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Equine Gastric Ulcers

Etiology

  • A high percentage of horses in training have been found to have ulcers, with horses in race training showing the highest prevalence.
  • Additionally, incidence of ulceration in foals of all ages has also been documented, particularly in those around weaning age.
  • The anatomy of the stomach predisposes the unprotected non-glandular squamous region of the stomach to ulceration resulting from repeated acid splash above the margo plicatus. This tissue, unlike that of the glandular portion of the stomach, does not have a mucus layer and does not secrete bicarbonate that serves as a buffer to acid produced in the stomach. 
    Equine Ulcers Brochure Image
    Equine Educational Brochure
    • Ulcers have also been documented in the glandular portion of the stomach in conjunction with a failure of the protective mucosal bicarbonate layer, as well as in the duodenum of the small intestine.
  • When saliva production is inadequate to buffer gastric acid and coat the squamous epithelium, gastric irritation and lesions may occur.

Symptoms

  • Gastric ulcers may contribute to chronic, recurrent colic, poor body condition, chronic diarrhea, sour attitude, exercise intolerance, poor performance and inappetance.

Risks

  • Horses that are housed in stalls, and/or undergo extended periods of time between meals, and/or are exposed to environmental stressors are more predisposed to gastric ulceration than horses kept at pasture and allowed to graze or eat forage throughout the day. 
  • Repeated use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and/or hypertonic electrolyte preparations may also contribute to the incidence of ulceration. 
  • If access to pasture is not possible or contraindicated, it is imperative that horses with ulcers have access to excellent quality legume, grass or mixed hay. 
    • The high calcium content of legume hay is useful as a dietary buffer and tends to be very palatable, therefore encouraging continuous intake.
  • Once the ulcers are healed, it may be helpful to feed a daily buffer/antacid.
  • Increasing the feeding frequency (four to six small meals per day) is also helpful in keeping saliva production constant and preventing a decrease in gastric pH, therefore protecting the mucosal lining.
  • Horses with or predisposed to ulcers should not consume large grain meals with high starch and sugar content, as they tend to promote increased acid and volatile fatty acid production. 
  • Grain concentrates formulated with controlled starch and sugar technology as well as highly digestible sources of fiber should be used and fed in small meals evenly spaced throughout the day.
  • Always provide access to good quality forage and free choice access to salt and clean water.

 

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