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All About Stomach Ulcers In Horses

ulcers in horses

Gastric Ulcers are painful lesions that form in the lining of the gastrointestinal tract both in the upper portion of the stomach, which we call a glandular ulcer and the lower portion, which we call squamous. Both sites for ulcers can result in impaired nutrient absorption, digestive discomfort, complications, poor health, and ill thrift in our equine friends.

Unfortunately, I meet, on average, three owners a week whose horses have gastric ulcers, so this is a huge problem for so many horses, and that is why I wanted to talk about them to try to help prevent them from happening to your horse.


So how do you know if your horse has an ulcer?

Symptoms of Ulcers include:


*Still eating but losing condition or weight

*Avoiding hard feed and preferring hay

*Poor appetite

*Unsettled in training or unwilling to work

*Grinding teeth

*Crib-biting, windsucking

*Poor coat condition



What causes Gastric Ulcers Syndrome in horses?

Please see the list below for the most common reasons in order of risk, with one being the highest:

1-IRREGULAR FEEDING: To properly nourish horses, it's important to recognize the significant differences in their digestive system compared to other animals like dogs, cats, cows, sheep, and goats. Feeding horses a few large meals per day, which goes against their natural digestive process, can have negative consequences. The equine stomach isn't designed to handle altered foods or function on an empty stomach, which can lead to increased gastric acid production and potential digestive issues such as ulcers. To avoid these problems, it's highly recommended to use slow-feed hay nets and provide a diet that includes plain hay, such as meadow hay, and natural unprocessed foods instead of bagged pellets, mashes, and flakes.

Please see this link to view our Slow Feed Haynet Range:

Slow Feeders

Ensuring your horse always has access to forage, particularly hay and grass, is crucial. An empty stomach increases the likelihood of harmful acids damaging the stomach lining. To prevent this issue, trickle feeding is the most effective method.

preventing gastric ulcers in horses
2-FEEDING INFLAMMATORY INGREDIENTS: When a horse's diet is mainly composed of processed and unnatural foods, it may result in an excess of stomach acid. This happens because the horse's body regards the processed foods as intruders, leading to an inflammatory reaction. As a result, more fatty acids and stomach acids are produced to dissolve these unfamiliar components, which ultimately leads to the development of stomach ulcers. To avoid this, it is best to provide the horse with more natural food sources and avoid packet feeds, grains, and high-starch diets. Additionally, administering pre and probiotics daily is recommended to promote a healthy digestive biome.
To View The Natural Horse Pro Biotic Formula, please see this link: Equi-Digest

3-STRENUOUS EXERCISE: It is estimated that a whopping 53-90% of all sport horses have gastric ulcers, with racehorses in work being the highest risk factor. This has been extensively studied, and although it still needs more research, studies so far show that excessive training regimes with high exercise rates can lead to the overproduction of stomach acids and ulcers. It is advised not to exercise your horse on an empty stomach; allow small grazing breaks to prevent this.


4-STRESS: non-species type stress to a horse, such as by being stabled, or from horses living alone, or from being forced to do things that worry your horse, such as being bum roped into a trailer etc.… or pushed beyond their physical limits, or even moving premises to a new owner can lead to worry which can go on to also lead to yet more gastric acid and further risks of ulcers. Try to provide a calm environment and even if in full-time work, allow your horse some downtime to just to be a horse.

5-MEDICATIONS: Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as Bute(phenylbutazone) for example, can be a godsend as a painkiller for horses in the short-term but long-term use of bute has been shown to cause ulcers, and therefore it has been recommended for several years now to only use it sparingly for the short term and give it with pelleted omeprazole ulcer medications. Your vet should be prescribing this; if not, please ask for it. Other less risky medications are also available, which we would encourage you to discuss with your vet and herbal remedies such as Devil’s Claw for longer-term use.

To view our alcohol-free Devils Claw: Devils Claw

6-INTERMITTEN WATER: it is understood that all horses should have access to fresh water all the time -period.


DIAGNOSIS: To be sure if your horse has an ulcer would require a detailed veterinary exam called a scope where the horse is sedated, and a camera is placed into the stomach to view the lining.


If your horse is found to have ulcers, then omeprazole pellets can be prescribed by your Vet, as they have been found to be one of the most effective and safe medications, which can be mixed into feed to help to protect the digestive lining to allow it to heal.


We hope this helps you to understand ulcers in horses to prevent them in your horse.


Natural Horse NZ

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