can be very uncomfortable and painful for your horse. Here we look at what gastric ulcers are, how they occur and what you can do to help your horse avoid them.

What is a Gastric Ulcer & What Causes Them?

A gastric ulcer is the result of an inflammation or irritation within of the stomach lining. Whilst humans can also suffer from gastric ulcers, the reasons for them to occur are slightly difficult  cause is different when it comes to equines. Bacteria are the main culprit of ulcers in humans, but with horses it relates more to an increased acidity level in the stomach and a breakdown in the protection systems that normally keep the gut tissue healthy. This can include the wrong diet, stress and medication.  the neutralization of stomach acid.

 A horse’s stomach will continually secrete acid with regular grazing intake  normally helping to neutralize this. ButSo, if a horse is not eating high fibre horse feeds regularly,  to do so, ulcers can develop. The regulation of stomach acid is key to avoid ulcers developing, with the right a balanced diet of horse food being crucial. requiring  High fibre, low starch is key and the addition of other ingredients such as special forms of the minerals calcium and magnesium , and essential minerals offering additional protection.

Horses in work If a horse is particularly active such as a thoroughbreds in training are particularly vulnerable to ulcers as they tend to receive low fibre high starch diets and are often exercised on  and does so on an empty stomach which means , the risk is the acidic contents being moved around causing acid injury to sensitive areas of the stomach – a phenomenon called acid-splash. that can cause an ulcer to develop.

Equine Gastric Ulcer Syndrome is a common problem and there are two types of the disease related to this; Equine Squamous Gastric Disease (ESGD) and Equine Glandular Gastric Disease (EGGD). Whilst ESGD and EGGD are similar, less is known about EGGD and whilst regular exercise is a risk factor for its development in thoroughbreds, diet is not believed to be a factor.

Reducing the risk of Equine Gastric Ulcer Syndrome Prevention

A high intake of sugar and starch is a contributing factor to the development of ESGD. Add to this an infrequency of meals and low roughage intake, the risks are greater. Finding the right balance between diet and exercise is important as spotting the signs of ulcers once developed isn’t always easy. As it can affect overweight horses as well as leaner seemingly healthy horses, symptoms may not show the severity of the problem. A lack of fibre in their diet will contribute to less saliva being produced when chewing that helps neutralize stomach acid, for example, so providing plenty of forage to increase chew time will reduce risk. A low-calorie forage is best to avoid too much starch intake.

A strategy of feeding small amounts and often by dividing the forage ration throughout the day can help avoid your horse from going too long with an empty stomach. Alfalfa is particularly helpful as it can buffer the stomach acid due to protein and calcium present, protecting your horse. As well as their feed, if a horse is suspected to have ulcers, rest is important. The intensity of exercise should be reduced to allow time for any ulcers to heal. Getting the balance right with feed and exercise helps both to prevent reduce gastric ulcers developing and aid your horse’s recovery if ulcers are present.

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