Gastric Ulcers in Horses

Posted in: Featured, Horse Care

Gastric ulcers in horses are a common condition for performance or using horses. While not as commonly discussed as colic, they cause similar symptoms but require a different treatment plan. Gastric ulcers are sores that occur in the stomach lining and cause great discomfort. Left untreated, they can lead to undesirable behavioral changes and poor health. With a diagnosis and treatment plan, most cases of ulcers in horses resolve within one month.

Does your horse have gastric ulcers? Here are a few signs to watch for.

Symptoms

  • Poor appetite and weight loss. These are the hallmark symptoms of gastric ulcers in horses, as eating often hurts them. They learn to associate food with pain and start avoiding the feed trough.
  • Dull-looking hair and poor body condition. These are a direct result of inadequate food intake and subsequent poor nutrition.
  • Change in behavior; reluctance to train. Horses with ulcers can become cranky under saddle, switching their tails, pinning their ears, or even bucking when asked to perform maneuvers that were previously easy and enjoyable for them.
  • Low grade colic. Gastric ulcers affect the stomach, so horses can exhibit symptoms similar to those shown in colic cases. They may bite at their abdomen, lay down, or try to roll to ease their discomfort. Just like with colic, rolling can lead to twisted intestines, so you need to intercede early and prevent a horse with ulcers from rolling.
  • No symptoms. Some horses with gastric ulcers display no outward symptoms and perform as usual when ridden.

Diagnosis

If you suspect that your horse has ulcers, make an appointment with your vet. Your vet will use a gastric endoscopy, the only definitive way to diagnose ulcers, to examine your horse’s stomach. In this safe, easy, minimally invasive procedure, a tiny camera is inserted through the horse’s mouth on a long, thin tube to check the stomach lining for sores. If sores are apparent, your vet can prescribe medication to treat the problem.

Treatment

Omeprazole is the only medication currently approved by the Food and Drug Administration to treat ulcers in horses. It comes in a paste form and is administered in a manner similar to deworming medicine. Omeprazole is fairly expensive; a one-month supply typically costs about $350.  Using it long term can cause adverse side effects to your horse’s health, so prevention is highly recommended after the initial treatment. However, a lower dosage of omeprazole is available commercially at most feed stores and can be used in situations that might trigger a flare-up of ulcers in susceptible horses, such as traveling to a big show or rodeo.

Prevention

  • Reduce stressful situations. Decrease the intensity or pressure of training sessions. If the horse ranks at the bottom of the herd’s pecking order, transfer him a different pasture or pen if possible.
  • Add alfalfa hay to his diet. Providing alfalfa or alfalfa-mix hay has been shown to reduce ulcers in horses. It helps buffer the stomach contents and reduces gastric acidity.
  • Reduce grain and inflammatory medications. These can aggravate ulcers in horses and should be avoided or reduced.

Bottom line

Symptoms of gastric ulcers in horses can mimic signs of colic, so be sure and call your vet right away if you notice concerning signs of abdominal pain. Ulcers are completely treatable and usually result in a complete recovery when a horse is diagnosed early and treated with preventive measures as part of a long-term treatment plan.

Posted in: Featured, Horse Care


About Jolyn Young

Jolyn Young lives near Fallon, NV with her cowboy husband and 3 small kids. For more, visit www.jolynyoung.com....

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