Gastric Ulcers In Horses
Gastric Ulcers was the third most claimed for health problem for horses with leading horse insurer Petplan Equine in 2016. Here we take a look at the condition with Petplan Equine’s veterinary expert, Gil Riley.
What are gastric ulcers?
Gastric ulcers are generally small erosions in the lining of the stomach which are painful and can affect the appetite, appearance and behaviour as well as the riding experience of your horse. Gastric ulcers can affect horses of all ages and types, and are most commonly associated with psychological stress, particularly if they have limited access to forage. Ulcers can occur in the horse’s 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 16 hours 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. Horses that have access to ad-lib hay or haylage when stabled or grass when turned out, allow this natural preventative process to continue. 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 to the upper part of the stomach. Stress can also be a factor.
What are the clinical signs?
These are many and varied. Painful areas in the lining of the stomach mean:
- Your horse’s appetite may be reduced or inconsistent and that he may prefer hard feed to hay as the long fibre can traumatise the ulcers and cause pain
- Constant pain in the stomach can cause low grumbling colic, especially after eating
- The coat can become dull
- The horse’s temperament can change and he can become subdued and tetchy
- Ridden exercise can cause the stomach acid to splash onto the ulcers causing pain – this can be misinterpreted as a lameness, naughtiness or back pain
To confirm that ulcers are present and what grade they are, a vet will use a videocamera linked to a fibre optic cable that is passed down the oesophagus to view the stomach lining of the horse (gastric endoscopy).
Fact – Petplan Equine paid out over £736,000 in claims for gastric ulcers in 2016
What can I do if my horse is suffering?
Management and feeding adjustments should be made as your vet advises and your horse will be put on a daily dose of Omeprazole, an excellent treatment that can lead to a full resolution of the ulcers within four weeks.
How can I help prevent Gastric Ulcers?
Gastric ulcers are most commonly associated with psychological stress and therefore minimising this offers the best assurance your horse will not develop them. Make sure your horse is not going for prolonged periods without food, that it is turned out on a daily basis and in a field with other horses with whom it ‘gets along’, that his exercise regime is measured and consistent and that any changes to management or exercise are phased in gradually and not drastically. Feeding a high proportion of the diet as forage also ensures the acid in the stomach is buffered in contrast with excessive quantities of hard feed which predispose to high acid levels and accordingly damage to the stomach lining.
Horse insurance can help cover the costs of unexpected veterinary care, so make sure any horses in your care are covered so you have the peace of mind that you can pay for treatment if your horse becomes ill.
For further information go to www.petplanequine.co.uk