Gastric ulcers are extremely common in horses today. Up to 92% of racehorses have been diagnosed with ulcers, even in foals, the incidence is as high as 52%. With more awareness and dialogue on this subject, we are beginning to understand much more. Horses are grazers and are designed to ingest continual and small amounts of food. An important characteristic of equine gastric ulcers is that horses secrete gastric acid continuously, whether they are eating or not. An adult horse will produce approximately 1.5 litres of gastric acid per hour. With restricted access to food, continued secretion means the pH level can rapidly become very acidic, and ulcers can begin to develop and/or worsen. In contrast, horses that are constantly eating hay or grass have a higher average stomach pH which provides a much healthier stomach environment.
The horse’s stomach is effectively divided into two parts - a lower and upper region. The lower part of the stomach has gastric pits containing the glands that secrete hydrochloric acid. Its lining is less susceptible to acid attack than the upper part, which is lined with mucosa. This however has no secretory or absorptive function and is therefore vulnerable to acid attack. Gastric ulcers usually form when the lining of the upper part of the stomach is exposed to acid for extended periods of time. When exercised on an empty stomach, horses can potentially suffer from acid splashes to the sensitive upper region of the stomach.
Some signs in horses with gastric ulcers:
A major challenge of this condition is the variability of the symptoms:
• Reduced appetite
• Slow eating
• Poor physical condition
• Dull coat
• Intermittent Colic
• Poor performance
• Reluctance to exercise
• Stress lines around the eyes
• Objecting to touch
It is difficult to attribute these signs specifically to gastric ulceration. To add to the complex diagnosis, the correlation between clinical signs and the severity of ulceration is not always consistent. Some horses that have shown few clinical signs are found to have severe ulceration, whereas others have been found to be the reverse. Horses may show pain in numerous ways and some show very few signs at all. As we have seen on many occasions, horses may appear to be in brilliant condition, however, some are actually overweight and are suffering enormously from gastric ulcers. We have seen horses that will ravenously gorge their food due to gut pain. Once these horses have been supplemented with Eco-Balancer™ they begin to eat quietly and calmly again.
What can be done to prevent gastric ulcers:
One major cause of gastric ulcers is anti-inflammatory drugs, which can burn holes in the stomach. Use these drugs with extreme caution and under guidance from your vet. We advise if horses are on veterinary prescribed anti-inflammatory drugs, they are also treated with Omeprazole short term to minimise acute damage while supplementing with Eco-Balancer™ at the same time. Long term use of Omeprazole is not beneficial. Environmental pollutants and pesticides can also contribute to the formation of gastric ulcers. High grain-fed horses are very prone to gastric ulcers so break feeds into smaller portions and feed more often, ensuring levels of hay and chaff are plentiful (adlib hay).
• Try to minimise acid-forming foods.
• Feed before exercise to encourage the absorption of acid splashes in the stomach.
• Feed before travelling, especially long trips.
What can be done to treat gastric ulcers:
Allow horses as much turn out time as possible. Continual grazing is optimal when dealing with gastric ulcers. Provide smaller divided meals as opposed to large feeds. Eco-Balancer™ is a unique earth-based nutritional supplement for use when requirements for trace minerals are not being met in the horse's diet. Modern farming practices have stripped vital nutrients from our soils leaving it deficient in essential nutrients and microorganisms. You may even find horses eating dirt as they search for essential nutrients to help maintain optimal health. Eco-Balancer provides the essential nutrients lacking in horses diets. These nutrients are utilised by the horse to resolve gut ulcers. Eco-Balancer™ assists in digestion, absorption, utilisation of food and helps to heal gut ulcers. It helps maintain a healthy weight so is ideal for horses that compete and race. Eco-Balancer™ helps soothe and support the digestive tract with inflamed mucosa, helping stabilise the intestinal flora and food efficiency is enhanced. It supports the immune system and also supports normal muscle function during and after exercise. When supplementing problem horses with Eco-Balancer™ they often become easier to manage. Their temperament improves, they perform better and look healthier.
‘Awareness helps to prevent negative effects in our horses. Advance your knowledge and most of all trust your instincts. Most of what we learn to be the truth is just pure and simple common sense.’