Equine Gastric Ulcers

Great film looking at the causes of gastric ulcers in horses. Equine vet Dr Kerry Ridgeway states "We do know that there are basically only two kinds of horses – those who have ulcers and those who will have ulcers!" 

Equine Gastric Ulcer Syndrome (EGUS) is an increasingly common problem. It is now believed that over 50% of foals and leisure horses, 75% of performance horses and over 95% of racehorses will have gastric ulcers (on some racing yards studied 100% of the horses had severe ulceration). It was once thought this problem was only seen in racehorses and elite competition horses but in fact all horses are at risk, particularly if they have limited access to forage.

Horses are trickle feeders, and would naturally graze almost continuously. To digest this steady supply of food, their stomachs are constantly producing up to one and a half litres of stomach acid every hour. If at any point they do not have access to food to neutralise the acid produced, their stomach lining can be damaged, and gastric ulcers may form. Ulcers can also occur in the hindgut where they are almost impossible to diagnose.

In addition to the symptoms listed in the film, horses who have ulcers may be aggressive generally, protective about their food, grouchy when having their stomach groomed or touched and they may exhibit a whole range of ridden problems including bucking or a reluctance to go forward. They may be prone to bouts of low-grade colic, have a poor body condition, struggle to maintain their weight or you may see changes in their appetite. In fact any change of attitude or performance could be a sign your horse is suffering from gastric ulcers.

To avoid the risk of your horse developing ulcers always ensure they have access to forage, as much turnout as possible, and keep their stress levels to a minimum. As the film shows, if the horse's stomach is empty when galloping (or even trotting), this increases the risk of acid splashing around, leading to damage in the sensitive upper part of the stomach and potentially causing ulceration. Do ensure your horse has access to forage at all times, especially prior to being ridden. Sadly many equine education establishments are still incorrectly teaching that horses should not be fed prior to being ridden.

Equine Gastric Ulcer Syndrome is a serious condition. Consult your vet if you believe that your horse could be suffering. For more information have a look at the equine gastric ulcers website here.

Also have a look at the University of California's School of Veterinary Medicine gastric ulcer information sheet here.