SafeChoice Horse Feeds: The Importance of Gastric Health


Changing Gastric Care Through Horse Feeds

The Nutrena® brand changed the feed industry over 15 years ago with the debut of the original SafeChoice® Horse Feed, the first-ever controlled starch horse feed to hit the market. By controlling the starch and sugar content of the feed, the Nutrena® brand is a leader in promoting a healthy digestive tract from front to back. Through the multiple feeds now available in the SafeChoice® product line, the synergistic use of prebiotics, probiotics and organic trace minerals was also pioneered. All of these innovations come together to ensure the entire digestive tract is working at peak efficiency to support digestion, immunity, and overall health. 

Feed Choices for Horses with Gastric Ulcers

Historically, stomach ulcers, formally referred to as Equine Gastric Ulcer Syndrome (EGUS)1, have primarily been the focus of the pharmaceutical and nutraceutical markets. Over the past few years, marine-based calcium sources with high buffering capacity have been introduced in the feed industry. While these solutions can assist with gastric comfort, they are only necessary for horses that are prone to ulcers. While performance horses have a higher incidence, just 11% of horses not in competition suffer from ulcers1. At Nutrena®, we believe in providing horse owners with choices on how they feed their horses. Since buffering technology is not a “one-size-fits-all solution,” we’ve incorporated this technology into two of our performance products within our SafeChoice® line, to let horse owners choose what is right for their horses.   

Not All Horses Require a Buffering Solution in their Feed

Horses continuously produce acid in the glandular, or lower, region of the stomach. In natural grazing conditions, the chewing of pasture forage produces large amounts of saliva, which acts to buffer or counteract this continuous acid production. As forage/hay intake, and thus chewing time, gets reduced, or activities like trailering, exercise, or use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are used, the normal system is thrown out of balance, and this continuous acid production can result in lesions or ulcers in the stomach lining1.  

There has been misinformation spread in the market leading horse owners to believe the majority of horses are prone to ulcers. The truth is, the rate of ulcers in the general horse population is lower than popular press would lead you to believe. Horses that are not in competition and are predominantly used in their home environment only, representing approximately 75% of all the horses in the US, have an ulcer prevalence rate of only 11%1. For these horses, a feeding program with buffering technology will not hurt them, but a different feeding solution might better meet their needs and be more cost effective for the owner.

When it to comes to performance horses, which represent approximately 25% of the total horse population, the rate of EGUS does change dramatically, with 66-93% of these horses having various stages of ulceration. This population of performance horses is where a solid feeding program to help manage ulcers, such as our SafeChoice® Perform products, could be advantageous. 

How Buffering Feed Solutions Work 

Marine-based calcium sources have a more porous or higher surface area structure when compared to the traditionally-used calcium carbonate sources. This porous structure allows for over twice the buffering capacity versus calcium carbonate sources2. The resulting enhanced buffering can support the management of horses with EGUS when added to the diet. T. Moir and others in 2016 found that feeding a marine based calcium over a period of 30 days to 10 horses with an average ulcer score of 2.2 resulted in all horses significantly improving their ulcer scores, with 7 horses having an ulcer score of zero after 30 days2.  

Traditional dietary management of horses with EGUS has focused on mimicking normal conditions as much as possible by offering forage/hay throughout the day. Keeping the starch intake per meal to under 1g/kg of body weight has also become a standard1. Horses in training or competition, which are significantly more prone to ulcers, now can also benefit from some additional buffering at feeding time.  

The SafeChoice Difference

The SafeChoice® family of products has always been a leader in supporting overall digestive tract health. The combinations of controlled starch formulas, added pre and probiotics, along with organic trace minerals, have delivered great results for more than a decade. Now, with the addition of a marine-based calcium source to the SafeChoice® Perform Pellet and SafeChoice® Perform Textured products, we are taking it a step further by offering the feed-through buffering benefits for the population of horses most highly susceptible to gastric upset. Feeding either of the SafeChoice® Perform products at recommended levels delivers more nutritional support for the hardest working horses in your barn.  

1Sykes, B. W., et al. "European college of equine internal medicine consensus statement—equine gastric ulcer syndrome in adult horses." Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine 29.5 (2015): 1288-1299.

2Moore-Colyer, Meriel, Denise M. O'Gorman, and Katherine Wakefield. "An in vitro investigation into the effects of a marine-derived, multimineral supplement in simulated equine stomach and hindgut environments." Journal of equine veterinary science 34.3 (2014): 391-397.


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