It’s been said that equine gastric ulcers are a man-made problem, and this statement has quite a bit of truth behind it. Researchers have estimated that 90% of race horses, 70% of endurance horses, and 60% of show horses are affected by ulcers. And while there are several causes for this common condition, in most cases, unnatural feeding and management practices are to blame.
Ulcers most commonly affect the upper region of the stomach and are formed when gastric acid wears away the thin stomach lining (mucosa). The stomach continually produces this acid to help with digestive processes, and since food typically enters and exits the stomach within a fifteen-minute time period, problems occur when food or saliva (formed by chewing food) isn’t present to help buffer the acid.
Signs of gastric ulcers are often subtle, but include:
•Poor body condition;
•Poor hair coat;
•Excessive time spent lying down;
•Low-grade colic; and
So what can we, as horse owners, do to prevent ulcers? Quite a few things, actually! Most importantly, we need to take a look at the way we feed our horses, but there are other management practices which may need some adjustment as well.
Here are a few tips which can help prevent ulcers in your horse:
Use slow feed hay bags. This is especially important for horses without pasture access and will ensure that your horse won’t go for long periods of time without forage. It’s important to provide forage throughout the night as well. Horses don’t sleep all night like we do!
Don’t exercise your horse on an empty stomach. Exercise, especially if it’s intense, increases stomach acid production. The acid is then ‘sloshed’ around, continually bathing the stomach in acid. As a general rule, feed hay or allow pasture turnout before exercise and then feed grain or other concentrates after your horse’s workout.
Make sure your competition horse also gets time to just be a horse. This is important since the stress of trailering, intense exercise, and competition, in general, can contribute to ulcers. Allow plenty of turnout time, forage, and friends.
Don’t feed large amounts of grains or other high-carbohydrate feeds. These can also contribute to ulcers since they increase volatile fatty acid production in the stomach. Studies have shown that high-quality forage can be substituted for grain in many circumstances, even for performance horses.
Don’t give non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) long term. Bute, flunixin, meglumine, or ketoprofen all decrease the production of the stomach’s protective mucous layer, which can make your horse much more susceptible to ulcers. Instead consider a much safer and side effect free product such as our organic Signature Line Formula Bjute.
If your horse has already been diagnosed with ulcers, don’t fret! The above strategies can help, as can our signature herbal formula, Gastrox. Traditional ulcer medications can interfere with the production of stomach acid which is vital to the digestive process (for absorbing protein and nutrients), but this formula encourages self-healing of the stomach lining without interfering with the normal digestion and absorption process. Another option is our Bentonite Clay, which if used internally, helps to eliminate toxins and heals ulcers. Our Organic Slippery Elm Powder soothes inflammation of the stomach, bowel and intestinal tract, and is very beneficial for horses with ulcers as well.